He says: “Where are our daughters?”
She says: “They are at the shopping mall buying some new clothes.”
He says: [Annoyed and with a raised voice] “What do you mean ‘buying new clothes’? They bought new outfits just last month!”
She says: [Defensively, feeling hurt and accused] “But there was a sale. Anyhow, they asked me first, and I said they could go.”
He says: [Losing his temper and shouting] “You know I hate it when our girls spend money without consulting me! How could you make such a rash decision without talking to me?”
WHAT problems do you think the couple quoted above need to resolve? The husband obviously has trouble controlling his anger. Besides that, though, the couple appear to disagree about how much freedom their children should have. And there seems to be a breakdown in communication.
No marriage is perfect. All couples will encounter problems of some kind. Whether the issues are large or small, it is imperative that a husband and wife learn to resolve them. Why?
Over time, unresolved problems may become barricades that block communication. “There are contentions that are like the bar of a dwelling tower,” observed wise King Solomon. (Proverbs 18:19) How can you open the door to more effective communication when dealing with problems?
If communication is the lifeblood of a marriage, then love and respect are the heart and lungs of the relationship. (Ephesians 5:33) When it comes to solving problems, love will motivate a couple to overlook past failures—and the resulting emotional injuries—and focus on the issue at hand. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5; 1 Peter 4:8) Couples who show respect allow each other to talk freely and endeavor to hear what is meant, not just what is said.
Four Steps to Solving Problems
Consider the four steps listed below, and note how Bible principles can help you to solve problems in a loving and respectful manner.
1. Set a time to discuss the issue.
“For everything there is an appointed time, . . . a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7) As demonstrated in the altercation quoted earlier, some problems may evoke strong emotions. If that happens, have the self-control to call a temporary halt—to “keep quiet”—before tempers flare. You can save your relationship from much damage if you heed the Bible’s advice: “Starting a quarrel is like a leak in a dam, so stop it before a fight breaks out.”—Proverbs 17:14, New Century Version.
However, there is also “a time to speak.” Problems, like weeds, flourish when neglected. So do not ignore the issue, hoping it will just go away. If you call a halt to a discussion, show respect for your mate by picking a time in the near future when you will talk about the problem. Such a promise can help both of you apply the spirit of the Bible’s counsel: “Let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26) Of course, you then need to follow through on your promise.
TRY THIS: Pick a regular time each week when you can discuss family problems. If you notice that you are more prone to argue at a certain time of day—for example, when you first arrive home from work or before you have eaten—agree not to discuss problems at those times. Rather, choose a time when you are both likely to be less stressed.
2. Express your opinion honestly and respectfully.
“Speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25) If you are married, your closest neighbor is your spouse. So be honest and specific about your feelings when talking to your mate. Margareta,* who has been married for 26 years, says: “When I was newly married, I expected that my husband would just know how I felt when a problem arose. I learned that such an expectation was unrealistic. Now I try to express my thoughts and feelings clearly.”
Remember, your goal when discussing a problem is, not to win a battle or conquer an enemy, but simply to let your mate know your thoughts. To do so effectively, state what you think the problem is, then say when it arises, and then explain how it makes you feel. For example, if you are annoyed by your mate’s untidiness, you can respectfully say, ‘When you come home from work and leave your clothes on the floor [the when and what of the problem], I feel that my efforts to care for the home are not appreciated [explains exactly how you feel].’ Then tactfully suggest what you think would be a solution to the problem.
TRY THIS: To help you have your thoughts clearly in mind before talking to your mate, write down what you understand the problem to be and how you would like to resolve it.
3. Listen to and acknowledge your mate’s feelings.
The disciple James wrote that Christians should be “swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” (James 1:19) Few things cause more unhappiness in a marriage than the impression that your partner does not understand how you feel about a problem. So be determined not to give your mate such an impression!—Matthew 7:12.
Wolfgang, who has been married for 35 years, says, “When we discuss problems, I get kind of tense inside, especially when I feel that my wife doesn’t understand my way of thinking.” Dianna, now married for 20 years, admits, “I often complain to my husband that he doesn’t really listen to me when we discuss problems.” How can you overcome this barrier?
Do not presume that you know what your partner is thinking or feeling. “By presumptuousness one only causes a struggle, but with those consulting together there is wisdom,” states God’s Word. (Proverbs 13:10) Allow your spouse the dignity of expressing his or her opinion without interruption. Then, to ensure that you understood what was said, rephrase what you heard and repeat it to your mate, doing so without sarcasm or aggression. Permit your mate to correct you if you misunderstood something that was said. Do not do all the talking. Take turns in this style of conversation until you both agree that you understand each other’s thoughts and feelings on the matter.
True, it requires humility and patience to listen attentively to your spouse and to acknowledge his or her opinion. But if you take the lead in showing your mate such honor, your mate will be more inclined to honor you.—Matthew 7:2; Romans 12:10.
TRY THIS: When repeating your mate’s comments, do not just parrot his or her exact words. In an empathetic manner, try to describe what you understand your mate is both saying and feeling.—1 Peter 3:8.
4. Agree on a solution.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their hard work. For if one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10) Few problems in a marriage can be solved unless both partners work together and support each other.
True, Jehovah appointed the husband as head of the family. (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23) But headship does not mean dictatorship. A wise husband will not make arbitrary decisions. David, married for 20 years, says, “I try to find a point of agreement with my wife and look for a decision we both can support.” Tanya, now married for seven years, says: “It isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. Sometimes there are just different opinions on how to solve a problem. I have found that the key to success is to be flexible and reasonable.”
TRY THIS: Create a spirit of teamwork by having both of you write down as many different possible solutions to the problem as you can think of. When you have run out of ideas, review your list and implement the solution that you both agree on. Then pick a time in the near future when you will check whether the decision has been acted on and how successful it has been.
Pull Together, Not Apart
Jesus likened marriage to a yoke. (Matthew 19:6) In his day, a yoke was a beam of wood that tied two animals together so that they could perform work. If the animals did not cooperate, they would accomplish little good and the yoke would chafe their necks. If they worked together, they could pull heavy loads or plow a field.
Likewise, a husband and wife who fail to work as a team may chafe under the yoke of marriage. On the other hand, if they learn to pull together, they can solve almost any problem and accomplish much good. A happily married man named Kalala sums up the matter this way, “For 25 years, my wife and I have solved our problems by speaking frankly, by putting ourselves in the place of the other person, by praying for Jehovah’s help, and by applying Bible principles.” Can you do the same?
ASK YOURSELF . . .
What problem do I most want to discuss with my spouse?
How can I make sure that I understand my mate’s true feelings on this subject?
If I always insist on doing things my way, what problems might I create?
Some names have been changed.