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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Payne

4 Game-Changers in Learning How to Fight Well

Updated: Aug 17

Relationships can be rough, the main reason being, well, us. We're selfish. We the problematic humans by nature like to be right and view the world through a personal perspective that can naturally clash with our partners'. The privilege of walking with people through rocky relationship terrain is something that breathes life into my work. It's amazing to see, sometimes in a short time, huge steps of growth and healing take place. Most of us, myself included, aren't big fans of conflict. It can be tempting to run from it like the plague, but the more I work with couples and grow in my own marriage, I've come to see conflict, when handled in a healthy manner, can actually be a signal of a thriving, dynamic relationship.

While pages and pages could be written on the stuff, here are 4 ultimate game-changers in learning how to fight well with your partner.

Defeat the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse

If you're not familiar with the Gottman Institute or their concept of the Four Horseman- buckle up. A brief side note: Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Julie, founded the Gottman Institute. Most of the information I share is from their book, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, which can offer helpful tools regardless of relationship length or experience. In their book, the Gottman's identified four primary kinds of negativity (labeled the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse) that can prove "lethal" to any relationship.

If you recognize some of these are present in your relationship, don't panic. You're not doomed. This is a great place to start identifying some areas for growth. Now when the defense mode is thrown up or contempt creeps in, you can call it out and talk about it- together.

Invest in the Emotional Bank Account

I love analogies, so imagine your relationship like a bank account. Every time you hit the inevitable rough patch, you make a withdrawal from that account. This "coverage" allows you to show grace towards your person. It allows you to exhibit empathy. You are able to be emotionally present with them. It means being able to say "well, maybe he's tired and frustrated in the moment. It's been a long week and he's been working hard" and not holding a grudge or reverting to one of those nasty horseman.

As a couple, you decide what the deposits look like in your emotional bank account. Maybe this is quality time away without the kids, good dinner conversation, or sex. Whatever it is, the important thing is that you're investing, so when a "payment" is due and you're in need of a little extra grace and empathy for your person, the funds are there. You can't pour out when the tank is empty. This is also part of nurturing the fondness and admiration discussed in defeating horseman #2.

In my house, we throw around the term "emotional bank account" all the time now. We have started to notice that after a few days of little meaningful conversation or time spent together, the emotional bank account is running low. We're more easily irritated with each other, less understanding, and not very fun to be around. With a busy life it can be hard to find ways to fill ourselves up, but it's possible when prioritized.

Don't Make Conflict Resolution Your Primary Goal

Peace in your marriage is not everything and this is coming from a people-pleaser who will bend over backwards to harmonize. Improving overall communication and learning to problem-solve is certainly valuable, but it's not the yellow brick road to a successful relationship. Gottman outlines perpetual vs. solvable problems. Solvable problems might include ironing out the kinks in your vacation plans, who will complete what tasks around the house, which person picks up the kids, etc. Perpetual issues are those you go back to time and time again, things like how you budget, sex, or lifestyle preferences.

According to Dr. G, 69% of your relationship squabbles revolve around perpetual problems, those that are grounded in your fundamental differences and, truthfully, may never be solved. This is not meant to be discouraging, but change the perspective on some of your conflict. If we can't resolve this, how can we compromise?

Remember You are Teammates

Overshadowed by conflict, we can lose sight of this person we've committed to stand beside no matter what. We act as opponents in competition instead of teammates. It doesn't always feel like friendship but if the foundation is solid, you can remind yourself of the truth that trumps the troubles in the moment.

At a marriage conference we attended, Pastor Jimmy Evans shared these words about making marriage work. He said, if you can adopt the mentality of "You owe me nothing; I owe you everything," you will be successful. The point is that a surrender of self in this sacred covenant with your spouse is what it takes to make marriage work. Will we do it perfectly? No, obviously. This is a calling that requires us to divorce the sinful nature that demands we defend ourselves, justifies lashing out in anger, and keeps tally in a battle between us and our spouse. This requires us to love our partner intentionally and actively, even when we don't want to. Uphold Romans 12:10: "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves." (NIV)

Couples fight, and that's okay. Actually, that's not a bad thing at all. But next time you battle it out, remember it is not you vs. your partner. It's you AND your partner, united as a team in which you operate together (even if it like feels like quite the opposite is happening.) Your spouse is not your enemy. Disagreements arise, important ones. But ultimately you advocate for your person, you speak well of them in front of others (even if you're in a tiff), and you can step outside of your conflict to remember you are committed to this person no matter what.

This week, look out for those Four Horseman, evaluate your emotional bank account, maybe redefine your ideas of conflict resolution in your relationship. It doesn't matter if you've been together for 5 weeks or 50 years; you are never too far gone for God to work in your union. So give it to Him! Commit to pray for each other and together, even when you run out of things to say. Make your marriage pliable and the reward is rich. I hope these things are game-changers for your relationship in your mission to learn how to fight well and love each other better.


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