Skipper Trick #6: Don’t Fight; Argue.

This is third in a series of posts from Skipper Goggans.

Don’t fight. Argue.

These may sound like the same thing to you, but they are very different.

When my wife and I were dating, we were so careful not to hurt each other, even inadvertently, that we had few upsets early on.  It was also very easy to give the other person in the relationship the benefit of the doubt when they did hurt us because we both knew that the other person loved us and would never do anything to intentionally hurt us.

Somewhere along the way those things start to change, though; don’t they?  Just as you used to fight with your siblings, making spiteful verbal jabs or whatever else your family culture called for, at some point your wife subconsciously moves into that same “taken for granted” category as your parents and siblings, and you do what was previously unthinkable: You say something, you do (or don’t do) something, out of spiteful hurt anger, just to hurt her.  That’s fighting.  It‘s pointless and stupid and you probably know that even as you’re doing it.

So don’t do it.

Instead, be a man: Protect your marriage — protect each other — from your own savage natures.  Institute a set of rules like the ones below to avoid such petty, thoughtless, and self-destructive behavior.

Your sword's most valuable not because it maims but because it defends.

Your sword’s most valuable not because it maims but because it defends.

These are the ones that my wife and I developed early in our relationship.

Goggans’ Family Rules

Approach Conflict Wisely:

Don’t allow an issue to fester—either forgive and forget without bringing it to attention or, if you cannot, approach the offender as soon as possible, keeping in mind your responsibility to them in love.  Address a problem with quietness and gentleness.  There is no one your heart should be safer with than family—trust them with yours and, in turn, hold theirs gently.

Fight Cleanly:

Speaking the truth in love often hurts, but don’t hurt for the sake of hurting: no verbal jibes or insults.  Let your words be “filled with grace and seasoned with salt.”  If you are too angry to control yourselves, put it off ‘til later: there is no shame in knowing you are at your limit.  Make it clear that you need space to think but that you are NOT rejecting the other.  This will allow you to be able to be vulnerable with each other and give the other the benefit of the doubt. Trust that what the other is saying to you is either meant constructively and in truth or is a misunderstanding—do not assume that it was said simply to hurt you for the sake of hurting you.  Lastly, really listen and give weight to all—all—that they have to say without distracting yourself by thinking of a response before they’ve finished speaking.

Think it Through:

Take time away from an argument or discussion to think of both your response and what the other has said in the first place. Consider: Is what they said true? If it isn’t, why do they perceive it to be and can you change that? Is your response Godly or sinful? Are you responding in anger and will you have to apologize for it later?  Re-evaluate your response.

Resolve the Conflict:

Seek resolution as soon as you are able to.  Have courage to humble yourself enough to take the first step towards restitution and renew a right relationship.  It takes more strength to seek to make things right than to firm yourself in pride and allow a situation to needlessly and shamefully degenerate.  When you apologize explain exactly what you are apologizing for.  This shows that you recognize every issue at hand and you have carefully thought through what you need (and don’t need) to apologize for.  Explaining the “what” is also important as it emphasizes your humility and vulnerability.  Then ask for forgiveness; it’s easy to apologize without going the final step and humbly asking the other to forgive you, yet this step is crucial to a right relationship.

 Forgive:

When you forgive, make sure that the matter is done in your mind; you might still need to deal with consequences resulting from your screw-ups, but don’t bear or create resentments by “reheating old sins for breakfast.” Conversely, forgive the hurt, but don’t forget the lesson; this may be hard to do without resentment, but constantly repeating the same mistakes will cause a lot more. So learn from your mistakes.

If you and your family members follow a set of rules similar to these you should be able to express hurt feelings or irritations and discuss differences of opinion, be they about politics, theology, or drama involving mother-in-laws, rabid geese, and the emo kid next door, without any undue resentments or emotional scars.

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