Marriage: Rules of Engagement

So, finally, the last official blog thought on marriage from me. Not that I don’t have more thoughts on marriage but I’m really tired of blogging about it and I want to move on. There is one more thing I have noticed about marriage and I want to talk about it.

I have been taught, and I have taught that the three things that most marriages break up over are sex, finances, and children. I could blog on those things but I think there is a simple answer to solving those problems: communication. Okay, okay, you’ve heard that before, “communication, blah, blah, share, blah, blah.” But let’s get more specific.

Most folks don’t have trouble communicating about things that we are cool with. I mean, really, if you like something it’s easy to talk about! If it’s not, go see a therapist, honestly, God made people as social beings and we are supposed to communicate with each other; if you can’t, something’s broken, go see the mechanic. But for the rest of us? If you like your spouse’s way with the kids you tell them, it should be easy. If you are happy with money, there’s no problem. If you’re happy with your sex life in marriage, you’re rare, but odds are good your pillow talk is rife with gratitude and, ahem, encouragement. But if we are unhappy in any of these areas, or any other areas, we either fail to communicate or fail to communicate properly. It’s in the disagreements and injured feelings that our marriages founder.

We either wait and wait and hope it will get better and what actually happens is not ‘better,’ it’s ‘bitter.’ We find ourselves growing frustrated, angry and resentful. Or we nag or whine constantly trying to make our point without contention; sometimes even publicly, which is a bad, bad idea.  At some point, however, disagreement is not only inevitable but also necessary. Nothing grows without tension. But then we don’t know how to disagree and so we fight.

The problems with fighting are manifold.  First, most of us at this point are actually not very interested in resolving the problem, we’re interested in winning. This accomplishes nothing. Second, many of us get very angry or are  very angry to begin with and so we fight to injure  not to resolve. Third, when you get overly impassioned in an argument, you tend to get stupid. Don’t ask me how it works exactly but it’s true, raging people look and act stupid, and then the other person laughs, and then, well, it isn’t pretty. Fourth, we tend to bring up things from the past when we fight. Now you may think you are justified, but you’re not. Again, not loving, let it go

Now from a Jesus viewpoint, none of those things is right. We don’t resolve our issues with power (winning) we resolve them with sacrifice and compromise. We don’t rage (act of the sinful nature) precisely because you can’t rage and love at the same time; love doesn’t seek injury, rage does.; and scripture tells us that man’s wrath doesn’t bring the life God desires for us. Plus, you can’t resolve anything if you keep saying stupid things because you are out of control.

Now, before we go any further, let’s get rid of a myth. No one makes you do anything. No one makes you so angry you lose it, that’s your choice. Argue with me, rail against me, do what you will but managing your anger is your responsibility.  Rage is not some right you have, it’s wrong and useless, so make the choice. If you have anger issues, get out of your excuses and justifications and get to work.

As far as marriage goes, all you must do if you don’t know how to disagree is learn. Make a set of rules, together, your rules of engagement, and discipline yourselves to stick to them.   Everything in our marriages that works correctly has rules, fighting should be no exception. Shoot, even the international community has rules for warfare, why shouldn’t you?  So, let me propose a set of guidelines as an example.

If you don’t like it…..

1. Talk about it early, immediately if possible.  Sometimes you need a second to collect your thoughts, but not days, grow up. Scripture says to not let the sun go down on your anger. The couples I know who practice this have a few more sleepless nights, it’s true, but they’re happier, and not all of those sleepless nights are about arguments. 😉

2. Talk slow. Think. Choose your words carefully, if you hurt your partner, you’ve lost. Even if they agree with you, it will always carry the sting of injury.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but we must take responsibility for our own words. It’s not writing, edit as you go, you won’t get a chance to fix it later.

3. Listen.  Okay, here’s where it breaks down most of the time. Stop and listen to the words being spoken to you. It’s loving and so it’s right. And it brings you closer to resolution.  If you don’t listen you will soon find yourself in a fistfight.

4. Choose your venue. There’s plenty of times and places you can’t have the conversation: when the kids are up, in bed, right after work, while watching t.v., in public.  Sit at the table and make the conversation the goal.  Here’s an idea! Why don’t you have a regularly scheduled state of the relationship meeting? Then you already have the venue!

5. De-escalate.  In theater, you always listen to the other speakers and pay attention to their level of volume and intensity. Then you match and take it the direction the script calls for. In an uncomfortable conversation, take it upon yourself to control the tone. If your partner ups the ante in volume or intensity, you dial it back a notch. It will bring them back down or at least slow the escalation. Remember, the point is to resolve, not to win.  And on that note…

6. Don’t forget to lose.  Figure out exactly what you want and where you can compromise or give up.  Lose to win.  I know it’s not what you want, but let’s move towards resolution and restoration.

7. Forgive. This is important: LET IT GO! After it’s done, its’ done. If you dwell on it, it will make you bitter and come back to haunt you both.

Just my thoughts, of course, you make rules that fit your relationship. Oh, and one more thing, this works in all of our relationships. Learn to disagree and discuss. When somethings not right, too often we let it go until it destroys our relationships. Scripture says to work it out.  And don’t cop out on this, talk face to face, email and texting are no substitute.

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One thought on “Marriage: Rules of Engagement

  1. My only comment is I have learned I can’t fix things… God can and God has helped me change as well as getting older. One other thing… You will remember the hurts but you have to get over them and move on. Marriage is an act of changing and letting God change you. Don’t pray for God to change your mate until you ask Him to show you what you might need to change.

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