So what if God’s answer is that you need to resolve the issue — and talk it out — with your spouse? There are a number of problem-solving methods. Ours is simple and it works. Let’s go through the steps.
1. Pray that God will guide you through the process, and then agree with your spouse on a time and a place to discuss the problem.
This may seem simplistic, but I promise you from experience this is vital.
God always needs to be our first step. It allows us to calm down and invite Him into the process. He has the solutions we do not have on our own. Pray in whatever way is most comfortable for you.
The important thing is that you both involve God in the process.
Then find the time and place that works. For many couples, meeting at a neutral place like a coffee shop or restaurant is helpful. This gets you away from the distractions that might be at home and also helps to keep the discussion calm.
When Nancy and I were trying to climb out of our hole of unresolved problems, we would make a time to talk without thinking it through. For example, one time we decided to talk after the kids were in bed. It was a great idea in theory, except that I was exhausted. Waiting for Nancy, I fell asleep minutes before we were to meet at 10:30 p.m. As you can imagine, this was not well received by my wife and only complicated the issue.
My next solution was to talk in the morning before the kids woke up the next day. I was willing to forgo my morning run to settle things between us. Nancy was not ecstatic about the idea since she is not an early morning person, but she reluctantly agreed. The next morning, I realized the early time idea was a mistake. She was right, and this time was not going to work.
Solution: Sunday afternoon after taking the kids to a friend’s house. It finally worked. That Sunday afternoon offered no distractions for either of us. The kids were at a safe place that they loved to be. Neither of us had another commitment, so the afternoon was ours.
If finding the right time and place to talk is not that important to you, look at it this way. What steps do you take if you need to have an important meeting with a coworker to solve a problem? You set a specific time to meet. Then you secure a place to meet and finally you make sure your schedule is cleared so there are no interruptions.
If I asked you if your marriage was as important to you as your work, most of you would say it is, and many of you would say it is more important. Doesn’t taking the same steps to solve problems in marriage that you do in your work make sense? It can make the difference of whether you solve the problem or just complicate things all the more.
2. Agree on the problem with each of you taking responsibility for your part of the problem.
This step also came from our experiences.
You would think that two pretty intelligent people involved in the same conflict would be able to agree on what they were fighting about.
Guess what. Sometimes Nancy and I couldn’t even agree on the source of our conflict.
Try this. Have one of you state the problem as you see it. Then the other can either agree or give their perspective. Sometimes it is simply semantics, and sometimes it is because there are actually two issues that need to be dealt with. If there are two issues, then you have two problems to solve. Separate them and take them one at a time.
Now comes a crucial part: taking responsibility. In all the years I have counseled couples,
I have never seen a situation where both did not bear some responsibility. It might have been 1 percent to 99 percent, but both had a part in the problem. Usually it is pretty close to 50/50. By the time the conflict has played itself out, both of you have played a part. (Okay, I know there might be an exception, but that is not the point here.)
One of the issues that we dealt with as our kids became teenagers was curfews. Actually, the issue was not the curfew, it was how we were going to handle the kids when curfew was broken. I am going to give you way more information about myself than I should, but I think it will help me make a point.
As a teen, my curfew was usually around midnight. If there was something special going on, my parents usually let me stay out later. I almost always made my curfew — at least within five or ten minutes. The backstory is that there were nights I came in the front door, kissed my parents goodnight, went to my room, acted like I was going to bed, and slipped out my bedroom window. If that was not bad enough, listen to this: I never got caught!
It’s not like I did this every weekend, but over a couple of years there were more times than I have fingers and toes to count them on.
Now, Nancy and I agreed on the times. We agreed on a five- or ten-minute grace period. We agreed that if curfew was broken, we would send the culprit to bed, and we would make our decision on discipline the next morning.
That was where things broke down. One of us became pretty lax on the discipline and the other was pretty strict. Guess who was lax? Right. The guy who never got caught. If I was up and someone came in late, I usually said go to bed and never mentioned to Nancy that someone had violated curfew. If Nancy was up and someone came in late, they were grounded on the spot for the next weekend.
Since neither one of us was doing what we agreed to, we were sending a mixed message to our kids. What’s worse, neither of us knew what the other was doing. Nancy finally got wise when, on leaving for the evening, the kids began asking, “Who is waiting up for us tonight?” It was time to revisit the curfew issue, including consequences for breaking it. We both had responsibility in the failure of our initial plan, and it was going to take both of us working together to make a united stand before the kids.
How does this apply to you? My experience is that if both of you are not willing to take personal responsibility, you might as well stop here. You will never solve the problem.
3. Discuss possible solutions.
Evaluating different solutions was a difficult step for me. Since I help people solve their problems for a living, it only seemed logical to me that I would have the correct solution to solve every problem that we faced. But for some reason, Nancy did not see things this way at all. In grad school, I had a wise professor who told us that we needed to remember that we could never counsel our own family. Somewhere along the way, I forgot that piece of advice until Nancy politely reminded me of that truth.
Discuss solutions. Make a list. This is a great time to use Stop-Look-Listen. Take turns offering solutions. Whichever solution you choose to try, both of you need to get behind that solution 100 percent.
4. Agree on a time in the future to meet and evaluate your progress.
This will be a time to make any necessary adjustments that will be helpful. Without this step of evaluating your progress, all your hard work up to this point will be lost. What if your solution was good but needed a few adjustments that were never made?
What if your solution just did not work at all, and you needed to go back to step three again? If you don’t evaluate, a few weeks and even months can go by and you’ll find that you have slipped back into old patterns. Your lack of follow-through can complicate the problem even more, so take the time to evaluate your progress.
5. Celebrate your success!
This is the fun part so don’t leave it out. You have gone through steps one through four by praying and setting aside a time and place to meet, by agreeing on the problem and both of you taking responsibility, by brainstorming possible solutions and choosing one to implement, and by setting a future time to evaluate progress.
Now it is time to celebrate, and there is something special about celebrating our successes.
It gives us a sense of accomplishment and also gives us the confidence that no matter what we face, with God’s help, there is always a solution. That is truly something to celebrate.
Excerpted with permission from 7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage by Dr. Kim Kimberling, copyright Kim Kimberling, Ph.D.
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Do you need a new fight strategy? Are you fighting fair? Fighting productively? Fighting for your marriage or against it? What has proven to be a great solution to resolve conflict in your marriage? Come share with us on our blog! We want to hear from you!