I sat alone in our bedroom, my head resting in my hands, staring at the floor.
We couldn’t talk to each other. We couldn’t even be in the same room. My mind raced with doubts.
Is it supposed to be this hard? Is it this hard for everyone else?
These storms hit every couple. It’s only natural: you’re slowly coming to the realization that all these new faults that you are finding with that person are going to be a part of your life forever.
It can be incredibly difficult to wrap your head around that fact and cope with it. We’re sold on the idea that you find the person you love, you fall for them, you get married and everything falls into place.
But “happily married” couples are not the ones that never argue or fight. Happy marriages—strong marriages—are ones where each spouse understands how to not just survive those fights, but how to use them productively.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
This is a Team Effort
Lots of people take Bible verses out of context when talking about marriage. Nowhere is this more evident than in Ephesians chapter 5, where you see God speaking of wives “submitting” to their husbands. But this chapter is not meant to be cut apart—it’s a full description of how marriage should operate on both sides.
If you’re a wife, yes, verses 22-23 do say, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church.”
But the verse before that places that instruction on both parties: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
So it’s not an insult, or a mark of inferiority. God is just reminding you that He wants all of us to submit to each other and support each other, and this is crucial in a marriage.
And guys, note that verses 25-33 spell out the responsibility you have to show your wife respect: “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. …”
In other words, marriage is designed to be a unique responsibility for both husband and wife. And that means, when problems arise, it’s up to both of you to solve them together.
It Requires Your Full Attention
Arguments tend to flare up when they are least convenient. You might be unwinding after a long day by watching TV. Maybe you’re finally getting around to cleaning the house.
Regardless of when it comes up, your spouse’s problem deserves respect. That means dropping what you’re doing and addressing it head-on.
Turn off the TV. Put the phone down. Look each other in the eye and talk openly. If you’re in public, defuse the argument for now, and discuss it later when you get home.
But whatever you do, don’t try to fix the problem quickly with a one-off comment to get out of it so you can get back to what you are doing. That’ll just make it worse.
Cooler Heads Have to Prevail
Let’s say you’re fixing something around the house and it’s not going well. You start getting frustrated and angry at the situation—and then you have to use a screwdriver.
The screwdriver slips, you get more angry, and the screwdriver slips more. In other words, the angrier you get, the less productive you are.
The same is true of an argument in your marriage. If you fly off the handle, you’ll get nowhere.
It’s OK to get passionate during a fight if you are frustrated. But if you start losing your temper, nothing good will come of it, and you won’t get anywhere near a resolution.
Stay cool and calm. It’s the only way to keep the argument from spinning out of control.
There is No “Quit” in a Marriage
The cliche is true: don’t go to bed angry. The next day is full of awkwardness and tension, which just leads to more arguing.
Another bad choice is leaving the house. A husband might go get drinks with a buddy, or a wife might go to her mother’s house to stay temporarily.
None of this is productive. Your buddies can’t fix this for you. Neither can your parents. It feels like you’re relieving yourself of the situation, but all you’re doing is making it last longer.
Sometimes you have to stick it out through the storm just to get to the other side of it. Never, ever leave during an argument.
Compromise is Likely
Often, you’ll reach a standstill in an argument: both of you have exhausted your opinions, and nobody can come to an agreement.
At that point, it’s best to offer an olive branch—something you’re willing to do to help resolve the situation. Ideally, both of you will offer something so you can meet in the middle.
By doing this, you show your spouse that, despite your pride and your own personal preferences on how things should be done, you feel your marriage is more important.
That doesn’t mean you should roll over on everything, but you should demonstrate a little flexibility. It will mean the world to your spouse, even if it’s really difficult for you.
Get Some Guidance if You Need it
Some arguments are much more dangerous to a marriage. Compromise might be impossible, and you don’t see a way out.
Instead of bailing or hoping it will get better on its own, get some help. Talk to a marriage counselor, or sit down with your pastor.
There is no shame in getting the help you need if it will move you through the process to gain new peace and strength in your marriage.
And guidance can come straight from God as well, so stay in the Word together. Crack open the Bible when life gets tough, and pray together. Even when things feel dire, this simple activity can be refreshing for both of you.
Marriage is hard, but keeping these truths in mind during the rough times will help strengthen the bond between the two of you and preserve your marriage.
Tom Meitner is the editor of CuffLinked Magazine, a free publication helping men navigate the post-college life as new grads and new dads. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife and son.