People are not perfect. And the world we live in isn’t perfect either. Therefore, it makes sense that our relationships aren’t as ideal as we’d want them to be and that marital conflict is inevitable – it’s a part of every healthy marriage. What’s more important is how we choose to deal with our differences.

Dave Currie, renowned speaker and National Director of FamilyLife Canada, shares with us some of the important aspects of conflict resolution that he has taught thousands of couples about at marriage conferences across the world. He reveals some of the key ways we can communicate with our partner when dealing with delicate issues. When practiced, these methods will help to resolve our differences without allowing feelings of disappointment, bitterness and anger to build up within us over the years.

Some things we should know in advance

Agree on a time to sit and talk with your partner about the issue.

As a rough generalization, most men’s thoughts and concerns are compartmentalized. When he’s at work, he becomes preoccupied with what is before him. The same goes for when he’s at home. So if his wife interrupts him with an issue when he’s busy with something else (for example, watching TV), it could “push his buttons” to create tension. Set a time to meet with him to seriously discuss the issue in a room with no distractions. It is a more effective way to get his full attention.

Have a pre-determined game plan.

Agree on conflict resolution guidelines before getting into a tense/difficult discussion. An example of a guideline is talking about one issue at a time (see below). This is especially important in the early years of marriage (first 10 to 15 years), when you are establishing behavior patterns in your relationship.

Deal with one issue at a time.

Besides helping to maintain order, it is a more effective way to achieve the goal of working through the problems at hand to arrive at a resolution. So identify your concerns, making sure to deal with issue #1 before moving on to issue #2.

Make sure to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements.

This helps to keep both sides from getting on the defensive. Realize that words are important. They can be delivered in such a way as to either bring healing or destruction. When the word “you” is used frequently when speaking to your partner, he/she will automatically feel accused. This in turn can provoke unnecessary reactions that will only serve to keep you both from resolving the issues in the most simple and straightforward manner.

Think through problems to avoid misunderstandings.

“I didn’t mean that”. “I thought that’s what you said”. How often have you heard these words, if not spoken them to your spouse? It is so easy to make assumptions. Be careful to actively listen to the other person and strive to clarify misunderstandings.

Share your perspective without getting emotional.

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Women, let’s be honest. More often than not, when we get frustrated, we clam up. But as difficult as it may be, share your perspective while holding your ground. Don’t get too emotional too early. Men often interpret that as manipulation.

Maintain a bank account: deposits and withdrawals.

The best way to have a marriage is to catch each other doing things we appreciate. Affirm your partner as you see him/her doing something that pleases you. Set the tone for the relationship by affirming – making “deposits”. If all we’re doing is making “withdrawals” by always complaining and pointing out blunders, it gives our spouse the incentive to give up and say, “I can never please this man/woman”. Train yourself to anticipate and be sensitive to the other person’s feelings.

Practice successive approximations.

This is another element of encouragement. It works to reinforce movement in a desired direction. For example, instead of saying “I hate how this place is so dirty!” a better approach would be to say, “I can see that you’re busy. Can I help you pick up?” Remember that there are often better ways to get to the result you’re seeking.

Take hands and pray together about issues.

A couple that prays together, stays together. The beautiful thing about prayer is that it automatically puts you both in a position to seek God’s guidance and wisdom, and respond to Him. Instead of depending on your own strength, ask God to lead you in communicating with your spouse in a manner that is glorifying to Him. Then in faith, trust His Holy Spirit to answer your prayer. Understand that God desires to give His children the very best from His own hand. The Bible tells us that He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us; plans to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11), and that every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17).

Getting rid of that bitter root

How is your marriage? Do you find it easy or difficult to communicate with your spouse? If you have feelings of resentment and anger that have been accumulating over the years, it’s vital that you take action to rid yourself of those toxic feelings. Jesus Christ has the power to forgive us for the things we have done and cleanse us from feelings of guilt. If you would like to begin a personal relationship with Him, click here for some steps you can take to do that.

Don’t give up hope! The first and most significant thing you can do to save your marriage, if you haven’t already, is to commit it to God. He knows every emotion of your heart (Psalm 139) and His Son Jesus has been tempted in the same ways that you have, but He chose to obey His Father each and every time (Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, He can sympathize with us.

Pray this prayer today and let this be the start of a new journey in your marriage.

“Dear God, I need You in my marriage. I acknowledge that I have sinned against You by directing my own life, and that I cannot go on any further without Your help and guidance. I thank You for forgiving my sins through Your Son Jesus’ death on the cross for me. I now invite Jesus to again take His place on the throne of my life. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and empower me to live the life You have called me to. Thank You for directing my life and filling me with Your Spirit as You promised You would if I asked in faith. Amen.”

Copyright © 2004 Dr. Dave Currie. Used with permission.

Stefanie Coutinho is the Assistant Editor at Christian Women Today.