He says: “After we were married, Sarah and I lived with my family at my parents’ house. One day, my brother’s girlfriend asked me for a ride home in our car. I obliged and took my young son along. But when I returned home, Sarah was furious. We started arguing, and right in front of my family, she called me a womanizer. I lost my temper and started saying things that irritated her even more.”
She says: “Our son has a serious health problem, and at the time, we had financial trouble. So when Fernando left in the car with his brother’s girlfriend and our son, I was upset for several reasons. When he came home, I let him know how I felt. We had a huge argument and called each other names. I felt terrible afterward.”
IF A couple argue, does this mean that they no longer love each other? No! Fernando and Sarah, quoted above, love each other dearly. Yet, even in the best of marriages, there will occasionally be some conflict.
Why do conflicts arise, and what can you do to prevent them from ruining your marriage? Since marriage is an arrangement designed by God, it makes sense to examine what his Word, the Bible, has to say on this subject.
—Genesis 2:21, 22; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
Understanding the Challenges
Most married couples want to treat each other in a loving and kind manner. However, the Bible realistically notes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) So when disagreements arise, emotions may be difficult to control. And if an argument starts, some may find it a real struggle to resist bad habits, such as screaming and abusive speech. (Romans 7:21; Ephesians 4:31) What other factors might cause tension?
A husband and a wife often have different communication styles. “When we were first married,” says Michiko, “I discovered that we had very different attitudes about discussing matters. I like to talk about not only what happened but also why and how it happened. My husband seems to be interested in just the end result.”
Michiko’s dilemma is not unique. In many marriages, one partner may want to discuss a disagreement at length, while the other dislikes confrontation and wants to avoid the subject. Sometimes, the more one partner pursues the matter, the more the other tries to avoid it. Have you noticed this pattern emerging in your marriage? Does one of you always seem to play the part of the discusser, and the other, the part of the avoider?
Another factor to consider is that an individual’s family background may influence his or her perception of how married couples should communicate. Justin, who has been married for five years, says: “I come from a quiet family and find it difficult to talk openly about my feelings. This frustrates my wife. Her family is very expressive, and she has no problem letting me know how she feels.”
Why Work to Resolve Problems?
Researchers have found that the most reliable indicator of how happy a marriage will be is not how often the couple say that they love each other. Sexual compatibility and financial security are not the most important factors either. Instead, the most dependable indicator of marital success is how well husband and wife manage any conflicts that arise.
In addition, Jesus said that when a couple marry, it is not man but God who yokes them together. (Matthew 19:4-6) Therefore, a good marriage honors God. On the other hand, if a husband fails to show love and consideration for his wife, Jehovah God may ignore the man’s prayers. (1 Peter 3:7) If a wife does not respect her husband, she is really disrespecting Jehovah, who appointed the husband as head of the family.
—1 Corinthians 11:3.
Keys to Success
—Avoid Damaging Patterns of Speech
No matter what your communication style or family background, there are some damaging patterns of speech that must be avoided if you are to apply Bible principles and manage conflicts effectively. Ask yourself the following questions:
‘Do I resist the urge to retaliate?’
“The squeezing of the nose is what brings forth blood, and the squeezing out of anger is what brings forth quarreling,” states a wise proverb. (Proverbs 30:33) What does that mean? Consider this example. What starts out as a difference over how to balance the family budget (“we need to control credit-card spending”) may quickly mutate into an attack on each other’s character (“you are so irresponsible”). True, if your mate ‘squeezes your nose’ by launching into an attack on your character, you may feel the urge to ‘squeeze’ right back. However, retaliation only leads to anger and an escalation of the disagreement.
The Bible writer James warned: “Look! How little a fire it takes to set so great a woodland on fire! Well, the tongue is a fire.” (James 3:5, 6) When marriage mates fail to control their tongue, small disagreements can quickly flare into raging conflicts. And marriages that are repeatedly ravaged by such emotional firestorms do not provide an environment in which love can grow.
Instead of retaliating, can you imitate Jesus, who when being reviled “did not go reviling in return”? (1 Peter 2:23) The quickest way to take the heat out of a quarrel is to acknowledge your mate’s viewpoint and to apologize for your part in the conflict.
TRY THIS: The next time a dispute arises, ask yourself: ‘What would it cost me to acknowledge my mate’s concerns? What have I done that contributed to this problem? What prevents me from apologizing for my mistakes?’
‘Do I minimize or belittle my spouse’s feelings?’
“All of you be like-minded, showing fellow feeling,” commands God’s Word. (1 Peter 3:8) Consider two of the reasons why you might fail to apply this advice. One is that you may lack insight into the mind, or the feelings, of your mate. For example, if your spouse is more distraught over some issue than you are, you might tend to say, “You’re just overreacting.” Your intention may be to help your mate see the problem in perspective. However, few people are comforted by such comments. Both wives and husbands need to know that the people whom they love understand and empathize with them.
Having undue pride might also prompt a person to belittle a mate’s feelings. A proud individual attempts to elevate himself by constantly putting others down. He might do so by means of name-calling or negative comparisons. Consider the example of the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day. When anyone
—even a fellow Pharisee— expressed an opinion that differed from that of these proud individuals, they resorted to name-calling and derogatory remarks. (John 7:45-52) Jesus was different. He empathized with others when they expressed themselves to him. —Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 5:25-34.
Think about how you react when your mate expresses his or her concerns. Do your words, tone of voice, and facial expressions convey empathy? Or do you tend quickly to dismiss your mate’s feelings?
TRY THIS: Over the coming weeks, notice how you speak to your spouse. If you are dismissive or say something demeaning, apologize immediately.
‘Do I often assume that my partner’s motives are selfish?’
“Is it for nothing that Job has feared God? Have not you yourself put up a hedge about him and about his house and about everything that he has all around?” (Job 1:9, 10) With those words, Satan called into question the motives of the faithful man Job.
If marriage mates are not careful, they may fall into a similar pattern. For example, if your mate does something nice for you, do you wonder what he or she wants or is covering up? If your mate makes a mistake, do you view this failing as confirmation that he or she is selfish and uncaring? Do you immediately recall similar mistakes from the past and add this one to the list?
TRY THIS: Make a list of the positive things that your mate has done for you and the good motives that could have prompted these actions.
The apostle Paul wrote: “Love . . . does not keep account of the injury.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5) Real love is not blind. But neither does it keep score. Paul also stated that love “believes all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) Not that this kind of love is gullible, but it is open to trust. It is not cynical, suspicious. The type of love that the Bible encourages is ready to forgive and is willing to give others the benefit of the doubt. (Psalm 86:5; Ephesians 4:32) When mates display this kind of love for each other, they will enjoy a happy marriage.