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So far, in our short series on fighting fair in marriage, we’ve look at
- WHO: just you two, and possibly a counselor
- WHAT: the important issues
- WHERE: preferably at home, but not in the bedroom
- WHEN: at a practical low-stress time
Now we’re moving on to the WHY and HOW of fighting fair.
Why is it important to learn to fight effectively in your marriage?
- Because, being human, you and your spouse will never agree on everything.
- Because your marriage, easy or hard, young or old, is a holy matter in the sight of the Lord.
- Because your marriage should reflect the truth of Christ and the Church, and be a testimony to the agape love of the Father.
- Because your children will learn about marriage from you and your spouse.
- Because your grandchildren will bear that fruit as well.
- Because God created marriage to be a blessing to you, but also a blessing to society as strong families and strong people are created through strong marriages.
Learn to fight well, so you can stay strong, and finish the course proudly.
I learned how to fight well with my husband, because – second to my faith – my marriage was the most important thing in my life. I love/loved my husband very much and endured much emotional pain to make it to the 34-year mark. But I also learned to fight well because I loved my children and wanted to give them a picture of true commitment in marriage. My husband and I had many issues to work through in our marriage. But we both chose the marriage over the easy way. I have no regrets.
Now we come to the final piece: how to fight. Some good ground rules include the following:
Never attack. Learn to use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements. Instead of saying “You don’t help with the laundry,” say, “I feel overwhelmed with keeping up with the laundry for five people. Do you think you could help by____________?”
Avoid overgeneralizations such as I always or you never. Instead of saying “You never tell me when you’re going to be late,” say “I feel anxious and unimportant when you’re late, but don’t bother to tell me.”
Focus on one topic at a time. No fair bringing up every issue you’ve ever had – the idea is to find solutions one at a time.
Focus on solving problems, not changing people. Face it: your spouse will not change unless the Lord changes him/her. You cannot make it happen, and the harder you try to do so, the more stubborn he/she may become. Instead, focus on the problem: dinner responsibilities need to be shared, how do we do this? It may mean lowering your standards (home-cooked meals only five days out of seven – with one fast food or pizza day, and one leftovers day?). It may mean sharing other duties (you cook, I’ll bathe the kids). It may mean letting something go (Tommy can do soccer or karate, but not both so we have time for family meals).
Allow for breaks in heated discussions – maybe even scheduling a time and day to pick up the topic again. Not everything has to be solved immediately. This is especially true if things are getting out of hand.
Rephrase what your spouse is saying, to ensure that you are hearing each other correctly. This was one of the changes my husband and I made that had the biggest impact. Instead of jumping right in with, “Well, I think…” start by saying, “Are you saying that…?”
If you’re past the point of being reasonable – i.e. you just want to scream, yell, hit, or throw things, leave the room, leave the house if necessary. You’re doing no good to your relationship, and are no longer focused on solving problems.
Be willing to compromise. Try to see the situation from the other side, and recognize the validity of what is being said. Once you do that, compromise is easier. You want to be at all the kids’ practices and games; your spouse wants to trade off with a neighbor occasionally. Compromise on taking them to all the games, but trading off with some practices. This might even leave some time for couple time!
Learn to let go. Is it really that important that your husband turn his socks right side out before they go into the laundry? Just fold them inside out, and he can turn them right way ‘round when he gets them out to wear. That’s what we do – but I’m the culprit with the inside out socks, and he does most of the laundry!
A final review:
- WHO: just you two, and maybe a counselor
- WHAT: important issues
- WHERE: at home, or in a counselor’s office
- WHEN: at a good time, not haphazardly
- WHY: because of your hopes and love
- HOW: carefully, very carefully
Fighting fair in marriage is a learned skill – one that any committed couple can master. But if your spouse doesn’t cooperate, you can still apply many of these fighting fair principles on your own. For example: Refuse to be baited into an argument at inappropriate times. Keep your love and commitment in the forefront of your mind as you do argue. Remember the HOW guidelines, and implement them yourself, even if your spouse is fighting ugly. Be the adult. It’s hard. Sometimes it feels impossible; sometimes it is impossible. But if you choose the fair road, you’ll be able to look yourself and your kids in the eye without shame. You’ll have done your best.
I leave this series with this thought:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, 13