Family Matters: How to Stop an Argument before it Starts
My husband and I have been married for over three decades. Since we’re both firstborn and innately stubborn, we’ve had our fair share of arguments during that time. But in the process, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to stop an argument before it starts. Here are nine habits that help:
Trade your pride in for humility.
Nobody is right 100% of the time, so stop pretending that you’re the exception to this rule. Be willing to look at things from your spouse’s perspective. Put at least as much effort into understanding the other’s viewpoint as you put into articulating your own. How many marriages have been destroyed by the stubborn refusal of either or both parties to humbly extend such basic considerations?
Give up the right to have the last word.
Have you ever known (or been married to) someone who insists on always having the last word? It can be super-annoying, can’t it? Don’t be that person. Once you have gently explained your point of view, challenge yourself to remain quiet and voluntarily grant that last-word privilege to your spouse.
Stay calm, especially when your spouse is stirred up.
It’s almost inevitable that your spouse will occasionally do or say something that irritates you, yet it’s important to keep those feelings of annoyance from turning into anger — particularly when the irritation is mutual. The Bible warns us not to let our anger control us (Ephesians 4:26). It is bad enough when one of you gives into anger; if you both lose your temper at once, the potential for damage is doubled, so take a deep breath, count to ten, and do whatever it takes to keep a cool head.
Don’t belabor the point.
Make it your aim to communicate your thoughts clearly and concisely. That is a goal over which you have some measure of control. Convincing the other person to agree with you completely or to abandon their viewpoint in favor of your own, isn’t — and if you make that your goal, you will be setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.
Be quick to apologize.
“Let not the sun go down on your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26) That’s how the Bible advises us to deal with our anger. That gives you only a few hours to bury the hatchet before bedtime, so if you’ve had a spat, don’t wait for your spouse to make the first move toward reconciliation. Accept whatever blame belongs to you and apologize without pointing fingers.
Forgive without being asked.
You should forgive your spouse freely, as frequently as you are asked to do so (Matthew 18:21-22), but don’t feel like you have to wait for an apology before extending forgiveness. When you forgive — even if it is unsolicited — you protect your own heart from bitterness and resentment and keep your conscience clear toward God, who promises to forgive us as we forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15)
Anticipate problems in advance.
With a little forethought, you can resolve many problems before they crop up. Identify common argument triggers and agree on an appropriate course of action beforehand. I know it puts my husband on edge when the house is a wreck, so I try to keep things tidy for his peace of mind. Likewise, he knows that I don’t like for him to look at his phone while driving, so he has me answer it for him when he receives a call on the road and pulls over to look at maps or send texts.
Embrace your differences.
Men and women are inherently different, not only in the way their bodies are made, but in the way they think and act and in what they value. “Different is not necessarily wrong, it’s just… different.” Stop trying to change your spouse to be more like you and learn instead to embrace those differences. Adapt to them. Be grateful for them. Celebrate the fact they exist. Life would be pretty boring if they didn’t.
Confront sin carefully.
Of course, not all differences in behavior are a matter of taste, preference, or opinion. Sometimes our differences are rooted in sin. If such a power is at play in your marriage (and to some degree, sin rears its ugly head in every relationship), you may need to address the matter with your spouse. Do so in a firm but loving way, and pray for wisdom and the right words to say before you broach the subject (James 1:5). Be specific. Don’t generalize. Seek forgiveness for anything you’ve done that may have contributed to the problem (see #5 above), then leave room for the Holy Spirit to work in your spouse’s heart, convicting of sin and drawing unto repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9).
These nine practices aren’t theoretical. They are tried and true. My husband and I have been using them with great success for 33 years now. Sure, we still have impassioned discussions from time to time. We have different personalities and do not always see eye-to-eye.
But we are also a team. We are committed to marriage in general and to each other in specific. We can attest that these guidelines, coupled with God’s unsurpassed grace, have kept those disagreements from driving a wedge into our relationship and causing a split or an all-out war.
Although Jennifer Flanders still has a bit of a stubborn streak, her roles as wife and mother have softened it considerably. To read more from this author, visit https://lovinglifeathome.com.
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