The Never-Ending Argument: How To Settle It
It is said there are issues that couples will never agree on, ones they will always fight about.
Yes, it is true there are issues couples will never agree on.
No, they do not always need to fight about them.
Yes, couples can manage this tension.
My wife Virginia believes all clothes should be in the closet or dresser drawers. I think already worn clothes are fine on the floor for possible future use.
Virginia believes you should clean as you cook or bake. I believe you should wait to clean until you are completely finished cooking or baking.
Virginia believes you should not play until your work is done. I believe work will never be done, so play now, work with the remaining time.
In Myers-Briggs language, we are different in three out of the four categories, allowing for many opportunities for tension over our 43 years of marriage.
Here are a few tips that have helped us navigate these differences.
Determine if it is a biblical issue or a preference.
Fortunately for us, we both hold to a very high view of scripture so this is seldom an issue. For instance, we both feel tithing is a non-negotiable for the Christ-follower. We may not always agree on where and how much, but the scriptural directive is not an issue. We believe that the authority of scripture is the final word, so we both strive to let scripture inform our decisions regarding lifestyle and character issues.
That said, we do acknowledge that our understanding of scripture is not always in sync with one another. If we do not agree on what we feel is a biblical directive, we’ve committed to talk respectfully to one another, presenting each of our viewpoints, avoiding using inflammatory language (ie: “How could anyone interpret it that way? That’s idiotic!”) or dogmatism that cannot be reasoned with. If that fails, perhaps you need to involve a third party to help you settle it. The goal is to come to an agreement you both can live with. Better to live with a less than “best” application of a biblical principle than act less like Christlike due to pride/stubbornness/self-righteousness.
There are many areas of life that Virginia and I have different preferences on. When home by myself, I never make the bed. After all, I am going to get into it later in the day again. Virginia feels it should be made every day. How do we navigate those areas of difference driven by our preferences? Here is one “practical” and one “principle” that have helped us.
Be clear on the importance of the issue.
Each of us assigns a numerical value corresponding to the importance of the issue, 10 being high, 1 being low. Say for instance regarding the “making the bed” issue, for me not to make it is a 3; for Virginia to make it is an 8. When we’re home together, we make the bed. Watching Monday Night Football for me is a 9; for her it is a 5. We watch it, or at least I watch it, with her blessing.
Regarding the tithing and gift issue, when we receive a request for a donation (for a missions trip, for instance), we will each think of an amount we feel we should give. Let’s say Virginia says, “I was thinking $1,000” and I say “I was thinking $500.” We will each give a number 1-10 on how strongly we feel about the amount and make the decision accordingly.
Think more about being “one” than being the one that “won.”
More important than the “practical” advice, the Biblical principal is to put your spouse’s needs and desires ahead of your own. (Phil. 2:3 – “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but in all things, consider another more important than yourself.”) Selfishness is at the root of much of what hinders our marriages. Our sinful nature is exacerbated by the popular opinion of our culture which reinforces our right to “have it our way” and this provides more than enough fuel to ignite major fights over our differences.
Practically, this principle trumps “I deserve it,” or “But I don’t do it like that,” or “According to the ledger I keep, you owe me this time.” There are many opportunities every day where this principle is tested and character is revealed. I love jacuzzis and Virginia doesn’t. She sees them as a big bathtub that random people have been doing who knows what in and hot water dries out her skin. She would probably never get in a jacuzzi by herself, but she does occasionally with me, only to say “I love you.” I process fresh pumpkins every year, for her. Apart from her, I would buy pumpkin in a can, but she loves fresh pumpkin and as I process the pumpkin, I’m saying “I love you.” Virginia loves organized neatness, and I not so much. I don’t even really notice whether things are in order or not. She keeps the order going in our home and doesn’t ride me for my lack of contribution to that area. Virginia loves the window seat of a plane; I prefer the aisle. But even more I prefer her getting her seat of choice, and I prefer sitting by her, which means I usually give up my aisle seat for the middle seat. Very obviously, I’m saying “I love you and your interests are more important to me than mine.”
Christlikenss calls us to live Philippians 2 practically in our marriage and when we do, a lot of the tensions created by our differences will subside.
Put to death the things that will not change.
We’ll help ourselves out significantly if we put to death things that are not going to change. In our years of counseling, we’ve observed many couples recycle the same arguments for years.
Settle it!! Don’t give up precious time with one another having circular, non-productive never-ending battles over the same things. Put to death unrealistic expectations. Years ago, Virginia put to death the expectation of having a “neat, organized” husband. She came to the (correct) conclusion that that is not going to happen with this husband. She’s chosen instead to embrace that I am creative, fun, visionary and I think outside of the box, but I just don’t think about putting things “in the box.” She’s chosen to focus on what I am, not what I am not. Many couples miss out on celebrating what they have because they keep fighting about what they do not have.
The Sunday School answer IS the answer.
I know it sounds like a Sunday School answer, but at the end of the day, couples with the greatest joy in marriage are not ones that are clones of each other, but those that realize their greatest delight comes when the live to the praise of his glory, treating their spouse in a Christlike manner. When we serve each other instead of selfishly seeking our own desires, we more fully imitate Christ who came to serve not to be served. When we more fully imitate Him, we will more fully experience the fulfillment and satisfaction He desires for us.
Dr. Paul Friesen and his wife, Virginia, are the co-founders of Home Improvement Ministries (www.HIMweb.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to equipping individuals and churches to better encourage marriages and families in living out God’s design for healthy relationships. Together they regularly speak at marriage, men’s, and women’s conferences across the country, as well as family and parenting seminars.
Paul has a doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy and a master’s degree in Family Ministry, both from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has also authored and co-authored over ten books and curriculums on parenting and marriage, including "Letters to My Daughters," "In Our Image," "So You Want to Marry My Daughter," "Before You Save the Date," "The Marriage App," and most recently, "Lovin Your Wife Like Christ When You Ain't No Jesus".
Paul and Virginia have been married since 1976 and live in the greater Boston area. They are the proud parents of three young adult women, two of whom are now married to wonderful, Godly men.