How to Engage in Healthy Conflict With Your Spouse

Gary Chapman
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One warm August day many years ago, my wife-to-be and I made a visit to the minister who was to perform our wedding ceremony. We ate dinner under an aged oak tree, and he presented this bit of advice, which I have never forgotten: “When you are angry, take turns talking.” He went on to explain that I should take three to five minutes to state my ideas on the issue while my wife remained silent (no butting in allowed). Then she should be given three to five minutes to state her understanding of the issue. This process should continue as long as necessary.

On that August day, I could not imagine that I would ever need to use such a strategy with the perfect wife God had given me. Why should I ever get that angry at her? That question was soon to be answered, and I was to become proficient at “taking turns.” I have suggested the same to hundreds of couples since. Taking turns does not solve the problem, but it does cool down the heat so that you can get at the problem.

Talking is of little value unless someone is listening.

Let me suggest other guidelines for taking turns. When your partner is talking, you should be listening. One of the great discoveries of communication is the awesome power of the listening ear. Most of us have never reached our potential as listeners. James said, “You must all be quick to listen” (James 1:19). Talking is of little value unless someone is listening. When your spouse is talking, it is your turn to listen. Do not sit there and reload your guns. You cannot concentrate on what she is saying if you are marshaling your own forces. Your ideas will come back to you when it is your turn. Do not worry about your ideas. Concentrate on those of your mate.

Listen to the facts and the feelings being expressed. In light of what she is saying, try to understand how she came to feel that way. If you can understand, then a statement to that effect could be a powerful medication. “I can understand how you would feel that way; I really can. Let me explain my action as I saw it.” Then take your turn at presenting the way things looked from your vantage point. When you are truly wrong, be ready to admit your wrongness. There is no value in rationalization.

Ask yourself, “What needs does my spouse have that I am not meeting?” Her feeling may be that you haven’t done certain chores she’s been asking you about for days—chores that may not be important to you but are important to her.

Love is considerate. What can you do about it? You have the potential for meeting the needs of your mate. If you accept this as your goal, you will be following the biblical admonition of Philippians 2:3–4: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

For Further Reading:

The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted

by Gary Chapman

Respected marriage counselor Gary Chapman looks at the key issues that will help you build the marriage you’ve always wanted, answering...

book cover for The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted