Draw Closer to Your Spouse by Approaching Conflict Well
While there’s healthy conflict that guides couples toward decisions and a greater understanding of each other, unhealthy conflict can result in the opposite. When you bring two sinful people together into a relationship, at some point, there’ll be disagreements, misalignments, and arguments that can temporarily strain their marriage.
The good news? God has not only given us grace to navigate these moments; He has also given us guidance on how to do it.
Maybe you and your spouse are working to break through “stuckness,” or maybe you desire a healthier way to manage conflict the next time it arises. Wherever you stand, below are four steps to repairing conflict that can draw you and your spouse closer, not further apart. As you practice these, remember that wherever you can find personal responsibility in the situation, you’ll find opportunity for change.
1. Recognize the dance.
What dance? We call it the “fear dance.” The fear dance is a continuous cycle that couples create: one individual’s “fear buttons” are pushed which leads to the other individual displaying a coping reaction.
For example, you may beat around the bush and avoid approaching a subject head on. Then, your spouse may assume your intentions or misunderstand your approach and grow increasingly frustrated that you do not want to seek a resolution.
So, what do you do? Pinpoint the problem by name, so you can properly resolve it. You can’t put a Band-Aid on a wound you haven’t identified.
2. Create safety for yourself.
When you begin to approach a conflict in a way that isn’t healthy or doesn’t move toward resolve, call a time-out on yourself. We said it! Toddlers aren’t the only ones who need to pause and think about how they’ve handled a situation. This move is on you.
Sometimes, the most helpful approach you can take in a conflict with your spouse is to step away, communicate when you’re coming back, and then return with a clear head and fresh perspective. When you’re ready to work through the situation, you could say something like, “That didn’t go well. Can we try again?” It sounds simple, but the weight of it can do wonders for your spouse’s heart.
3. Take responsibility for your heart.
It’s likely not your first instinct to take responsibility when you’re engaging in a conflict. We know because it’s not ours, either! However, when you practice self-awareness by taking responsibility for your wrongdoings, you give yourself a better opportunity to hear from God. He longs to speak to you and reveal to you the condition of your heart.
It won’t be easy, but it will be eye-opening when you pray Psalm 139:23: “Search me, God, and know my heart…”
Follow step two—take time away, redirect your heart toward God, and allow Him to reveal areas where you may need to adopt a different posture. Maybe, you’re carrying bitterness, anger, or pride, and these emotions are driving your actions or words. Rather than digging in your heels, uproot these feelings, and let God do His work in you.
4. Choose to repair and reconnect.
Just as loving someone is a daily, or even hourly, decision, so is repairing conflict. A conversation dedicated to repairing and reconnecting can play out in several ways, depending on how you’re feeling and why the conflict escalated in the first place. Here are a few ways you can navigate repair and work toward reconnecting with your spouse.
What is the fear you have that was triggered by the conflict? Did you feel worthless, devalued, rejected, or judged? Or, did you feel out of control or alone in the moment? Calling this out can help your husband or wife better understand why you reacted the way you did.
Sometimes, you just need to refer to age-old tactics you’ve been taught to use your whole life—say, “Sorry,” and explain what you’re sorry for. These are key steps toward forgiveness and repair in any relationship, including your marriage. In this step, be specific. Maybe you reacted by withdrawing from your spouse, blaming them, or belittling them. By calling out exactly what you’re sorry for doing, you let the other person know that specific reaction is one you want to avoid in the future.
You took an opportunity to share about how you felt and why it made you react in a certain way, but it’s also important to acknowledge your spouse’s feelings and affirm that you understand how your actions prompted them. Making your husband or wife feel seen and safe is always important, but it’s especially important in moments of vulnerability.
Did we mention that saying, “I’m sorry,” can take you further than you probably think? It’s one of the greatest gestures of humility you can offer in a moment of reconciliation with your spouse. In addition to apologizing, go one step further by asking what can be done to make things right. Work to repair any feelings or layers of trust that may have been damaged along the way. This may be as simple as handling the same topic differently the next time, or it may require more time and intentionality to bring true healing. Each conflict is different and will need its own special attention to be repaired.
All marriages have conflict—even healthy marriages. So, try your best to avoid running from conflict. Instead, embrace the opportunity to repair conflict well, so it doesn’t strain your marriage overall. Ask God to help you utilize the steps above whenever you and your spouse are at odds. Let Him guide you as you reconnect with your spouse and Him.