5 Steps to Resolving Marital Conflict

Jennifer Slattery

Updated Sep 26, 2023
5 Steps to Resolving Marital Conflict

Though every marriage experiences conflict, our disagreements and irritations tend to increase during times of stress and uncertainty. Not only do we feel the strain of our circumstances, such as financial or health concerns, or perhaps even job loss, but all those external pressures exacerbate any relational cracks already formed and perhaps ignored. But that’s one reason difficult situations provide such hope. They can alert us to problems we might not have seen otherwise.

Every conflict, when handled well, paves the way for increased relational health and intimacy.

Here are 5 steps toward resolving conflict in a way that will strengthen our marriages and deepen our trust.

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1. Remove Your “Plank” First

1. Remove Your “Plank” First

In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (verses 1-2, NIV). 

The original Greek word our Bibles translate as “judge" has the connotation of condemning or separating. Therefore, in essence, Jesus is telling us not to cut someone else off when they sin or offend us. That’s not love, and such actions distort the image of Christ in us. Plus, it’s hypocritical, because while we might not have sinned in the same way as our spouse, we’re equally flawed and in need of grace. 

The problem is, when we’re upset, our view becomes distorted. As we focus on the current issue, it quickly becomes all we can see. We forget that we’re just as selfish, prideful, or callus as our spouse and therefore step into the role of judge—condemner—rather than partner and friend.

That’s why Jesus commands us to self-evaluate.  “Why do you look at the spec of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” He said, in the same passage. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5, NIV).

In other words, we need to address our own sinful tendencies and prayerfully consider how we’ve contributed to the conflict before we attempt to confront our spouse. In discussing Matthew 7, David Guzik from the Enduring Word reminds us that “the one with the plank in his own eye would not immediately be aware of it. He is blind to his obvious fault.”

But be assured, that fault exists. Notice, Jesus didn’t say, “Before you look at your husband’s speck, check to see if you have a plank.” The plank is there, and it distorts our vision. If we don’t see it, we’ve either lost sight of or haven’t fully grasped our need for God’s grace. This spiritual forgetfulness often initiates pride, and pride hurts others, destroys relationships, and leads to isolation.

The solution? Take time to remember the price Jesus paid on the cross—for you and your spouse. That’s what your sin, the full weight of your plank, cost Him. Sit in that realization for a moment. When overwhelming gratitude of knowing you’re forgiven and have been reconciled to the Father washes over you, then you are ready to address your spouse’s speck.

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2. Pray for Wisdom

2. Pray for Wisdom

My perception is faulty and superficial. While I can see my husband’s actions, I don’t know his heart or his motivation. I don’t see the pain that might have caused him to snap, or the stress that made him forget certain obligations. What’s more, I don’t see how God is working in his life and his heart. I certainly don’t want to hinder whatever God is doing through misunderstandings, false assumptions, and careless or misguided words and reactions.

When our daughter was young, my husband often came home from work and plopped on the couch with a soda and the remote. He didn’t seem interested in conversation, and he seemed even less interested in me. This hurt, and I often felt discarded. My interpretation of his behavior? I determined he didn’t love me, that in fact, he considered me a nuisance. In my pain, I made sarcastic and snarky remarks that drove an ever-widening wedge between us.

But then one day, I began praying diligently and fervently for my marriage and my husband, specifically that God would soften my heart toward him and help me see his heart. God answered my request in such beautiful, marriage-healing ways!

One afternoon, while sitting on the couch, I heard the garage door open, and I sensed God say to my spirit, “Get him a glass of soda.” This was during a tense time in our marriage, when we often viewed one another as the enemy. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with this command, but I obeyed. I got up, filled a glass with ice and Pepsi, and met my husband at the door. I’ll never forget his surprised expression! And in that moment, looking into his eyes, I sensed the Holy Spirit’s whisper once again: “He’s exhausted.”

Suddenly, I began to reevaluate all those evenings before when I’d felt discarded and unseen. What I had interpreted as rejection had been nothing of the sort. The man was simply struggling to survive. Therefore, what he needed wasn’t my condemnation and anger. He needed my love and support.

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woman and man couple holding hands sitting talking looking serious, how to respond to spouse doubts

3. Listen without Defending

Though we all have faults, none of us enjoy hearing about them. When others tell us how we’ve hurt them, or perhaps confront us regarding sin, fear and pride often rise up. Fear, because many of us are accustomed to being cast off. In our broken world, that’s often how others respond to our failings—with a lack of grace, and at times, rejection. Correction also pricks our pride—the idea that we’re better than we really are. Both reactions potentially harm our relationship, hinder emotional intimacy, and likely increase our spouse’s hurt, as does trying to tell them all the reasons they “shouldn’t feel that way.”

We don’t have the right to decide what should or shouldn’t cause our spouse pain. When they share their concerns with us, love demands that we listen without trying to defend ourselves, excuse our behavior, or minimize their feelings. If, in order to ease their pain or insecurities, we sense God leading us to explain our actions, may we always begin by saying, “I’m sorry I hurt you, and I can understand why you feel this way.” Then, once we are certain they know we heard them, we can say something like, “But that was not my intent,” sharing our perspective, or perhaps ignorance.

No matter what we do or don’t say, however, our priority must always be on strengthening the marriage, instead of being right. The moment we lose sight of this, we’re in danger of creating further damage and distrust.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/fizkes

4. Affirm the Good in Your Spouse

4. Affirm the Good in Your Spouse

During times of conflict, your spouse may feel threatened. They may worry that, in our frustration, anger, and hurt, we’re going to reject them. They might feel as if we don’t notice the good things they do or all the ways they try. Unless we actively guard against this, it’s easy for one negative thought to roll into another and then another until we’ve confronted our husband on numerous indictments. Verbally affirming their positive actions and traits helps counter both scenarios.

First, our words of affirmation remind our husband that we truly do love them and want our marriage to succeed. Like I said earlier, in the middle of conflict, we can easily forget this important fact. Second, our words will speak life and hope over our spouse, inspiring them to display even more godly qualities. And finally, but just as importantly, as we intentionally recall our husband’s positive traits, their weaknesses will be put in better perspective. We’ll be less apt to see them as a hopeless case. Instead, we’ll begin to view them as God does, as His beloved child—a child with sinful tendencies, yes, but with traits worth celebrating as well.

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5. Entrust the Situation to God

5. Entrust the Situation to God

We can speak the most eloquent words or make the most persuasive argument, but only God can change a heart. And really, only He knows what is truly best for us, our spouse, and our marriage. He’s strong enough, present enough, and powerful enough to work all things out for our good and the good of our relationship. What’s more, He’s retained the role of Lord, Savior, and Judge—over us and our spouse. In other words, we’re not to attempt to play Holy Spirit. Whenever we try to manipulate the situation or their reaction, that’s precisely what we’re doing.

Instead, we’re to seek God’s guidance, do our best to follow His lead, then surrender everything else, our husband included, to Him. When experiencing relational conflict, I try to remind myself of the truths revealed in Romans 12:18, which says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Notice the two introductory phrases: If it is possible, and as far as it depends on you.

“If it is possible,” because frankly, peace isn’t always possible. Not everything will get resolved this side of heaven, and we may act in a loving and gracious way, and our spouse may grow angry anyway. Similarly, this verse says, “As far as it depends on you,” because healthy relationships don’t solely depend on us. We’re responsible for our behavior, but we have no control over our spouse’s reactions. We must entrust him to Christ, knowing that God loves us, sees us, hears our prayers and understands our hurts, and is always fighting for our marriage. During times of conflict, we cooperate with Him when we remove the planks in our eyes, pray for wisdom, resist defensiveness when our spouse shares concerns, affirm them, and then leave the results to God.

With every grace-filled conversation, Christ can help us resolve our most troubling marital issues and reach a place of increased intimacy and trust.

Jennifer Slattery is an author, speaker, and ministry leader passionate about helping God's children reach their full potential and live fully surrendered to Christ. Find her online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.

In her new podcast Faith Over Fear, Jennifer helps us see different areas of life where fear has a foothold, and how our identity as children of God can help us move from fear to faithful, bold living. You can listen by clicking on the link below or by visiting LifeAudio.com.

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Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.

As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event  and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE  and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.

Originally published Monday, 18 May 2020.