How to Argue Well with Your Spouse

by John Beeson

If you have breath, you are the proud owner of conflict.

It lurks around every corner of our days.

I wake up first in our home. I get dressed and start the coffee. I wake up Angel and our two teenage kids. The other day I kissed my daughter, “good morning, sweetie, it’s time to wake up.” “No, it isn’t!” she responded, pulling her covers over her head. My first whiff of conflict.

I go back downstairs and work on breakfast. At 6:50 everyone is supposed to be gathered around the table. Usually only one of the three is there. I would tell you who, but you know, conflict. It lurks again.

Eventually we are all around the table. We do our family devotions, but now they’re a little compressed and maybe one of the kids isn’t that engaged. Conflict sneaks its head in again.

We’re off to school, but there was a lunch forgotten at home, and so we’re circling back. Now we’re late. Frustration in my heart tells me conflict is all too near.

And now the two slowest drivers in Northwest Tucson have decided to drive side by side in front of me Parcheesi style, five miles below the speed limit. Conflict!

And now I’m pretty sure the lights are in on the conspiracy. One light turns red and there isn’t even anyone at the intersection. Seriously? In 2019, our traffic signals aren’t intelligent enough to catch that? Conflict, code red.

The kids are dropped off and now I’m headed to work. I pull in and head to the fridge to drop off my lunch. Seriously? Has anyone removed his lunch in the past month from this thing? More conflict?!

I look over to the office sink: is this just a holding bay for dirty dishes? Do we not use the cabinet anymore? Conflict!

I haven’t even reached my office door and conflict has reared its ugly head no less than eight times. And I’m not even mentioning the email I saw with the subject line that indicates my first email of the day is going to put my heart in knots.

Sound anything like your day?

How in the world can we navigate all of this conflict? The answer to that question is found in James 1:19, where James says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

James is writing a church that is in the midst of conflict. And he begins with this very practical advice, advice similar to what your mom may have told you: “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason!” Don’t be so quick to talk: listen!

James next encourages us to slow our anger down. Anger closes us down to truth. Anger comes out of our heart, out of our core when something precious to us is threatened.

We could confuse what James is saying with secular techniques to navigate conflict: mindfulness, pausing before we speak, validating the other person—each of these is fine and well, but James is pointing at a deeper reality that is weaved through the pages of scripture: we need to get to the heart.

The ultimate answer to how we fight well is found not in techniques, but in a heart that is shaped by humility.

When we don’t have humility, things go very poorly.

One of the earliest fights in our marriage was about my driving.

I drove pretty fast (and at times recklessly) when we first got married, and Angel would grasp onto the grab handle (that handle above the passenger’s side door), inhale sharply, and offer advice on how I could improve my driving.

I remember one time Angel was particularly strong in her reaction to my driving. She clutched the grab handle and said forcefully, “John!” I snapped: “Why don’t you trust me? I’m a good driver! I’ve never been at fault in an accident. And besides, your dad drives a lot faster than me and you don’t get anxious when he drives!” The temperature spiked in the car. Voices were raised and accusations made. I set off a conflict that lasted well into the day and the chill in our relationship lasted more than a few days.

Let’s diagnose this conflict.

I was interpreting Angel’s actions: clutching the grab handle, gasping, and providing unsolicited advice as a lack of trust in me. I felt undermined and disrespected, and so I lashed out.

Here are seven ways to fight poorly:

1)     Take it personally: I took Angel’s actions personally; she was responding to my driving and I made it about trust in our relationship.

2)     Deny: I denied what I did: “I’m a good driver!”

3)     Minimize: I diminished what I did: it wasn’t such a big deal. Why couldn’t she just get over herself?

4)     Exaggerate: I overstated what Angel said; I made her attacks worse than what they were.

5)     Don’t change: I didn’t try to fix the problem; I kept driving the same way. If I’m honest, I drove faster: I punished Angel for her complaint.

6)     Think only of yourself: I thought about myself first and not Angel. Angel was afraid for her safety, but I made the conflict about me, not her.

7)     Remove God: There was no hint of God being anywhere in my understanding of the conflict; this wasn’t an opportunity to show Angel that I loved her, this wasn’t an opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love to my bride. This was about me: I needed to be right and I needed to make her trust me.

At the root of all of these failures was my pride. I lost because my pride prevailed. Whenever we fail at navigating conflict, you can find our pride at the root of that failure.

Next week we are going to consider how we can fight in a way that glorifies God and shapes our heart toward humility. Used by permission.

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