6 Ways to Fight Fairly

It was the neatest pile of yard trash I’ve ever seen. 

My neighbor had cut every limb exactly the same length. The tops of the branches faced the street, the cut ends faced the yard. Each limb lined up a foot from the road like soldiers at attention. He had tucked four palm fronds neatly among the other evergreens at evenly spaced intervals, adding a decorative flair to an otherwise monochromatic pile of greenery. It was picture worthy. 

Farther down the street, another neighbor had also dragged yard debris to the road on trash day. His pile looked nothing like Neat Nate’s. An irregular mound of soggy leaves graced one end. A hodgepodge of carelessly flung branches, yard netting, and a Chick Fil A box completed the display.

A third neighbor added his contribution to the trash man’s collection—a black bag filled with unknown contents tied tightly and flung to the road. 

Still pondering a recent Bible study on marital conflict, I thought too long about these trash piles. My early-morning brain made a spiritual connection I’m not sure even the Lord intended.

I thought about my family’s history of conflict resolution. Sometimes we’ve been like Neat Nate. We’ve organized our conflict and given it socially acceptable labels. The Silent Treatment. Adolescent exploration. Boundary Testing. Passive aggression. Micro and macro disobedience. Somehow giving it a trendy name and pigeonholing it made us feel a little more in control of our struggles. 

At other times we’ve been too weary, frustrated, or hopeless to do anything other than dump our conflict on the side of the road for all to see. Our transparency was a cry for help and prayer. 

Finally, there have been times when we were too ashamed, too disheartened, and too hopeless to do anything but throw a big, black bag over the top of it so no one but us would know how ugly it was. 

Chip Ingram, in the study, Experiencing God’s Dream for Your Marriage, makes two significant points about conflict: 

1. Conflict is normal. 

2. Conflict is an opportunity for growth. 

He says, “Conflict is inevitable. Every time you bring two people together, there will be conflict. The question is NOT ‘how do we have a conflict-free marriage?’ The question is “how do we deal with the conflict that WILL come?’” 

In the 30 years we’ve been married, my husband and I have grown a lot in how we deal with conflict. We still have a lot of growing to do. After our recent Bible study, we set a few ground rules, in advance of our next conflict, to ensure that we fight fairly. 

Here are our ground rules for fair fighting: 

1. If I’m not ready to talk about what’s bothering me, I’ll tell you. I will not give you the silent treatment and leave you wondering. 

2. If we agree to delay the discussion, we will address the issue in a timely manner. No sweeping stuff under the rug until it accumulates into an ugly mess. 

3. During our waiting period, we will still act in a loving manner toward each other. (No monosyllabic answers, cold shoulders, or drawing uncrossable lines down the middle of the bed.) 

4. When we talk, we will use “I feel” sentences instead of “you always” or “you never.” 

5. We will listen actively, repeating what the other has said if necessary. 

6. We will acknowledge that while conflict can come from selfishness, as Ingram says, it can also arise from differences in belief, perspective, and style. Conflict is not always because of sinful behavior. Sometimes it’s simply the result of two very different people living in the same household. 

Perhaps, like my husband and me, you’ve always thought of conflict as dangerous and harmful. In light of this different perspective, we’re encouraged by Ingram’s statement that if we deal with conflict in a healthy way, our marriage will not only survive, but THRIVE. 

What have you learned about healthy conflict? Do you have a rule for fair fighting you’d like to add to my list? Why not leave a comment and share your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.

If you're in the Columbia, SC area and would like to learn more about prayer, I'd love for you to join me for a 5-week Bible study based on my workshop, Praying with Power

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