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Two Rules Fighting Fair in Marriage

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Happily ever after is what we all want when we say “I do.” But I’ve learned that is only found in fairy tales. However, if I want to get close in real life, I must learn all I can about fighting fair in marriage.

Because the truth about marriage is this: you are a sinner married to a sinner. And that means you will have disagreements, arguments, heated discussions, and fights.

Fighting Fair in Marriage - Part 1

NOTE: I am not talking about physical fights! I am talking about arguing and disagreeing. If you are in a physically abusive marriage – get out. There is no learning how to do that well. Just leave!

How I Learned Fighting Fair in Marriage Matters

My husband and I have been married for more than 40 years. During that time we’ve been separated by one of us making that choice three times. We’ve been separated several more times by his military service. He’s filed for divorce twice (never followed through). And we’ve both endured significant emotional bruising.

Why am I telling you this? First, so you can learn from our mistakes because if we had learned how to fight fair at the beginning of our marriage, I think a lot of that heartache could have been avoided. Second, so you can understand that what I’m sharing is not simply some fancy ideas. This is what I have lived and learned in our marriage.

Like all married couples, we’ve had our share of disagreements, arguments, and fights over 40 years. Some of those fights have been reasonably civil and others have involved slamming doors, yelling, sarcasm, and other uncivil behaviors. Neither of us ever hit the other or committed any violence.

I can tell you all about how to fight badly:

  • Expect your spouse to read your mind.
  • Never give in.
  • Demand your own way.
  • Use the silent treatment.
  • Drag up old grievances.

If you’re married, you can probably add a few choice habits of your own – it seems we all know how to fight ugly without even trying.

But to fight fair – that takes effort. It takes time. It takes humility, grace, and love. It’s hard, so much harder than fighting ugly is, but so worth the effort. I encourage you, whether you’ve been married 6 weeks, 6 years, or 56 years, to take the time – always! – to fight in the right way.

What is the right way? It’ll be helpful to think of the right way to fight as answers to the basic “W” questions (and one “H”): who, what, where, when, why, and how.

NOTE: This series on fighting fair in marriage is not designed to address serious problems such as physical or sexual abuse, alcohol or drug problems, adultery, or issues with law enforcement. I am not a marriage counselor, just a long-time married wife who wants to share what I’ve learned.

Who is Involved in Fair Fights?

When you fight in your marriage – keep it there. Don’t drag in acquaintances, friends, or family. I’m not talking about actually having others present during your arguments – try to avoid that at all costs! By ‘bringing them in’ I mean sharing the details of your private relationship inappropriately. For example, if your husband won’t help with the household chores and this is a constant source of arguments in your marriage, you can seek advice from other (married) women without badmouthing your husband but don’t try to make them choose sides.

This, I’d like to say, was never a problem for me. But it was. I married young (I was 20) and did not have many close friends. Although we moved far from home, I called my mother as much as I could afford and always shared with her the details of our disagreements. She, of course, told Dad. The end result? My parents didn’t like my husband much for the first several years of our marriage. They tolerated him, which was easier considering we never lived close. But, especially when things were rocky, they didn’t like him because they took my side of things. Lesson learned – keep arguments private, but share the good stuff.

Also, never, never, never involve your children. No matter how young they are or how mature they seem. If your children are still living at home, do everything in your power to shield them from your arguments and disagreements. If they’ve moved out and your fights are more serious, you may want to keep them informed, but that’s the extent. No matter what your marriage issues are, your children aren’t part of that.

One suggestion about who you should involve: your marriage counselor or a mentor couple if you have one. On a side note, never be ashamed to ask for help in your marriage – we all need it at times.

To summarize the WHO of fair fights:

  • Don’t share details with your family.
  • Don’t share details with your friends.
  • Never involve your children; instead, protect them.
  • Ask friends for advice about what YOU can do but, again, don’t share details.
  • Do involve a marriage counselor. Or a personal counselor if your husband won’t go with you.
  • Do involve an older Christian couple with a successful marriage as mentors.

What is Involved in Fair Fights

My best advice, based on doing it wrong so many times that I finally learned to do it right, is to pick your battles. How important is it to you that your spouse (1) takes out the trash every night, (2) gives the littles their baths, or (3) supports your desire to get a college degree? You may have to choose one of these scenarios as worth fighting for and be willing to compromise on the others. Remember your priorities and purpose in choosing your battles. Will ‘winning’ the fight cause you to lose the war for your family?

Some suggestions:

  • Fight for teaching your children the truth about God, Jesus, sin, and salvation. Nothing is more important than having them learn about Jesus.
  • Fight to maintain your spiritual relationship with the Father.
  • Insist on unity in parenting, but not uniformity. An important aspect of this could be what consequences your children have for misbehavior and who enforces those consequences.
  • Safeguard your marriage relationship by prioritizing it above everything except your faith.

Hopefully, you get the idea that the big issues are the ones most worthy of fighting for. Keep your eyes on the end game and compromise wherever possible.

One more thing to consider: it’s easy to get swept away by emotions. When you decide beforehand what is important enough to fight about, you will find it easy to step back from the edge of your emotions and tell yourself, “This issue isn’t worth fighting about.”

This could prevent some arguments

It’s always best to prevent a problem rather than try to solve one. For that reason, you might want to work on having a family mission statement. We never had a family mission statement. But looking back, and in light of conversations we’ve had in these later years of marriage, I think having a family mission statement would have helped us navigate dangerous waters better than we did.

Because we didn’t have a common vision or a common goal for our marriage, every issue had to be thought through, talked about, decided on, or ignored one by one. If we’d had such a vision or mission statement, I think some of those issues that became fights might have been avoided.

As a simple example, if our family mission statement had said something about prioritizing living debt-free, arguments about purchases could have been avoided by simply referring back to the big picture we were both committed to.

If you are interested in formulating a family mission statement, I recommend this post from theartofsimple.net. You can also google ‘family mission statement’ and find many other resources. I just happen to have used some resources and suggestions from theartofsimple.net, and know this is a quality site.

To summarize the WHAT of fair fights

  • Choose your battles.
  • Prioritize your faith, your relationships, and your family in choosing your battles.
  • Try to decide beforehand what are some core issues worth fighting about and learn to step back from others.
  • Developing a family mission statement can help prevent some fights.

The First Two Rules of Fighting Fair in Marriage

Rule #1 is all about WHO is in the argument. This “who” should be limited to just you two and possibly a counselor.

Rule #2 is all about WHAT is worth fighting about. Define what the important issues are and learn to let the small stuff go.

Click here to learn about the next two rules of fair fights: WHERE and WHEN.

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