When Marital Disagreements Arise
NO HUSBAND or wife of sound mind enjoys marital conflict, but it is all too common. Typically, one spouse says something that irritates the other. Voices are raised, and tempers flare, igniting an emotionally charged argument with caustic remarks. Then comes icy silence, with both mates stubbornly refusing to talk. In time, the anger subsides and apologies are exchanged. Peace is restored—at least until the next disagreement.
Marital spats are the topic of an endless stream of jokes and story lines of television programs, but the reality is far from amusing. Indeed, a Bible proverb says: “Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword.” (Proverbs 12:18, Today’s English Version) Yes, harsh speech may leave emotional scars that linger long after the dispute has ended. Arguing may even lead to violence.—Exodus 21:18.
Of course, because of human imperfection, problems in marriage are sometimes unavoidable. (Genesis 3:16; 1 Corinthians 7:28) Still, frequent and intense disputes should not be dismissed as normal. Experts have noted that a pattern of quarreling increases the likelihood that a couple will eventually divorce. Hence, it is vital that you and your spouse learn to handle disagreements in a peaceful manner.
Assessing the Situation
If your marriage is plagued by arguments, try to determine if there is a pattern to your disputes. Typically, what happens when you and your spouse disagree on a matter? Does the discussion quickly veer off course and deteriorate into a volley of insults and accusations? If so, what can you do?
First, take an honest look at how you as an individual might be contributing to the problem. Are you easily provoked? Are you argumentative by nature? What would your spouse say about you in this regard? This last question is important to consider, for you and your mate may have different views about what constitutes being argumentative.
For example, suppose that your spouse tends to be somewhat reserved, while you are candid and highly intense when expressing yourself. You might say: “When I was growing up, that’s the way everyone in my family communicated. It’s not arguing!” And perhaps to you it is not. Possibly, though, what you see as uninhibited straight talk is perceived by your mate as hurtful and combative arguing. Simply being aware that you and your mate have different communication styles can help prevent misunderstandings.
Remember, too, that arguing does not always involve shouting. Paul wrote to Christians: “Let . . . screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you.” (Ephesians 4:31) “Screaming” alludes to a raised voice, whereas “abusive speech” refers to the content of the message. Viewed in that light, even whispered words can be argumentative if they are irritating or demeaning.
With the foregoing in mind, look again at how you handle disagreements with your mate. Are you argumentative? As we have seen, the real answer to that question largely depends on the perception of your spouse. Rather than dismissing your mate’s view as oversensitive, try to see yourself as that one sees you, and make adjustments where they are needed. Paul wrote: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.”—1 Corinthians 10:24.
“Pay Attention to How You Listen”
Another aspect of handling disagreements is found in Jesus’ words: “Pay attention to how you listen.” (Luke 8:18) True, Jesus was not talking about communication in marriage. Nevertheless, the principle applies. How well do you listen to your spouse? Do you listen at all? Or do you abruptly interrupt with pat solutions to problems that you have not completely understood? “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation,” the Bible says. (Proverbs 18:13) When a disagreement arises, then, you and your spouse need to talk the matter out and truly listen to each other.
Rather than downplay your spouse’s viewpoint, strive to show “fellow feeling.” (1 Peter 3:8) In the original Greek, this term basically denotes suffering with another person. If your mate is distressed over something, you should share the feeling. Endeavor to look at the matter from his or her perspective.
Evidently, the godly man Isaac did that. The Bible tells us that his wife, Rebekah, was deeply disturbed over a family issue involving her son Jacob. “I have come to abhor this life of mine because of the daughters of Heth,” she said to Isaac. “If Jacob ever takes a wife from the daughters of Heth like these from the daughters of the land, of what good is life to me?”—Genesis 27:46.
Granted, out of anxiety, Rebekah likely overstated matters. After all, did she really abhor her life? Would she literally prefer to die if her son married one of the daughters of Heth? Probably not. Still, Isaac did not minimize Rebekah’s feelings. Instead, Isaac saw that Rebekah’s concern had merit, and he took action accordingly. (Genesis 28:1) Do the same the next time your mate is anxious over a matter. Instead of dismissing it as something trivial, listen to your mate, respect his or her view, and respond in a compassionate manner.
Listening and Insight
A Bible proverb states: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger.” (Proverbs 19:11) In the heat of a disagreement, it is so easy to react impulsively to every sharp word that is uttered by your spouse. Usually, though, this only serves to escalate the argument. Hence, when listening to your spouse, make it your determination to hear not only the words being said but also the feelings behind the words. Such insight will help you to see past personal annoyances and get to the root of the problem.
For instance, suppose your wife says to you, “You never spend any time with me!” You could be inclined to get irritated and deny the charge with cold facts. “I spent a whole day with you last month!” you might reply. But if you listen attentively, you might find that your wife is not really asking for more minutes or hours. Instead, she may be asking for reassurances, telling you that she feels neglected and unloved.
Suppose that you are a wife and your husband expresses his concern over a recent purchase. “How could you spend that much money?” he asks in utter disbelief. Your impulse might be to defend yourself with facts regarding the family finances or by comparing your purchase with one of his own. Insight, however, will help you to see that your husband may not be talking about dollars and cents. Instead, he may be troubled because he was left out of the decision-making process when it came to a major purchase.
Of course, each couple may have a different way to address how much time they spend together and how purchasing decisions are made. The point is that when matters become subjects of contention, insight will slow down your anger and enable you to perceive the real issues at hand. Rather than impulsively reacting, follow the Bible writer James’ admonition to be “swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.”—James 1:19.
When you do speak, remember that how you speak to your mate is important. The Bible says that “the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) When you and your spouse are caught up in a disagreement, do your words hurt or do they heal? Do they build roadblocks, or do they pave the way for reconciliation? As we have already seen, angry or impulsive responses only stir up contention.—Proverbs 29:22.
If a disagreement deteriorates into a verbal boxing match, put forth more effort to stick to the point. Focus on the cause, not the person. Be more concerned with what is right than who is right. Be careful that your words do not fan the flames of the argument. The Bible says: “A word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Proverbs 15:1) Yes, what you say and how you say it may make a difference in whether you elicit your mate’s cooperation or not.
Aim to Resolve, Not to Win
In our dealing with disagreements, the goal is a solution rather than a victory. How can you reach a solution? The surest way is to search out and apply the Bible’s counsel, and husbands especially should take the initiative to do so. Rather than being quick to express strong opinions on the issues or problems at hand, why not look at them from Jehovah’s viewpoint? Pray to him, and seek the peace of God that will guard your hearts and mental powers. (Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6, 7) Make an earnest effort to look out for the personal interest of not just you but also your mate.—Philippians 2:4.
What often makes a bad situation worse is letting hurt feelings and uncontrolled emotions dominate your thoughts and actions. On the other hand, being willing to be readjusted by the counsel of God’s Word leads to peace, agreement, and Jehovah’s blessing. (2 Corinthians 13:11) Therefore, be guided by “the wisdom from above,” manifest godly qualities, and reap benefits as “those who are making peace.”—James 3:17, 18.
Really, all should learn to handle disagreements peacefully, even if this means sacrificing personal preferences. (1 Corinthians 6:7) Indeed, apply Paul’s admonition to put away “wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech, and obscene talk out of your mouth. . . . Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality.”—Colossians 3:8-10.
At times, of course, you will say things that you later regret. (James 3:8) When this happens, apologize to your spouse. Continue to put forth effort. In time, you and your spouse will likely see great improvement in how you handle disagreements.
[Box/Picture on page 22]
Three Steps to Defusing an Argument
• Listen to your spouse.—Proverbs 10:19
• Respect his or her viewpoint.—Philippians 2:4
• Respond in a loving manner.—1 Corinthians 13:4-7
[Box/Picture on page 23]
What You Can Do Now
Ask your spouse the questions below, and listen to the answers without interrupting. Then your spouse can do the same with you.
• Do I tend to be argumentative?
• Do I really listen when you express yourself, or do I impulsively respond before you are finished speaking?
• Do my words come across to you as insensitive or angry?
• What can we both do to improve our style of communication—especially when we do not agree on a matter?
[Picture on page 21]
Do you listen?
[Picture on page 22]
“I feel neglected and unloved”
[Picture on page 22]
“You never spend any time with me!”
[Picture on page 22]
“I spent a whole day with you last month!”