8 Guidelines for Fighting Fair
...Without Starting Another Cycle of Sin
Anger Management (lyrics by Lecrae)
I’m angry, and I don’t really care what they say
I’m angry, nobody better get in my way
I’m fightin, I’m bustin, I’m poppin'
I’m caught up in a rage, man somebody better stop me
I’m hatin’, I’m pushin’, I’m shovin’
Somebody better get me ‘cause I’m ‘bout to do somethin’
Have you ever felt like these Lecrae lyrics when you’re angry?
I’m sure many of us can relate. Especially when our spouse- the person closest to us- has hurt us deeply, without seemingly a care or realization.
Sin is going to crop up time and time again, because we are imperfect people, sinners in need of a Savior, remember? When it does creep in, your heart will be tested in the conversations you do (or do not have) with your spouse.
How are we to respond when the pain cuts so deep and our anger is raging?
How do we fight fair and move from division to unity?
What does the WORLD say?
Culture is quick to give advice to troubled marriages. We wonder, How do I communicate better with my husband (or wife)? And we can quickly find some answers:
Do not interrupt
Repeat what they say back to them
Start with “I” statements
These aren’t bad suggestions, but this alone is like putting lipstick on a pig. You can try to make the outside look pretty, but it doesn’t change what is on the inside.
Changing outward actions does not change the heart. God does.
We must meet Him at the heart level.
Read on to find out how…
What does the BIBLE say?
It is important we use the Bible to both define and find solutions to marital problems. Scripture tells us that arguments, disagreements, (and, let’s face it, sometimes all-out war) are going to happen because we are sinners married to sinners.
But it goes one level deeper.
In James 4:1-2, James asks, What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill (your marriage/relationship) to get it. You want what isn’t yours (control).
When we don’t get what we want, we fight. (If you feel like you never get what you want in your marriage, read THIS.)
We need to get to the heart level.
Let’s start with the root of the issue, the why behind the fighting. Ask yourself the following questions and answer them honestly:
Are you trying to…
Get your own way?
Be in control?
Not let the other person “win”?
Make your spouse “pay” by avoiding them or giving them the silent treatment?
Is there a sin/idol you’re not willing to give up? (The Lord wants to tear down those idols, click HERE to learn more.)
Being in constant “fight” mode is a result of built-up unforgiveness. We try to handle sin, arguments, or disagreements our own way, and that causes us to remain divided.
But God’s design for relationships shows us forgiveness is a path forward. It’s a reset for our marriage.
I’m ready to reset. Now what?
When anger and pain arise because of your spouse’s actions, do NOT do what feels natural: retreat or isolate. That only causes further division. Instead:
Lean into the Lord
Seek forgiveness for the part you have played. (Finding it hard to forgive? Read Help! My Marriage is “Stuck"- How Do I Forgive My Husband/Wife When They’ve Hurt Me So Badly?)
Prepare to show your spouse grace and love when it is least deserved. (For help with this, read How Powerfully Pursuing Your Spouse Will Change Your Marriage.)
Then, talk with your spouse.
8 Guidelines/Ground Rules for Fighting Fair
If your heart is right- you’ve asked for forgiveness where it’s needed, you’ve granted forgiveness (even if they haven’t asked)- then there is a way to “fight fair”. You can talk and even disagree whilst honoring each other and God; having a conversation without starting another cycle of sin.
Consider the following points of advice as ground rules and guidelines when entering difficult, heated discussions. These have been created using the Bible as a measuring stick.
1) How long will we stay divided?
In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26).
Unite and come together as quickly as possible. Agree to not go to bed until it’s resolved.
2) Agree to NEVER call each other names… EVER.
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:29, 31-32).
Use your words to build up, not break down.
3) Hold your spouse’s hand during an argument.
Are you thinking, Hold my spouse’s hand?! I don’t even want to be in the same room! I know, it’s not easy. But it is hard to raise your voice at someone while you’re touching; just try it! It’s a physical reminder to each other that you are ONE, and you will not let a disagreement divide you.
4) Do not bring up past hurts or hurtful things your spouse has said.
Love is not irritable or resentful (1 Cor. 13:5). This means love keeps no record of wrongs. The Lord does the same for us! Psalm 103:11-12 tells us: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.
If you notice you are dredging up old dirt on your spouse, putting tallies on the scorecard, it’s a red flag that you have not forgiven him/her.
Take your heart before the Lord and let Him help and heal ASAP!
5) Do your best to see your spouse’s heart.
Look past their fiery words and emotions. What are they really dealing with- at the HEART level? Validate that which is valid about what they are saying.
6) Be the first to apologize and say, “I am sorry for _______________________.”
Use specifics, not generalizations or things you just think they want to hear. Even if it’s 5%, name your part in the trouble. It is a sure-fire way to show you care and want to walk the road with them to reconciliation. (Click HERE to take 3 steps toward reconciliation with your spouse.)
You also make it easy for them to forgive you when you own up to your mistakes and ask for forgiveness.
7) Forgive. Jesus is our model.
Romans 5:8 tells us: God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Forgive because you have been forgiven.
Will you pardon your spouse, showing them mercy and love, maybe before they even ask?
(For more on this, listen to Mercy & Grace :: [Ep. 31])
8) Stop in the middle of your fight and pray together; commit to seeking God’s will rather than your own.
Again, try to do this holding hands. It may feel unnatural- being at odds, in prayer and physically united, but it will be a heart changer. Especially if you are struggling to come to a complete understanding with each other.
Do NOT agree to disagree; that’s just a “polite” way of staying divided. Instead, keep praying that God would grow your relationship in unity.
Vow to change: an encouraging call to action
Take time this week to sit down with your spouse and write down ground rules/guidelines for fighting fair in your marriage. Use the eight points above- add to them, change them, commit to following them next time an argument arises.
Write down and memorize Colossians 3:12-14 which says: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Call these verses to mind the next time you and your spouse are working to fight fair.
To go deeper, check out these 3 VowsToKeep podcasts:
Check it out
In this post, we looked at laying guidelines/ground rules for fighting fair. But guidelines- or shall we call them boundaries?- are good in most areas of our lives. To learn how to effectively set boundaries that align with God’s Word and encourage a joyful, strong marriage, read the next post: Biblical Boundaries Lead to an Abundant Life... and Marriage.