So often when we have conflict in marriage, we end up fighting against our spouse. What if, instead, you chose to fight for your marriage?

Yesterday I wrote a post about believing that your husband means well. And today Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a marriage counselor, is joining us to elaborate on how to do that in the nitty gritty of day to day life–how to see your spouse as your ally, instead of your enemy. Here’s Wyatt:

Fight for your marriage--the importance of seeing your husband as your ally, not your enemy. #marriage

After couples say “I do” they live happily ever after right?

Wrong! Marriage involves two sinful people living in close proximity, which inevitably leads to a substantial amount of conflict. Most couples don’t know how to properly navigate through conflict, so tension is usually swept under the rug until the next time a similar issue rears its ugly head. Unfortunately, unresolved tension usually causes couples to start viewing one another as their enemy rather than their ally.

How are we to be one with someone we view as our enemy?

The answer is “we can’t!”

Therefore, learning how to view our spouse as our ally rather than our enemy is paramount to experience the oneness God intended.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, NIV).

Here are four steps to fight for your marriage instead of against your spouse that facilitate viewing your spouse as your ally rather than your enemy. Ideally, these steps would be reflected upon each time your spouse upsets you before bringing it up to them.

1. Ask: How often are you assuming the worst in their motives?

We do this all the time. Our spouse is late for dinner, we assume they care more about their work than us. They forget to ask about our day, we assume they are being selfish. They forget to initiate affection, we assume they don’t care about our needs.

Obviously, the theme in each of these statements is the word “assume.” We assume the worst in our spouse’s motives frequently and then we tend to ruminate over their insensitive behavior. So, the first step to watch out for is how often you assume the worse in your spouse’s motives without really knowing if that’s the truth or not.

2. Ask: How often are you treating them as the enemy because you’re assuming the worst in their motives?

When we assume the worst in our spouse’s motives, we treat them accordingly. If we assume they didn’t take out the trash because they were being lazy, then we’ll probably become cold and irritable. If we assume they didn’t schedule a date night because they don’t care about our relationship, then we’ll probably become short and sarcastic. Treating them this way is usually the instigator to many conflicts because they pick up on our disrespectful attitudes and the argument begins.

3. Ask: What are all the ways they were innocent?

This step requires the most work and we must dig deeply to prayerfully reflect upon it.

How was their hurtful behavior possibly not all their fault?

To facilitate this step, think through the following questions.

First, how much was their hurtful behavior an outflow of what they experienced growing up?

For example, a man whose parents never asked him questions about his day may not ask his wife about hers. This isn’t him being insensitive, but rather it’s him repeating what he was raised with.

Second, how much was their hurtful behavior from their current circumstances?

For example, a woman staying late at work was doing so because she was under a tight deadline for her portfolio project not because she doesn’t care about her husband.

Third, what did you do or say that may have contributed to their hurtful behavior?

For example, perhaps you’re upset that your husband doesn’t unload the dishwasher anymore, but perhaps you’ve micro-managed the way he does it so much he’s given up.

Fourth, what things in your upbringing may be getting triggered by their hurtful behavior?

For example, if you had a father who was cold and rejecting then you may immediately think your husband doesn’t love you if he doesn’t provide regular affection.

Fifth, where are you broken too?

It’s very easy to develop a critical eye towards our spouse for all their flaws while losing site of our own.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3, NIV)

We must be routinely reminded of our own shortcomings to have mercy over our spouse’s.

The overall key to this step is building compassion towards your spouse’s hurtful behavior and being able to see all the complexities and possibly reasons for it. Compassion is almost always required before forgiveness can follow. If done properly, these questions will shift your heart away from feeling like your spouse is the enemy and instead help you view them more like your ally.

Fight FOR Your Marriage, Not AGAINST Your Spouse!

4. NOW address the issue

The goal of these steps is not to absolve your spouse of any responsibility for their hurtful behavior, and the goal isn’t to work through it on your own and never bring it up. Instead, the goal is get your heart into a more ally-oriented, balanced perspective before addressing the issue.

So, once you’ve worked through these steps, it’s time to bring up the topic to your spouse by sharing the results to #3 above first. What are all the ways their hurtful behavior wasn’t entirely their fault because of their background, their circumstances, your behavior, your background getting triggered, and where are you also broken? Starting with this information is imperative to help your spouse not feel attacked, and doing so will significantly reduce the chances of them responding with defensiveness because they’ll feel like you’re already giving them the benefit of the doubt.

If you don’t start with this information first, you can guarantee the first thing out of their mouth will be defensiveness with all the reasons the hurtful behavior wasn’t their fault. Moreover, starting with this information first will maximize them being willing to hear your concerns and respond sensitively to changes you desire moving forward.

me-vista2Dr. Wyatt Fisher is a marriage counselor in Boulder, CO and provides marriage retreats, a marriage podcast, marriage books, and an app for couples.”