This is the second of a four-part abbreviated series in which we will discover God’s design for conflict resolution in marriage. In this second part we look at “how” we should use biblical “ground rules” for arguing. In Part 3 we’ll uncover biblical methods and tips to be used to resolve conflicts. Lastly, in Part 4 we’ll list the next steps when coping with “stuckness” in conflicts.

The title for this series and the metaphor “ground rules” are based on the book “Fighting For Your Marriage” (by Markman, Stanley & Blumberg, 1994) and used with permission of the authors.

How We Should Argue

Is there really a correct way to argue? A way that will fulfill my desire to be understood and yet conduct myself in ways that will still honor God during conflict with my spouse? The Bible has many verses that model conflict resolution guidelines (or ground rules) for believers:

Verse 25 reflects speaking the truth — being honest about your feelings and positions while in the midst of a conflict or argument. You first need to identify your feelings before you can express them honestly. Feelings of anger, fear, jealousy, happiness or sadness may be easily identifiable while those of feeling unappreciated, violated, confused or regretful may be more difficult for us to identify and express. Work on being aware of what and how you are conversing during an argument. Keep it truthful, concise and honest!

Verse 26 & 27 reminds us to keep things under control. When you are out of control, Satan can quickly move in and get a foothold on your emotions. Keep short accounts of your arguments by trying to resolve them as quickly as possible. Above all, try not to bring up your mother-in-law’s annoying habits while arguing about that decision your spouse made earlier today. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger — even if you have to agree to continue discussing this issue tomorrow. Agree to disagree. That could become an important step towards developing a resolution.

Verse 29 says to speak only good words that will be of benefit to your partner. Let no unwholesome words come from your mouth, but only those that will lift up or edify your spouse. Seems pretty tough to do when your in the middle of an emotional “discussion”, doesn’t it? But God knew that good words would give grace and hope to both partners during a conflict. Ephesians 5:4, by the way, makes it very clear that the use of obscenity or stupid words is out of place for believers. Remember, God’s divine intent is for us to use our differences to become even more intimate with our spouse.

Actually, Erika and I usually end up having a great “make up time” after a good argument! Remember that she’s very structured (needs to reach resolution quickly and efficiently) while I’m highly relational (let’s do the “make up time” first, then we can resolve later).

Verses 30~32 challenges us to get rid of bitterness, anger, rage, slander and malice. God’s design for conflict isn’t intended to tear each other down. Have you ever regretted something you’ve said in the heat of an argument? That’s the rage and bitterness that got the best of you. God says that we need to replace those actions with kindness, compassion and forgiveness. He knows it’s tough for us to control our tempers but remember ? He designed us. He built in the ability for us to control ourselves at all times.

Here’s a few more encouraging verses which we can use as guidelines for knowing how to argue:

Proverbs 15:1 says that a gentle answer turns away wrath. In other words, you can defuse a defense by being calm and gentle during your rebuttal. Certainly, don’t start off the conversation in negative ways. Nothing is worse than a finger-pointing in-your-face bug-eyed mouth-frothing communicator who is attempting to win this round in the conflict. Imagine the kind of response that person will receive. Contrast that scenario with one in which both partners are firm in their respective positions yet gentle in their answers and expressions — very God-honoring and effective.

And lastly, James 1:19 and 20 — probably the most quoted verse regarding conflict management — be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. Listen more than you speak (Erika always says that we have two ears and only one mouth!). Process your thinking and/or opinion before you respond. Without intending to completely withdraw from or purposely avoid the conflict, negotiate a short time-out to process your thoughts before continuing your “discussions”.

We love this observation made by Scott Stanley in his book ” Four Hallmarks Of A Great Marriage”: Women evaluate the relationship during the conflict while men evaluate the issues.

Think of that! Men, we must first establish that our love for our spouse is not affected by this argument. We need to demonstrate that she is safe with us even during an argument. And likewise, women, we need you to help establish a focus and assurance that the issue itself will be fully addressed as we work together towards resolution.

So How Should We Argue?
By recognizing that God fits into the conflict even while it’s underway through scripture. His incredible and unique design of our differences even provided biblical guidelines for arguing! What an awesome and amazing God we serve. He knows you, your spouse, Erika and me. He even knows that our differences will cause conflict in our marriages at one time or another.

But over 2000 years ago, God used His son Jesus Christ to settle our differences and conflicts once and for all. Through Jesus’ death on the cross there will be no conflicts in His kingdom in Heaven. No unwholesome words, no anger, no fighting, no wrath. Do you want to be in that place some day? Click Here to find out how.

In Part 3, How Should We Resolve Conflict? we’ll look at some biblical as well as practical ways in which we can move towards conflict resolution. We’ll even learn how to “dance” with our partner during a conflict!

For additional guidance refer to “A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage” (by Stanley, Trathen, McCain & Bryan 1988). Read more from Dr. Scott Stanley at Fighting for Your Marriage.

Duane is a regular contributor to our featured article library. He and his wife Erika are voluntary marriage mentors for pre-married couples within their church. They also serve Marriagetrac as seminar leaders and teachers of various Bible-based marriage topics custom written upon request. They have five married daughters and seven grandchildren!

Copyright © 2001, Duane Careb. All rights reserved. Used with Permission

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