Just a few months after we said our vows, my husband and I found ourselves in the midst of seemingly insurmountable conflict in our marriage. So, of course, we thought a big change was needed and decided to move across the country… away from our jobs, our comfort zones, and all of our family and friends. Looking back it probably wasn’t the wisest of moves, but through this decision, our marriage changed forever, for the better.
The Wake-Up Call
Despite not knowing anyone, we quickly hit it off with another couple at our church. They were really intentional about including us in their lives and quickly became close friends. They were the kind of people you just did life with. For example, I got a call one Saturday morning saying they bought stuff to make breakfast and were coming over. A few minutes later, they burst through the door mid-argument, groceries in hand, exclaiming, “We’re here and we’ve been fighting all morning…we need your opinion about something.”
We spent the rest of the morning making breakfast together, deep in conversation, discussing their argument, and, most significantly, laughing in the midst of it all.
That morning will forever be seared into my memory. Not because their argument was so juicy. I don’t even remember what they argued about. But because the difference between our two marriages glared at me all morning. In that season, every argument with my husband felt like diffusing a bomb. Meanwhile it seemed like our friends fearlessly welcomed conflict and their marriage wasn’t phased.
Yet, I didn’t despair or feel judgment.
Our friends welcomed us into their lives and we witnessed a healthy marriage in action. And seeing it gave me hope. Their friendship is one of the reasons our marriage survived that difficult season. They showed us what was possible, without really meaning to.
Virtual Marriage Advice from a Pastor’s Wife
My guess is if you’re still reading, your marriage might be experiencing a bit of a rut, or worse. You’re hoping for some advice, some solidarity, encouragement, or validation. As a pastor’s wife, my husband and I have had the privilege to walk with many couples through pre-marital and marital counseling. So with that background and my own “learning the hard way” experience, I would love to offer up some things to consider.
Conflicts in Marriage is not a Threat
Everyone has conflict. It’s actually a red flag to us if couples never disagree. What that probably means is that nobody feels safe enough to be honest.
Instead of something to avoid, conflicts can be viewed as an opportunity to get on the same page. Certainly, conflicts can lead to hurt or anger, but when handled with grace, they can instead lead to a more emotionally intimate relationship. If we pay attention, conflict can reveal the heart of our spouse and how we may need to change.
Dr. Curt Thompson explains it this way in his podcast, Being Known: Episode 1. “When we repair ruptures, our relationships actually become even more resilient and strong after the rupture is repaired than it was beforehand. So the question is not am I ever going to have a relationship in which everything is perfect, no I want a relationship in which I know that when a rupture happens, repair is going to follow.”
With the right tools, conflict can open the door to healing, even for the hardest of conflicts in marriage.
Talk about your feelings with your spouse every day. Sharing our stories, telling the whole truth, and feeling the safety to do that with our spouse bonds us together on a neurobiological level. When we open the door to this level of vulnerability, it creates a safe environment for our spouse to do the same.
Dr. Thompson puts it this way: “In telling the truth about my vulnerability, it creates courage for others to do the same and it is in that space where… healing becomes a possibility for everyone, not just for the one who’s talking.”
Don’t be afraid to share something that might lead to conflict. In fact, many conflicts could probably be avoided if we did this. We tend to fixate on trivial annoyances in order to avoid talking about the thing we’re really upset about. While that one thing we refuse to be honest about fuels silly arguments and keeps our marriages tense.
Plan on having regular heavy or vulnerable conversations so that they don’t come out in a moment of frustration. Doing this in an intentional way will make it much easier to avoid being nit-picky and to approach your relationship with more grace and humor.
*Side note: Being honest is not easy for many people and personalities. Be patient if you or your spouse finds this difficult. Research the enneagram together. Maybe even look into counseling to have another neutral party help probe and draw you both out. It’s hard, but nothing worth doing is easy.
Don’t Take Yourself so Seriously
One of the things that stood out the most in our friend’s marriage was that they didn’t take themselves very seriously. So much so, that they could still go over to a friend’s house in the midst of an argument. There was humility in the way they treated each other and interacted. They had an unassuming, curious, give each other the benefit of the doubt kind of relationship. Their marriage was marked by grace, grace for each other, and grace for themselves.
In order to have this kind of marriage, we will have to give up some things:
- Our need to be right
- The desire for vindication when we are right
- Self-doubt when we’re wrong
- The desire to defend/explain ourselves all the time
- Assuming motive behind our spouse’s action or words
Invite People In
Trust other people to help in the midst of conflict. There are times when conflicts get too big for us; when it feels like you are literally from different planets. Those are the times we especially need our friends, good friends who are rooting for your marital success, who won’t JUST tell you what you want to hear. A common thread in counseling married couples is how many marriages suffer alone. Even when my husband and I were at our worst, no one really knew. In fact, people thought our marriage and lives were flawless. It was incredibly isolating and left me feeling hopeless.
But the reality is, every marriage has conflict and in some seasons it can get really intense. We truly need to do this marriage thing in a community. Invest in friendships with people you trust, who are also honest with you about the actual state of their marriages.
Do I think you should air all of your grievances? Absolutely not. You can’t have this kind of trust with everyone and for those that you do, they don’t want to hear all of your complaints. But also don’t treat your friends like your social media highlight reel.