By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
A common bridal shower activity is to offer advice to the soon-to-be-wife on how to make this marriage work for a lifetime. A popular piece of advice is to 'not go to bed angry with one another." This idea actually comes from the Bible!
Ephesians 4:26 says, "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry." This section of Scripture is a list giving the early believers instructions for Christian Living. The verses also highlight the need to be honest, not steal, work hard, avoid unwholesome talk, avoid anger, be kind, show compassion, and offer forgiveness. This is a beautiful list that helps us understand the Christian life that Jesus desires us to pursue. These words also offer wonderful advice on how to be a loving spouse. Anger, dishonesty, unkind words, rage, unforgiveness, and a lack of empathy all have the power to destroy our relationships. We need the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our life to live this way!
Is it okay then to wait until morning to work through your anger when conflict arises in your marriage?
I am married to a man who has many times expressed that if he gets heated in a conversation, it is best if we table it and revisit this at a later date. As the big feeler in our home, I have trouble stepping away from conflict. Throughout our marriage, we have had to compromise in how we agree to handle fights, and this is still very much a work-in-progress for us.
Here are a few ideas on how to manage marriage conflict biblically:
1. Agree to Take a Time-out From the Argument
Sometimes you find yourself in a very heated dispute, and there can feel like there is no way out of this tense conversation. This can lead to conflict escalation and often does not lead to a good place. Yet, I have found that as the one who wants to hash things out, I need to know that we will take up the subject again and not just brush it off because it feels too hard to address.
A good way to de-escalate a conversation that has gotten your blood boiling is to choose together to table the topic until an agreed-upon time that you will revisit the conversation. Stepping back can give you a chance to control your emotions better. Once you have hit that fight-or-flight stress response in a situation, logic is no longer heard, and emotions are all that are ruling the interaction.
A few tips to make sure this strategy is utilized in a helpful way include:
Decide ahead of time that time-outs are okay. Don't wait until you are in the middle of an argument to say I need a break. Stepping away during a fight without communicating this can feel like avoidance/abandonment and can make things worse.
Communicate that you need a time-out. If you find yourself getting upset, choose a way that works for you to calmly state you need a break. Do not storm off.
Make time-outs short. To the point from Ephesians that we should not let the sun go down on our anger, we should not let these arguments drag on without resolving the issue. Our relationships are the most valuable thing we have in this life, and making sure we are living in unity with one another should be a top priority.
Take time to calm yourself down and come up with a new approach. Don't use this time to fester on all the ways your spouse is wrong but take advantage of this break in the conversation to calm your mind and body so you can get back on the same page as your partner.
Return to the conversation and resolve the conflict. When you come back to the conversation, calmly talk through the issue at hand. Remember that you are on the same team. Conflict is not the goal but working together to find a reasonable resolution is in the best interest of your marriage.
2. Focus on Improving Your Communication Skills
Cultivating positive communication skills in your marriage looks a lot like working to live out the fruits of the spirit. We have to practice these skills every day before conflict arises, so we are better able to de-escalate fights when they break out. Some useful phrases that can help you better express yourself in order to help diffuse tense conversations include using "I feel" statements, "I need to calm down" statements, "I am sorry" statements, and "I appreciate" statements.
When we make sure we are using "I" rather than "you" in a tough moment, it helps us avoid placing blame on our partner when we are trying to communicate about a situation that we are feeling concerned about. Blame statements and words like "always" or "never" can very quickly add flame to the fire.
Conflict is inevitable when merging the lives of two imperfect people, but being prepared for the best way to speak to one another when these situations arise can help us avoid allowing anger and bitterness to grow in our marriages. When we allow anger to grow, we give the Devil a foothold to slowly tear apart our homes.
3. Work to Empathize with Your Spouse
Conflict happens when we feel attacked by our partners. Our anger grows because we feel threatened, hurt, or unseen by our partners. Empathy helps us selflessly set aside our own feelings for a moment to hear and see the position of our husbands or wives. When you feel your blood pressure starting to rise because of something your partner has said or done, take a deep breath and pause to visualize how they must be feeling in that moment.
What is it that they truly are trying to say to you? Is their snippy tone due to them being stressed or exhausted? Can you respond by asking them how they are doing rather than responding in kind? Empathy helps us see past our own feelings of hurt and into what the issue really is at that moment.
I know from personal experience that there has been almost nothing my husband and I have fought about that was worth being so very angry about. These terrible fights have really resulted from exhaustion, worry, stress, anxiety, disconnection, or carelessness. If one of us had the ability to see the other in these moments, these huge fights could have been resolved. If one of us had been willing to lay down our right to be offended and ask about how the other was doing, the fight would have never happened. We are working hard on this, but fifteen years in our pride seems to continue to make living in unity hard.
We can apply Ephesians 4 to our marriages in one crucial way; we should never let anger and bitterness grow in our hearts toward one another. If you decide to make up before bed or talk it out first thing in the morning, what matters most is that you don't let moments of anger and conflict steal all the joy and connection from our union. The unity that is supposed to define our marriage relationships cannot thrive when anger, unforgiveness, unkindness, dishonesty, and unrighteous living go unchecked in our lives. Christian living and the gracious power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives is what it takes to make a marriage work.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/PeopleImages
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.