My friend Dan Tsouloufis wrote some helpful principles for handling conflict in marriage. Here it is:
Many years ago, back in 2012, I put together some “guiding principles” for couples to think about as they attempt to communicate better and resolve conflict better. Sometimes couples establish poor habits of communicating and they don’t truly resolve conflict, since they find it too difficult or too painful. Thus, their unresolved conflict gradually builds layers of resentment and mistrust over the years, becoming much harder to break these patterns and achieve true intimacy.
Listed below are ten guiding principles for handling conflict within marriage. I actually came up with these principles when I was counseling a particular married couple at our church at the time. I believe the key Scripture passage we should use when counseling couples (whether married or considering marriage) is Ephesians 5:21-33, since it emphasizes the servant-leadership role required of the husband, especially verses 25 through 27. Also, 1 Peter 3:7 is helpful for husbands to honor and respect their wives.
1. Choose your arguments wisely. Decide if the issue is worth going to battle for.
2. Try to deal with the issue at hand, and not bring up past arguments. Also, avoid using hyperbolic or extreme statements, such as “you always” or “you never”.
3. Oftentimes it is better to be good than to be right. Be willing to demonstrate humility, and not needing to be right in every argument.
4. Check your attitude. Are you being patient? Are you showing respect? What tone of voice are you using, even at the very beginning of the discussion?
5. Don’t be afraid to share your point of view on the issue. But don’t be afraid to listen to your spouse’s point of view either.
6. Your spouse’s feelings matter, no matter how trivial the issue. You may not agree with your spouse’s point of view, but try not to dismiss or disregard their feelings.
7. Be willing to show deference to your spouse during the conflict. Oftentimes the more dominant personality tends to control the discussion. Thus, try to balance out the control.
8. In the heat of an argument, never say things that you’re going to regret later. Saying hurtful things never helps the situation, but can foster resentment in the long run. Words matter, and hurtful words are hard to forget.
9. During the conflict, try to look for common ground (i.e. aspects of the situation where you both agree). This shows a willingness to compromise and a willingness to seek harmony and reconciliation.
10. Above all, in the midst of the conflict, choose to love, honor, and respect your spouse.
No doubt, many of the above principles are not easy to adhere to during the heat of an argument. Yet if our heart’s desire is to follow these principles, we’ll have a better chance of honoring our spouse during an argument than we would otherwise. Also, we’ll have a better chance of resolving the conflict as well as not giving the devil a foothold (Eph. 4:26-27).