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Christian Living

TheRelationshipCafe 01/10/08

Stop those Spouse Spats

I’d like to say as a Clinical Psychologist and man “of a certain age,” that my wife and I never fight. But, that would be untrue. I’d like to say that each and every time we begin to fight, we’re able to put on the brakes, call a time out, and pull out of the downward spiral. That also would be untrue. 

We are not alone. Of the thousands of emails I receive, a majority concern couples who fight and quarrel, and can’t seem to get over it. They plunge quickly into a downward spiral, unable to stop the freefall.

Listen to this recent email.

Dear Dr. David. I am just about ready to give up on my marriage even though I love my husband very much. The problem is that we fight, and we can fight for hours and sometimes days. Once we begin fighting, it goes on and on and hurts me very bad. I wish I could say it was just him, but I slip into calling him names too. We get so angry with one another that we threaten divorce. I don’t want a divorce, but neither of us want to continue to live like this. Can you help? 

What I can say is that “I’ve been there, done that,” and am glad we refuse to engage in lengthy battles. We were convicted by the words of the Apostle James, when he asks: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it.” (James 4: 1)

James hit the nail on the head. We want something—our way—our point of view to be accepted—and don’t get it, and so we fight. We push our point well beyond the time when it is effective. We are too often insensitive to the opinion and preferences of our mate, and then fight to “win.”

I’ve noticed in my marriage, and in my counseling, that one person can end a fight. It literally takes two to fight, and if I or my wife, is unwilling to fight over some trivial matter, then a fight cannot occur. Even if it is a significant issue and I push to be heard, or to “win” the argument, I won’t like the outcome. I can “win” the argument, but create bad feelings for hours. 

Have you and your husband tried agreeing to let go of petty arguments? Have you tried agreeing to end arguments sooner, or perhaps stop a fight before it even happens? These agreements could be powerful, creating more space for love instead of conflict.

What would happen if we all tried something radical—giving up the fight? What if all agreed to one principle: I will never try to force my point of view on my mate—never. If he/ she is not in a place to hear it, or understand it, then I must, at least temporarily, let it go. If he/ she become too defensive so they can’t really listen to me, then I must, at least temporarily, let it go.

 Would you be willing to take this challenge?

• I am willing to give up my wish to be right.
• I am willing to give up my wish to make my mate agree with me.
• I am willing to give up my wish to make my mate understand me.
• I am willing to give up my wish to prove my point.

In its place, would you agree to the following:

• I am willing to allow for differences of opinion.
• I am willing to let an issue die quickly.
• I am willing to seek peaceful solutions instead of a battle.

Let me know how this works for you. Together we’re going to start a revolution of peace. We’re trying an experiment where we will only share our point of view, our opinion, our needs, when, and only when, our mate is receptive to them, and in a way that is peace-seeking. We’re agreeing to never push our point of view, or demand agreements.

Let me know the results of this experiment. Are there other techniques you used to help create peace in your marriage?

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