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…

2 Minute Marriage Devo – Day 7

Welcome to our 2 Minute Devos. This month we are in our Annual Marriage Series at Kalamazoo First Assembly of God and we’re going through devotions for couples. Take the time to read through the passage of the day and listen to the 2 Minute Devo.

Proverbs 11:17

A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.

Marriage Series: Fight Club Part 4…Dessert is mandatory!

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We began a series two weeks ago about fighting in marriage. If you missed the last three weeks, check out Fight Club Part 1: The first rule of Fight ClubFight Club Part 2: Break it down, and Fight Club Part 3: Dig a Pool.

As we’ve continued to state:

Healthy conflict is healthy for marriage.

It’s a certainty when two imperfect people get together with their desires and wants.  As much as we don’t like to admit it, we can be very selfish individuals.  Mix that with normal growing pains of a normal marriage and boom, you have conflict.

Fight Club

Welcome to  “Fight Club.”

RULE #1: Talk about it

RULE #2: Break it down.

RULE #3: Dig a pool.

RULE #4: Dessert is mandatory.

We’re down to the end of developing a healthy way to resolve conflict within your marriage.  The problem that a lot of couples have is they do not know how to resolve conflict in a way that leaves a sweet taste in their mouth.  Usually, we fight and then we walk away with a bitter taste of brokeness, anger, and hurt. Because of that, most people avoid conflict because they don’t know to end it on a “sweet note.”

In this last rule, what you read is exactly what the title is encouraging you to do: have dessert.  I’m a “foodie.”  I like to eat.  And if you’re going to end a meal the proper way, dessert is more than a suggestion to a meal.  It is essential.

BUT…I want you to two stop for a second.

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I want you to see the conflict like a meal.  In the words of every mom on the planet, “you can’t have dessert until the meal is finished.” What’s left you may ask? Evaluation.  Talk with your spouse by setting up a time and place to go over what you two were conflicted about.  Setting a particular time and a designated place makes sure the two of you have no distractions and there will be complete focus.  If the conflict isn’t resolved, the “meal” isn’t over.

This is why evaluation is important before “dessert.” If you haven’t had resolution to the issue, you need to stop and go back to Rule #3 and take a dip in the pool of resources to try a different idea.  This way, you two continue to work together until you both see the problem resolved.  I hope you get the idea that Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 gives us. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  Jesus is obviously third strand, but it take you two to work together to help make the cord.  The two of you straining through the conflict will draw you closer and strengthen the resolve of your marriage.

If you two meet and recognize that the conflict is resolved, it’s time for dessert.

When I and I were dating, we didn’t have much money.  A typical date in college was saving up money to go to Olive Garden for the all-you-can-eat soup and salad…and, of course, bread sticks.  After, we’d go to a place called “Chedders” for  (brace yourself)  the “Cookie Monster.”

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The “Cookie Monster” is a ginormous, freshly baked cookie served on a skillet covered in hot fudge, ice-cream, whipped cream, and a cherry. Even as I type this, my mouth waters thinking about it.  It was the pinnacle of our dates.  We’d drive back to campus talking about how good the “Cookie Monster” was and how much we were looking forward to the next one.

Conflict can be just the same…if you end it with “dessert.”

What I mean by “dessert” is making sure that at the end of conflict, appropriate reward is given.  It could be words of encouragement to your spouse because of how hard he/she worked to resolve the issue.  It could be a note or an embrace of affection for your spouse that didn’t see themselves as creative but really contributed to some great ideas of how to resolve stuff.  Maybe the reward is the two of you going out on a date to celebrate your love for each other as well as to celebrate finally getting over the scuffle.  Whether it’s edification, gift, sex, or a moment together, couples that end conflict with “dessert” are NEVER going to fear conflict with their spouse.  Why? First, because you’ve learned to handle it in a healthy way.  You have followed the steps and worked together. And second, you’ve ended it on a sweet note.  You both walk away from the disagreement with the sweet taste in your spirit because you both sought to reward each other for a job well done.

Ephesians 4:31-32 says “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” A healthy approach to resolution in your marriage will produce a healthy relationship.  It paves the way for forgiveness and grace to be exercised in your marriage.

Fight well.

Fight fair.

Enjoy some dessert at the end.

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Marriage Series: Fight Club Part 2…Break it down

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We began a series last week about fighting in marriage. If you missed last week, check out Fight Club Part 1: The first rule of Fight Club.

As stated last week, I believe in marriage and I believe conflict happens in marriage.  But my philosophy about fighting in marriage is:

Healthy conflict is healthy for marriage.

It’s a certainty when two imperfect people get together with their desires and wants.  As much as we don’t like to admit it, we can be very selfish individuals.  Mix that with normal growing pains of a normal marriage and boom, you have conflict.

Fight Club

Welcome to  “Fight Club.”

RULE #1: Talk about it

RULE #2: Break it down.

Whether it was as a player or a coach, film time was of the utmost importance.  The day after our game, we’d sit down and go over the film of the previous game.  It wasn’t because we just wanted to watch the game over because we were bored.  We had a mission in mind: we needed to break the film down.

What that meant was we (entire team) would sit and watch play-by-play to study what we did right and what we did wrong.  It was exhilarating to watch a play in which you had great success.  Why? The whole team was there to see and recognize the great moment you had.  On the other hand, when you screwed up, the whole team watched and groaned over the mistake.  Breaking down film really wasn’t a bad process unless you lost the game.  Those were quieter film sessions.

As painstaking as it was, it was necessary. Why? We didn’t want to make the same mistakes against the next team.  It was a time to learn and grow. The awkward film time was a great teacher.  If you felt like an idiot, you needed to go with the feeling. I was able to stand back and see myself and couldn’t argue with what the results are.

More often than not, a player or two, out of embarrassment, would try to cover up for their mistakes shown on film.  How you may ask? By playing the blame game.  “I look dumb on film so I’ll deflect the attention on someone else and they can share the shame of the moment.” What I loved about having a great coach, he sees the entire field at once.  He knows what the mistakes are.  He’s willing to call them out…especially when he is at fault as well.

This next step to settling marital conflict it all about “breaking it down.” Like going through the painstaking process of watching your team lose again, you’ve got to have the guts to breakdown what is and has been happening in the conflict in your marriage.

TO MANY COUPLES DO NOT DO THIS! They don’t have a “break down the film session” and they end up on an unending carousel of conflict.  You know who you are.  You continue to fight over the same things over and over and over and over…

You get the picture.

Today, we’re going to help end the spinning by giving you two tips to help stop this carousel of chaos as we dissect Rule #2.

1 – Break it down: How do you contribute to the issue at hand? Conflict is increasingly difficult when people refuse to exercise humility. In most martial scuffles, there is “blood on everyone’s hands.” That simply means there is something that both parties could have done better. If you are going for the marital win, it’s easy to recognize where you may have fallen short. If you are going for the personal win, you’ll attack more and purpose to not relent until you feel vindicated for what was said/done.  Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.”  By exercising humility, you churn the soil of your marriages helping it to become moldable and teachable.  I’ll say it this way: Humility digs a deep well from which wisdom can be drawn.

Could you have reacted better?  Could you have used a different tone? Are you doing something that offends your spouse? Could you have communicated differently? Did you communicate enough? Are you thinking like an individual or like a spouse? There’s a lot of questions to ask yourself and, if you’re humble, you may recognize that you may be at fault just as much as you thought your spouse was.

2 – Break it down: How have you previously tried to resolve it? What are the past attempts that haven’t worked out? Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Some of us are driving our marriages insane because we never take a chance to break down how we are approaching the conflict.  I hear it all the time in marital counseling, “We can’t get past __________.” My question: how do you/have you tried to resolve it.  More often than not, they’ve tried a similar approach over and over to deal with the issue.  Because nothing has changed, they’re ready to call it quits.

List it out…literally get out a piece of paper and pen. Write down the attempts that failed and, perhaps, why they failed.  Some attempts didn’t work because the both of you did do it together.  Some didn’t work because, well, it wasn’t the right approach. Proverbs 17:9 says, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Not breaking it down and listing is “covering the offense.” Repeating a failing resolution is going to “separate” you two more and drive you both insane.

This is your “film session” for your marriage. Breaking down how your conflict has worked and how it hasn’t worked will guide you to healthy conflict resolution for the present as well as for the future.  I never said this was easy.  But it is simple to do.

Fight hard. Fight fair.

Then enjoy making up.

Thanks for letting me ramble…

2 Minute Marriage Devo: “Get up and fight”

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June is our journey through some scripture selections on the topic of Marriage.  I want to invite you to join me. It’s as simple as looking at the blog and reading the passage for the day.  Today’s passage is Nehemiah 4:14.

Nehemiah 4:14

14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

“Fruitful Fights”

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I can’t say that Anne and I ever fought while dating. Both of us were very compromising about most issues…well every issue. I don’t think it was because we were so compatible (see “The Myth of Compatibility“). I think we had no desire to “stir the waters”.  It could have been out of fear and avoidance. It could’ve been for a lack of knowledge of how to deal with conflict. It probably was all of the above.  But for whatever reason, conflict was restrained and nonexistent.

Then the dreaded day of days happened: Registering for our wedding shower.  It started with toasters. Apparently, the toaster I liked didn’t “go” with the kitchen she envisioned. This was new territory for us (conflict, not toasters).  Conflict was a path that we had never traveled before. We were perplexed. Personally, I felt like I had no say or opinion. She felt like I didn’t understand. We didn’t know what to do with this.

My way of resolving it: I gave in to her stupid toaster.

Then it got worse.  Out of frustration of not getting MY toaster, I took the scanner Target gave us and I scanned a bag of pretzels and a bottle of Coke. That was all it took. The gloves came off.  Right there in Target, voices were raised, tears were flowing, and two stubborn individuals went toe-to-toe. What was this fight even about?

Pretzels.

I want to give you a TRUTH: There are battles in our marriage have no reason or right to be fought. I call them “fruitless arguments”. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have disagreements.  But there are people who firmly strive for debates and arguments.  It’s what they get their identity from.  If that’s you, stop getting your spouse ticked off because it’s “fun”. Grow up and treat him/her with respect!

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2 Timothy 2:23 says, “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.” The context of the verse isn’t about marriage.  BUT…there is a powerful warning that comes from it that we can easily apply to marriage.

The words “don’t get involved” comes from one Greek word paraitéomai.  The word is used in a number of ways that means refuse, deny, shun, etc. Now hang with me here…

One of the ancient uses for this particular word is excusing yourself for not accepting a wedding invitation.  Now read the verse in the context of marriage.  “In your marriage, decline the invitation of foolish, ignorant arguments.”  Don’t even entertain them.  Avoid them.  They are unfruitful.  See past them to the bigger issues.

Our stupid little scuffle was just, to use a cliché, the tip of the iceberg. If we really took a proper look at the situation, we would have seen beyond the foolishness. We needed to see past toasters and pretzels to see we had some serious breakdowns. We were not communicating expectations correctly and we absolutely sucked at conflict resolution. But what got in the way was our pride.  And pride will keep you blind to your selfishness and send you into an argument in a “when at all costs” mentality.  The problem is when couples don’t check their pride at the door and “fruitless arguments” cost the joy, peace, and possibly the marriage.

Am I saying you won’t have fights?  Absolutely not.  When two imperfect, broken individuals get married, you’re going to have scuffles. As I said last Sunday, if you two are the same all the time, then one of you is not necessary. The point is to keep clear of foolish, unproductive, and ignorant fights. There’s nothing productive to them.

How do you avoid pointless arguments? 
1. Work on your communication skills.  If you wait to work on them when tempers start rising, it’s too late.  Get working on them today.
2. Chill out and take a seat. Take a chance to calm down and think through what needs to be communicated.  What is the main point? Is that really the main point or is there a bigger issue at hand?
3. You don’t have to always win. Stop being competitive with things that have no right to be competitive about. If you are a “win at all costs” person, you will lose EVERY time.
4. Speak with respect.  Pointless arguments have no room for respect.  When you foster respect and honor, you chase away that which wants to make you unfruitful.
5. Active listening. Eye contact, head nodding, being able to identify what your spouse is feeling as well as being able to restate back to them what you’ve just heard.  Like communication, active listening has to be worked on before fights begin.

Listen to the next verse, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,  correcting his opponents with gentleness.

Do you see the words given? They’re a tremendous help to defend and guide fruitless arguments and create “fruitful fights”.
1. Kind: Showing genuine kindness.  Even if we don’t think he/she deserves it.
2. Able to teach: This means stepping into the situation educated about what is going on instead of flying off the handle without knowing the facts. You can see the side of it and be objective about it…especially if you find you are at fault.
3. Patiently enduring evil: Patience is severely underestimated especially if what is being done to you is wrong/evil.  Exercise patience with your spouse and don’t let your temper feed the flames.
4. Gentleness: It’s not about being a wuss.  Nor is it sugar-coating the topic.  This is being gentle in words, spirit, and actions as to be able to convey communication in a way that your spouse will hear and receive the info.

The prize?  Fruitfulness. 2 Timothy 2:25-26 God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Can you get better fruit than repentance (having a change/transformation of mind and heart) and escape from that which trapped you? I can’t imagine so.

Be fruitful with your fights.  Walk in wisdom and humility.

TRUTH: Don’t look for you get a win.  Look for your marriage to win!

Practice patience & discretion to keep the peace in your home.

Thanks for letting me ramble…