When You Fight With Your Spouse, Don't Forget This

Every married couple fights. Granted, some fights are little "tiffs" over insignificant things that are quickly resolved and some fights are serious conflicts that last months or even years. But every couple enters conflict at some level. To think otherwise is naive. 

If by some freak of nature you never fight with your spouse, then I would worry. It probably means that someone has something unresolved that they are pressing deep down somewhere. It's going to come out eventually.

How we fight matters. There are rules, you know. Don't attack your spouse's character. Use statements that begin with "I" instead of "You." Avoid words like "always" and "never." But beyond some basic "rules of engagement," it also matters how we see our spouse as we fight.

Let me explain.

Years ago, I was serving in a church that was going through some significant conflict. Both parties were well-intentioned. Both (I presume) loved Jesus. Both were passionately fighting for their perspective. Somewhere along the way, things turned ugly. The gloves came off. While the attacks weren't necessarily personal, they sure felt that way. Wounds started to appear and bitterness began to grow. It was at that point that a mentor of mine gave me some insight into conflict within Christ's church.

He asked me to imagine a western-themed marionette puppet decked out in an elaborate costume including a cowboy hat and steel-tipped boots. He then asked me to picture that marionette walking up to me and kicking me in the shin, over and over again.

He asked, "It hurts, right?"

"Of course it does," I said.

"Who do you blame? Who do you get angry at? The marionette?"

"That's ridiculous," I responded. "I blame the guy manipulating the puppet."

"Exactly."

He left me alone with my thoughts. It was then that I realized that, where God's people are involved, Satan's strategy is to bring division and conflict. And he does it in such a way that he stays off stage, lurking in the shadows, stirring the pot, creating bitterness, and convincing us that he's not there. Convincing us that our anger should be directed at the one we love instead of at him.

You must remember who your enemy is when you are in conflict with your spouse.

I will say it again...every couple fights. Hopefully, you can listen to one another, work through your disagreements and come out the other side with some measure of understanding. However, sometimes things turn ugly. It is then that you must have crystal clarity on who your enemy is. 

Hint: It is not your spouse.

The enemy of our God wants to bring division. He wants to stir up strife. He wants to take this beautiful "two become one flesh" thing that God created and tear it into pieces. He will do this in big and small ways. He will take the little annoying things that your spouse does and use them to stir up bitterness and resentment in you. He will take a wife's unique idiosyncrasy and convince a husband that he can't live with it for another day. He will take a sin on a husband's part and convince a wife that he is unforgivable. In other words, Satan will try to turn your partner into your enemy.

We all must pray for discernment to recognize those times that he is tricking us into believing it.

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When I am coaching a couple who is dealing with a significant conflict, it is pretty easy to tell when they are in fight mode. One spouse will usually be on the attack. He or she is obviously wounding the other. These conversations (either at home or in the presence of a counselor) are rarely productive.

In those moments, I like to shock couples out of their foolishness. I grab a post-it note, use a Sharpie to write "I AM NOT YOUR ENEMY" in big letters, and then slap the note square on the forehead of the one being attacked. It's usually a surprising enough act that they get quiet and think for a minute. It has a similar effect on them that my friend's marionette speech had on me.

The post-it reminds them who their real enemy is.

The next time you fight with your spouse, watch your words. Be nice. Share your heart and your hurt, but don't attack. Most importantly, don't allow the conflict to evolve to a place where you start believing that your spouse is your enemy. That he or she is standing in the way of your joy. That he or she is what's holding you back. Those thoughts are the work of one entity alone and he is the adversary of the God who desperately wants to lead you to oneness.

In the middle of that conflict, someone might have to call a timeout and remind the both of you that the enemy is happy with what is happening and that you both need to agree that you will not allow that to continue. (Granted, the person who doesn't bring that up will probably be mad that the other did...but that's okay. It's still the truth.) In that moment, imagine that post-it on your spouse's forehead and recommit yourself to loving them as God's gift to you and extending the grace that we all desperately need.

It's okay to keep fighting, but do it as people who are wise enough to notice the schemes of our enemy and Christlike enough to go the extra mile to find resolution and unity.

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