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Catholic at Home: Rules of Engagement for Spousal Sparring

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My husband and I had a disagreement a few weeks ago. We were both tense, defensive and in utter disbelief that the other held an opposing perspective. Andrew and I typically see eye to eye, or at the very least we understand one another, so coming to a stalemate made the whole situation even more uncomfortable. In short, we made it, but not without following a handful of guidelines to keep the fight clean.

YOU’RE NOT OUT FOR BLOOD

One of my professors at Benedictine said, “My wife and I know that arguments aren’t for either spouse to win or lose; they’re joint efforts for us to arrive at the truth.” If you look at it that way, a fight can quickly dissolve into a more civil discussion, one in which you regard your spouse as a teammate instead of an opponent. Personally, this concept has been transformative. Looking at Andrew as on my side, instead of against me, in an argument helped bring down my defenses. I became a better listener and more interested in hearing how he felt.

BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR CONTRIBUTION

When I argue, I think I’m right and not the one to blame. I bet I’m not alone on this one. But over the years I’ve learned to accept the possibility that I could have caused as much pain and confusion as I project onto my husband. Being honest with myself keeps the argument from becoming defensive, since I’m able to see and admit my own faults.

HIT THE BREAKS

St. Paul said, “Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun set on your anger” (Eph. 4:26). I suspect St. Paul wasn’t actually speaking to finishing an argument before the actual sunset. Anger is a powerful emotion, and if we hit the brakes before it becomes resentment or sinful, then we don’t “give the devil an opportunity” to work on us (Eph. 4:27). While we’re upset, it’s still possible to be respectful and charitable. Time apart or a good night’s sleep can yield clarity of thought and the self-control for calm conversation. And, because the wound isn’t as fresh, it’s easier to base words on reason rather than heightened emotions. In the light of day, Andrew and I better see that we’re on the same team, and whatever caused the rift between us isn’t important enough to threaten our marriage.

DON’T ADD INSULT TO INJURY

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” A current argument isn’t the time to unearth old wounds, seasoned grudges, character flaws or name-calling. To speak plainly, it’s not nice. Taking jabs will make you lose focus and stir up more pain and issues unnecessarily. If you’re tempted to roast your spouse in the heat of an argument, call for a time-out until you can keep a civil tongue.

APOLOGIZE & FORGIVE LIKE YOU MEAN IT

From honest lips, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are paramount to reconciliation. For sincere apologies and forgiveness, I have to let go of my grudge, hold myself accountable for my mistakes and move forward. God Himself is quick to forgive, and we should imitate Him.

Arguing carries countless pitfalls along with it, and if charity doesn’t rule the day, we might find ourselves in pain over more than the original issue. If we focus on respecting the inherent dignity God gave each of us (even through clenched teeth), an argument won’t turn ugly.

Marriage is 10 times bigger than selfishness, fights and faults. “What God has joined, let no man turn asunder,” and that includes the two of you. Regardless of how deeply rooted arguments are, holding your tongue or considering yourselves as a team goes a long way. It takes just one person’s calm to disarm the other’s unnecessary defenses.

The family – the domestic church – is the building block of society, and that building block is formed around the relationship between husband and wife. With these rules of engagement in your pocket, the whole family will feel the difference, and the resulting peace will make its way into the world.

KATIE SCIBA is a national speaker and Catholic Press Award winning columnist. Katie and her husband Andrew have been married for 11 years and are blessed with six children.

This article originally appeared in the September edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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