How Healthy Confrontation Can Strengthen Your Marriage

When my wife, Barbi, and I (Dr. Townsend) were first married, we used to have conflicts about conflict. Looking back, it’s kind of funny as I later went on to write a Christian relationship book called Boundaries in Marriage. Imagine watching us have boundary conversations about how bad our marriage boundaries were. Barbi’s approach to conflict was to avoid it. My approach tended to be more blunt. We’d talk about a problem and it wouldn’t go well. One of us would misunderstand, we would pull away from each other, and the problem wouldn’t get solved.

One day, I asked Barbi, “When we argue, I never stop loving you. Is there anything I can do to make this better for you?” She thought a minute and said, “Maybe if you let me know you love me before you confront me, that might help.”

I thought that was a good idea, so I agreed. The next time I wanted to have a talk with her about a concern, I walked in the room and said something like, “Honey, I just want to let you know I really care about you and I hope you feel safe with me.” Then when I brought up the problem, things went better for her and for us.

This method of having successful conversations went on for a while. As time passed, however, something changed. I needed to bring up an issue, so I began with, “Honey, I just want you to know …” Barbi said, “Stop! It’s okay. I know you love me; just get to the problem.”

We had a good laugh about it. Over time, she had begun feeling safe enough not to need reassurance before each conversation. She realized that I love her even in the midst of confrontation, and she was ready to go straight to solving whatever problem needed to be solved.

When God created marriage, he gave us one of his best gifts. He provided a permanent and safe connection for a man and a woman to experience love, joy, meaning, and purpose together. Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” God designed marriage to be a whole-person connection. This means that, more than in any other human relationship, every part of you ideally is to connect and cleave to every part of your spouse. The love you share should be complete as you intertwine your lives and emotions around each other.

Because marriage is such a wonderful type of relationship, confrontation within the marital relationship is very important. Who is better qualified to understand and speak to someone about a problem than the person who is living life right next to him? You are intimately involved with him. You see the real person, imperfections and all. His ways and actions affect you; you are not dispassionate about him. More than anyone, a spouse should be able to see what her partner’s true problems are.

Marriage is not about making each other happy; it is about growing and helping one’s spouse to grow. For instance, Ephesians 4:16 says good marriages are a large part of how the body of Christ “grows and builds itself up in love.” Happiness can and does come to a good marriage. Happiness, however, is a byproduct of growth and life. It is not the goal.

Confrontation brings empowerment, which is the ability to make choices and changes in your relationship. God created all of us to be change agents for each other. We have a responsibility to influence the people in our lives to be the best possible people they can be. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”

Healthy confrontation helps us grow by making us aware of what we are doing and how our behavior affects others. God uses us to deliver the ingredients of growth to the people in our life. Part of the reason we are with whomever we are with is to provide those ingredients for those people. While most would agree that we can’t make someone change, it is also true that we can do much to encourage change.

As Barbi and I have learned to confront each other lovingly, directly, and effectively, we are often pleased in the change not only in our marriage but also in ourselves. We feel a sense of power that we can make changes and that we have choices. God designed all of us to connect and act, and confrontation helps put the “act” into the connection.

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If your marriage is struggling or you want to make a great marriage even better, Boundaries in Marriage has the answers. Learn how to:

  • Transform your relationship into a haven of mutual love, caring, and appreciation.
  • Protect your marriage from intruders, whether parents, affairs, or addictions.
  • Handle conflict effectively without losing your voice in the relationship.
  • Develop a sense of closeness and respect that you’ve never felt before.

Click here to read a sample chapter, watch a free video, and purchase your copy today.

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Comments

  1. Linda says

    That’s great for married folks, but what about the rest of us?

    There are a ton of single folks who desire marriage, but obviously we have to get to that point in a dating relationship first. How do we handle conflicts? How we handle conflict is huge: if we can’t do it successfully with someone we’re dating, then we don’t want to marry that person. Often in dating, we try to have no conflicts for fear that conflict will ruin the relationship. It’s unrealistic, but we do it because we want love.

    So how do singles handle conflict in dating?

    • Mary A. Belote says

      The same way married folks do. In the heat of the moment, say, “I need to talk more later about what just happened.” then on your own, identify ALL your motivations for bringing up a topic – so YOU are not surprised by any strong feelings that jump into the conversation. The only part you are in total control of is the “serve”. So open the topic wisely, in the most neutral manner you can think of, so you do not raise defensiveness before the dialogue even starts.

  2. says

    Well said and thank you. One question, what do you do when the confronter asks the avoider what he/she needs to feel safe and join in the conversation and the avoider won’t give an answer? Just walks away, changes the subject, or says, “I’m not going there”. In other words, when you do your best to bring the horse to water but it doesn’t want to drink.

    • Anonymous says

      Perhaps try to understand the reason for their persistent avoidance. Is it past abuse that they have not healed from? Is it distrust? Are you unknowingly coming on too strong or do they have baggage from their past that they need help healing? They may need counseling and help to trust the boundaries concepts. Be patient. It took me time and much work to build up my boundaries skills, and I’m still working on it. God bless you both.

    • Laurie says

      Linda and Annamae have a good question. It makes sense that when beginning to date, you put your best foot forward. But, after some months of dating, it seems healthy to kindly address possible differences and discuss them. And, if that brings some level of conflict, then that offers a chance to understand how you both may handle conflict after marriage.

      Putting into place Dr. Townsend’s approach to address conflict with Barbi can also apply to dating relationships. As Dr. Townsend did, begin with a caring affirmation with your dating partner before kindly sharing your conflict or concern.

      You are moving to something deeper and more real by sharing your concerns. Plus, you get a chance to see how your dating partner responds! Did you get a caring or thoughtful response? Did you get an angry or defensive response? Did you get a dismissive response? In deciding if someone might make a good marriage partner, think how helpful it may be for you to experience some conflict to gain a better understanding if marriage to this person is a good decision.

      Just my humble opinion….

  3. Ezri Austin says

    I read Boundaries over 20 years ago, and it is still my go to book. Whenever I speak with people or couples, and they are having a hard time setting boundaries or feel if they say ‘No” people will be offended, I recommend this book to them. It has taught me that I can say No and set limits without feeling bad. You may not always be able to solve the problems immediately but be sure it is not left unresolved and all confrontation is not bad you can have healthy confrontation.

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