Solving vs. Winning: 4 Tips to Help Solve Marriage Conflict

Anne and I dated for three years (including a year-long engagement). It was a very peaceful dating life. I couldn’t tell you about a single fight/disagreement that we had until that one day in Target…

Oh boy.

Scan Gun
Scan Gun

We were registering for our wedding shower. Target had given us the “scan gun” to document everything we were hoping people would purchase for us. Again, we never worked through conflict because, well, we chose not to fight about anything. But in the “toaster” aisle of the store, Anne found a toaster she wanted.  I preferred a different one. Then she said it, 

“This is the toaster I want for MY kitchen.”

The word “my” set me off like a match to a firework. I lost it. My mind snapped with all sorts of thought followed by words coming out of my mouth,

“Your kitchen? You didn’t pay the bills, I do. You don’t live there yet, I do. Aren’t I going to use the toaster too? Shouldn’t I have a say in it?”

This wasn’t one of our finer moments (especially for me). I grabbed that scan gun and went after anything that she didn’t want me to scan. I scanned Playstation games. I scanned bottles of Coke. I scanned pretzels. I didn’t care. It wasn’t about the shower any longer.  I wanted to make a point. I wanted to win the argument. After a few choice words, a few tears, and many apologies, we made it through the Target scanning debacle. 

It might seem petty to you, but for us at the time (Anne 19, me 22), it was the first time we didn’t see eye to eye (that we were willing to admit) and all the pent up frustrations exploded…over a stupid toaster. 

(Wedding Shower Tip: Scan your favorite snacks. Everyone who brought us a gift, brought a bottle of Coke and a bag of pretzels.  Anne and I cannot exaggerate the literal wall of snacks we were given. Our apartment looked like some huge supermarket display for Coke and pretzels.)

Next month we’ll celebrate 18 years of marriage. And of many of the lessons we’ve learned about conflict, moments like the “toaster moment” have taught us: 

“Solving” is better than “winning.”

I love how The Message translates Proverbs 16:18

First pride, then the crash – the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.

Pride is the barrier to resolution. Because pride doesn’t want to necessarily solve the issue. It wants to win the war. It wants to make a statement. And It feels good to indulge in it. You’ll feel like you’ve got the edge. 

But the pride-driven win is never worth the prize. When you see what you’ve “won,” you realize that the pride has caused a crash…destruction. How do you see a win as a “win” when you, through your pride, have reduced your spouse to nothing. As I say so often in counseling, a win for “me” is rarely a win for the “we”; but a win for the “we” is always a win for “me.”

My question to you today: Are you looking to win? Or are you looking to solve?

Here’s some tips to help. If you want to be a SOLVER then…

1 – Purposely see the good and not the bad. Why is it so easy to be a critic? I think it has to do with the immediate gain we feel we get. It gives us ammo to use. Pride sees the “bad” as an advantage to have and utilize in case of conflict.  A solving spouse looks for the good in the person and actions of their mate. When you search for it, you’ll be more apt to act upon it. I think of the words of Paul, “I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.

2 – Look to grow instead of looking to gain. Looking to gain against your spouse doesn’t help you grow. But looking to grow will help your marriage gain. Solvers are growers. And they know growth necessitates three essential elements: team work and humility.  It’s that idea of hard-working together and finding ways to grow together instead of trying for personal gain.  

3 – Encourage effort over execution. Far too often, I talk with couples who only hear from their spouse when something is wrong.  When I ask about “encouragement,” I get people staring at me like I’m talking in the Klingon language (shout out to my Trek friends). Solvers give more than positive reinforcement; solvers build up their spouse. Love what the Hebrew writer exhorts the church to do. 

“But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today.” Hebrews 3:13

It’s more than good church advice. It is great marriage strategy. Catch your spouse doing things right and watch your marriage win. You’ll dramatically see the atmosphere of your home completely transform.  

4 – Treat your spouse better than he/she deserves. A solver doesn’t treat their spouse like he/she deserves. A solver responds to their spouse like Christ responded to them. When humanity deserved nothing, Christ gave everything. When everyone pulled back from him, he poured out his love.  We people acted in hate to kill him, he offered forgiveness with his final breathes. Solvers recognize that no one in the marriage is perfect. Therefore, our response to each other shouldn’t come from a position of who deserves what, but how Jesus love can respond through us.

Pride is so destructive. It’ll pervert your mind to the place where you think you can control its power.  But pride will manipulate your mind into thinking that winning is what matters.  I promise, the way of pride is easier. But cause everything to “crash” (Proverbs 16:18).

Solving is hard work. Humility will seek to make things right so that it is the Lord and the marriage that shines the most. 

“Solving” is better than “winning.”

Be a solver with your marital conflict. 


Thanks for letting me ramble…

9 responses to “Solving vs. Winning: 4 Tips to Help Solve Marriage Conflict”

  1. Dave:

    Thanks for sharing. You are an incredible writer and your approach is both refreshing and challenging. I plan on stealing some of this for my upcoming marriage mentor training J. Solving versus winning is critical not just in marriage but even as a Pastor in ministry. Thanks again.


    Pastor Dave DeHaan

    *Community Life Pastor*

    First Assembly of God Cedar Rapids

    *“Where Faith Comes To Life”*

    3233 Blairs Ferry RD NE

    Cedar Rapids, IA. 52402

    PH (319) 393-6353

    *www. *

    *From:* Blog Thoughts of Pastor Dave Barringer [mailto:] *Sent:* Thursday, April 21, 2016 8:48 PM *To:* *Subject:* [New post] Solving vs. Winning: 4 Tips to Help Marriage Conflict

    pdbarringer posted: “Anne and I dated for three years (including a year-long engagement). It was a very peaceful dating life. I couldn’t tell you about a single fight/disagreement that we had until that one day in Target… Oh boy. We were registering for our weddin”

    1. Steal away my friend. Thanks for reading. Use what you want and let me know if I can ever help with anything.

  2. This was a great read and something Spencer and I should seek counseling in. We have trouble in this area. Your blog helps me realize that others go through such situations as well and that there are options. Thank you PDave. ♡

  3. MakeItUltra™ Avatar

    good looking post!

  4. Hey Dave,
    I really like this post. I think that we need to realize that you can’t “win” against your own teammate. There isn’t a baseball player that says, “Hey, I won against my own team”. Moving toward a solution is the only way it will work long term.

    1. Love this!! Totally agree.

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