It happens in every marriage. Two people who live together can’t help but grate on each other at some point. Two different backgrounds. Two different priorities and sets of values. Two entirely different people trying to live as one. Marital arguments are an age-old reality. One side trying to make their point and get their way. Both sides fighting to be heard and valued.
The argument is nature’s way of deciphering a winner. It is relational survival-of-the-fittest. And you may have clicked on this blog a little sheepishly, but we all want to win. We all want to get our way. How do we do so without destroying our marriages? In those tense situations when our values are at odds, how do we win and make sure we get our way?
Define a Winner
In every argument, the rules determine the winner. Marital spats are the same. What is out of bounds? What is the point? He (or she) who defines the rules gets the prize.
We instinctively get this. Defining a winner is exactly why we shift from arguing about toilet paper to dysfunctional family backgrounds to personal wounds. We’re trying to change the rules, the parameters of the fight, so that we are more likely to win.
Here is the essential key you might not want to hear: in marriage, winners come in pairs. There is no one or the other. You might get your way, but that is far from winning.
When we argue, we forget the most important truth about marriage: we are on the same team. My wife and I literally say that to one another when we start to drift apart.
An argument arises, our diverse opinions manifest, and our emotions start to boil. It can feel like it is a one-on-one boxing match. What it really is is the two of us verses ourselves. There is always a third party in the marital argument. It is the true enemy, the divider.
Some arguments require compromise, some require one side to give in to the other, and still others require a simple letting go. But no argument is won unless the end is a solidification and edification of the entire team. Your spouse is not your enemy. Disunity is the enemy. It is the dragon at the gate. Turn your swords away from each other and take it to the true enemy if you ever want a chance of winning (or surviving) in your marriage.
There are only two trophies in marital arguments. One is labeled unity and the other is labeled vision. If you come out of an argument united and in line with the vision for your marriage, you have won. No matter how you feel or what the outcomes are. Those are the only measures of success.
Too often we leave feeling great because we got our way or made a cutting remark that shifted the last word into our camp. We leave behind a wounded spouse and a mark in the loss column.
Arguments are inevitable in marriage. We are allowed diverse opinions and emotions, just like any basketball player is allowed to have diverse, individualized skills. What is important is to not lose sight of the goal. The goal is not to be the best player. The goal is to win the game.
Believe it or not, arguments can be productive. They can be clarifying, encouraging vulnerability, and showing care. This is NOT weakness or giving in or caving or loosing yourself. It is expressing yourself in the context of the team.
There is no such thing as a win-lose marital argument. The whole thing is win-win or lose-lose. You’ve signed up for a partnership, and you’re playing on a team.