How to Have a Good Fight

In marriage, fights will happen. There’s no way around it. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much you love your spouse—or future spouse—conflict is inevitable. Why? Because you have two different people with different expectations, histories, and personalities. Each has their own wants, needs, goals, interests, likes, values, moods, etc. 1 Corinthians 7:28 (NIV) tells us that “those who marry will face many troubles in this life . . .” It’s not a stretch to say that nearly everyone knows going into their marriage that conflict will arise from time to time. Sadly, though, the majority of married couples don’t know how to handle and resolve conflict. There are many reasons for this: They may have witnessed poor parental examples as kids, they may have bought into the illusions created by TV and movies, maybe they listen to bad advice from friends, or maybe they simply believe that their issues will somehow work themselves out. Now, here’s something you may have never heard before, but it’s true and important for you to understand: Conflict can be bad, but it can also be good! Why Is Conflict Bad? Conflict is detrimental to any marriage—really, to any relationship—when you attack each other, which leads to bitterness, anger, resentment, and unforgiveness. This was how Vivian and I handled conflict during the early years of our marriage, where we needed a mediator to interpret what we said! Galatians 5:15 (NLT) warns us about fighting in this way, saying, “But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” In Matthew 12:25 (NIV), Jesus illustrated what a marriage filled with this kind of strife will look like when He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” How Can Conflict Be Good? As strange as this sounds, conflict can be both good and helpful, but only when you face and attack the problem and not each other. Handling it God’s way will have a positive impact on your relationship by stimulating growth and development in your relationship—and in both individuals. Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NLT) shows us the strength of relationships when things are done God’s way when it says, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Why Do Couples Fight? There are numerous reasons why we have conflict in our relationships. As you read through these, think about how each has, to some degree, played a part in a past—or even a present—conflict. Self-centeredness: One of the virtues talked about in 1 Corinthians 13 is love. Paul says, “Love is not self-seeking.” Every time you push or demand that it’s your way only, it leads to heightened tension and friction. This can be anything from taking control of the TV remote to where you will go on vacation. The root of this issue is putting yourself, your wants, and your needs above your spouse. Circumstances: When outside forces impact you and the way you approach your relationships. Things like finances, work, illnesses, lack of communication, a bad experience elsewhere, or sometimes trivial things like your favorite sports team losing or the microwave being on the fritz can cause one person—or both—to say or do things that will lead to a fight. Satan: Our enemy is always trying to stir up conflict, and he uses self, situations, and circumstances to rile us up and create strife. James 4:1 (NLT) asks, “ What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” while 1 John 2:16 (NIV) warns us about “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life . . .” In conflict, there are often low blows, dirty tactics that do nothing but harm. This is abuse. There is no justifying these tactics. Slandering, cutting someone down, ugly statements, verbal or physical abuse . . . these things should have NO place in your relationships. They are relationship killers. They cut deeper than any blade and leave scars that can last a lifetime. The Question of the Hour: How Should I Handle Conflict? Before I answer that, I have a question for you . . . How do you react when your spouse doesn’t fulfill your desires or expectations? Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do I react the way I do?” In dealing with conflict, you usually have the choice to withdraw, yield, compromise, or to try to “win.” Unfortunately, all of these are negative, and will lead to someone being hurt. Instead, the goal should always be to resolve. If conflicts are inevitable, then we need biblical guidelines for resolution in order for our marriages to grow into oneness the way God intended. Here are few . . .

  1. Be Kind in Your Communication (Ephesians 4:29): Prayerfully be open, truthful, and respectful. Speak the truth in love.
  1. Be Under Control (Proverbs 18:14,19): Allow yourself to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, not by your flesh. Refrain from vengeful anger that leads to bursts of temper.
  1. Timing Is Everything (Ecclesiates 3:1): As a couple, come to an agreement about when is the right time and place to discuss the situation, and keep the appointment.
  1. Positive Solutions (Proverbs 29:23; James 3:17): Listen with your entire body. Address one issue at a time. Support and encourage your spouse. Don’t use words like always and never.
  1. Be Understanding (Proverbs 18:21): Watch your words and tone of voice. Avoid nagging, shouting, arguing, lashing out, or interruptions.
  1. Be Private: Do not be confrontational in front of family or in public. Doing this creates embarrassment, resentment, anger, and sarcasm.
  1. Be Clear: Help clean the mess. Be kind, gracious, tender, and compassionate. Forgive as Jesus forgave us.
  1. Surrender (Ephesians 5:18–19): Say things like “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong,” “Please forgive me,” and most importantly, “I love you.” The closer you communicate to the Lord, the closer you will be to your spouse.

Final Thoughts As we mentioned earlier, conflict is inevitable. You can’t avoid it, but you can avoid the pitfalls of it. We pray that our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned through our marriage have served to encourage and equip you to deal with conflict in a healthy, godly, loving way. If you have any questions or concerns, or if you need help with your marriage, please contact us at