How to Have Conflict in Your Marriage without the Combat

How to Have Conflict in Your Marriage without the Combat


By Julie Sanders

The memory of our public vows was still wet cement when we had our first big blowup.

Despite promises to love, honor, and cherish just days before, the gasoline of misunderstanding was lit by poor skills in conflict resolution. Before one week of bliss was complete, we found ourselves learning how to fight in marriage.

Have you faced this same question? 

Over the last thirty years, we’ve learned a lot about God’s rules of engagement for marriage to last and get better with time. Would we fight each other or would we fight for our marriage?

Uniting two lives as one takes a miracle. When blending two different individuals into a single, shared life, conflict is unavoidable.

While healthy communication doesn’t need to become combative, pressure points present opportunities for growth towards oneness. God’s relational principles help couples manage the inevitable friction of fusing two lives into one.

Good marriages never stop growing or learning. Along the way in our decades of life together, we learned from godly mentors and God’s truth.

Here are 6 ways we’ve learned how to fight in marriage: 

1. Be Prepared

No blushing bride or hopeful husband plans to make memories by making war at home. But we do.

Never having conflict may be a sign of never facing up to differences or of one smothering the other. The very nature of doing life together invites decisions and challenges when we tackle decisions, setbacks, crises, and misunderstandings.

Add our own unique quirks, flaws, and sinful habits to the mix, and every couple is on a collision course to see whether they’ll fight for their marriage or fight for their own way.

Author Max Lucado penned the memorable statement that “Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.”   Rather than pouring the majority of our effort into preparations for the wedding event, couples do well to invest in preparing themselves to sort out the conflicts they’re sure to encounter.

It’s likely any two people will bring enough bad habits and selfishness to the union to stir up misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and offenses. The other relationships, commitments, responsibilities, and problems around a man and wife help to stir the pot.

Every loving couple will have unloving moments if they’re together long enough.

Prepare to contend for your life together by weaving the words of Colossians 3:13 into your vow before God: “We will bear with each other and forgive one another when we have a grievance against each other. We will forgive each other as the Lord forgave us individually.”

The best marriages have the courage to confront hard things together, but those confrontations don’t have to morph into battles or stay in that zone when straying there.

To fight for your marriage, be prepared to bring grace, forgiveness, understanding, loyalty, and pure grit into the miraculous joining of your lives. 

2. Be Practical

We enter life together on a wave of emotions, but we can’t build life together on that wave. Instead, a union gains strength with each joint decision.

As we encounter conflict, it only makes sense to agree to pragmatic rules of engagement. Even when we disagree or do battle, our marriage benefits when our practice sets us up for success.

Before you let emotions choose the timing for important steps toward unity, put yourselves in the best position for understanding to happen.  There may not be an easy time to work through hard issues, but as far as it’s possible, try to observe practical considerations like timing and setting.

It’s easy to be swept up in a rush of big feelings in the pressure cooker of marriage and family life. Either partner has the potential to become a “hot-tempered person.”

When the romance of the wedding day is long past, active love is patient and kind, waiting to confront problems and pains when you’re both able to work through them.

“A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” (Proverbs 15:18)

Give practical consideration to factors where you have some measure of control. Did one of you stay up all night? Have you both had something to eat? Is either of you feeling ill?

When we have difficult conversations inside of a difficult combination of circumstances, we’re less likely to bring our best to the fight for our marriage. We’re more likely to end up with a larger, more intense, potentially more damaging fight in marriage. 

3. Be Prayerful

Since God instituted the marriage miracle, who is in a better position to help while we work out our struggles? The vows are just the beginning. Couples grow as individuals letting go of self-centeredness, and they grow as a team, learning to bend and blend into something only God could make.

As He works in each heart, they grow closer to Him and to each other.

Few experiences humble and shape us like the process of yielding life alone to shared life. God uses new awareness to change us. When walking through the warfare of our pride, it’s not easy to admit our wrong-doing and ask for forgiveness.

Conflicts become spaces for confession, with transparency bringing us closer to each other and making us grateful for grace. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me,” (Psalm 51:10).

Marriage reveals how desperately we need to keep a prayerful posture, asking for help to have a pure heart in our home. We see in our struggle together how desperately we need God to keep making a steadfast, faithful heart in us. God waits for us to ask for insight and wisdom for life together.

God can use the clashing of hearts in the joining of hearts when we make prayer part of our fight.

When you sense conflict is brewing, pray. When you ride an emotional wave, tempted to force an issue to the front, pray. When you wait to work out a problem, pray. When the moment comes and the work begins, pray. When everything swells and you’re fighting IN your marriage and not FOR your marriage, pray.

And once the argument is over and you’re left trying to understand and forgive and know what’s next, pray. Pray alone or pray together. Pray alone and together. God made your miraculous marriage and He never stops working to make it work. 

4. Be Protective

Fights in your marriage are actually fights for your marriage.

Conflict provides a place for growth, with the hope that you’ll grow toward wiser, more loving ways to tackle your tensions.

Instead of arguments deteriorating into brawls, as God grows each spouse individually and the couple jointly, they learn to function together in a more peaceful way. They develop skills in communication best suited to the other. Understanding builds with insights hard-won, and trust creates safe places to problem-solve when pain enters in. But on the way to those sweet rewards, the fight can hurt those in and around it.

We work through communication with the hope of understanding, but it’s an effort plagued with pitfalls. Despite our goal of unity, conflict may push us apart if we ignore God’s principles of engagement.

Our enemy loves to stir up conflict to doom us and our marriage. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” but Jesus came to bring abundant life. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” (John 10:10).

Marriage displays God’s love of breathing life into what would otherwise be stolen, dead, and destroyed.

No one envisions a war on their wedding day. We all imagine blessed bliss. But since marriage fuses two sinful people into one sinful union, we have a lot to work out.

In the process of fighting for the great marriage God wants for us, we have the potential to wound each other and any children created in our union.

Before you walk down the aisle or walk out your door each day, pledge to be protective of the marriage gift God has given you.

5. Be Private

Every couple will experience a painful moment in public. At that moment, we need to be prayerful, practical, and protective to keep the incident from inflicting wider damage. Damage could extend to one another, to your children, or to others around you.

When we make our vows and live our bliss as a publicly joined union, our marriage forever impacts those in our sphere of influence. Public fights injure innocent bystanders like shrapnel, sending indiscriminate shards into tender, random targets.

Having a practice of working through confrontations privately helps ensure conflicts don’t push us further apart with the added momentum of humiliation. Nonpublic settings provide a place to work through battles without attaching new baggage to problems and creating new obstacles for future resolution and healing.

Giving in to a hot temper rarely leads to greater intimacy, “because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20)

Couple conflict happens when something threatens unity. Dishonesty or selfishness threatens mutual care, understanding, and intimacy. Outside relationships or commitments can create wedges.

When oneness is at risk privately, it sometimes overflows in public places like family gatherings, social events, church settings, or work. If we open the floodgate of emotions and let feelings rush out before an audience, more significant damage may be done.

When children watch and listen, we pass on our conflict and confusion to the hearts of the next generation. If others watch and listen, we risk further alienating the one we promised our life to. Fighting in public is rarely the best way to fight for your marriage.

Before you decide about honeymoons or housing, agree to work out conflicts between you in privacy between you. This doesn’t exclude inviting a mentor couple, pastor, counselor, or friend in for support, but intimacy matters enough to keep fights out of public arenas. 

6. Be Prudent

Sometimes, no matter how committed we are to being prepared, prayerful, protective, and private about facing fights in our marriage, we’ll need to step away.

When offenses stack up or problems persist, it can be draining. One or both of us may stop operating in the clarity of our mental executive function. We may react exclusively in our emotional state.

Instead of working through what threatens us, we may fight back, flee, or simply freeze. Defensiveness, sarcasm, escape, or withdrawal may instinctively come out. In these moments, we’re really fighting for our marriage.

Sometimes the best tactical approach is to stop and breathe. More words, when empty or emotional, rarely win wars between us. “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues,” (Proverbs 10:19).

As you breathe, exhale a few words of prayer, “Help me, Lord.” Our Heavenly Father honors the pleas of those who beg for wisdom in our weakest moments.

Have the courage to let your partner know you need to step away, but you’re not running away. Then walk away, knowing God’s Spirit goes with you to minister to your needs for comfort, insight, and guidance.

Soothe yourself with moments to close your eyes, sit away from the fray, or go for a short walk. Separation from the intensity of conflict allows God the space and opportunity to give you what you need and guide you.

By being prudent enough to take this step, you diffuse the wave of emotion and limit the inflicting of new wounds. You move out of an exclusively emotional response and back into a place to thoughtfully listen and respond.

Sometimes the best way to move ahead together is to stop and pause separately.

If you wonder how to fight in marriage, you’re not alone. The fusing of two into one creates pressure and friction. As a union forms from separate lives, God uses discord to develop divine oneness.

If you’re hoping to begin your happily ever after or still persevering to make yours happen, be prepared for conflict. It doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed.

Be practical about when to fight. Be prayerful, knowing God fights for your marriage too. Be protective of this miracle, handle hard times in private and take prudent steps leading to peace.

God created marriage, and He’s given us wisdom on how to fight in it and for it on our way to wedded bliss.


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