Honest Marriage Episode Four // On Fighting Well

Dating & Marriage, Podcast Episodes

In our early years of marriage we did not fight fair. We lectured. We withdrew. We were condescending and rude. Even when we learned to fight with more grace, we ended up in the same unhealthy patterns of communication – fighting over the same things and ending the same way. Josh struggled to forgive, I struggled to apologize. While we still struggle in these areas today, we’ve been equipped with tools to better navigate our fights and to communicate our needs graciously.

In this episode of the Honest Marriage series of Verity Podcast, Josh and I talk about how we fight, what Scripture says about unity and grace, and how counseling transformed our “average” marriage before it ever got to the point of crisis.

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Transcription to Come

Phylicia: Welcome to Verity. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher. This podcast will help you embrace the history and depth of the Christian faith. Ask questions, seek answers, and devote yourself to becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to settle for watered-down Christian teaching. And if you’re ready to go deeper, God is just as ready to take you there. This is Verity, where every woman is a theologian. 

Welcome back to Verity podcast, you guys. We are in the middle of our Honest Marriage series. And myself and my husband, Josh-

Josh: Hello.

Phylicia: -are both here sharing a real-life look into our relationship, our story and applying Scripture to it. Hopefully, by sharing our story and what we’ve learned in our eight years almost of being married, some of you are encouraged, and perhaps are able to implement some of the things that have worked for us in your own relationship.

Josh: Today’s episode is about fighting. Not just any fighting, but good fighting.

Phylicia: Yes, we want to be able to fight well and to communicate through the disagreements that we have. And so, the passage that we’re going to be reading from today is Colossians 12-14 which says, “Put on then as God’s Chosen Ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other. As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” 

This passage gives us a glimpse of what Christians are called to exude as Christian behavior. But what we know most of all is that this behavior is rooted in an identity in Christ. The very first verse says, “You are God’s Chosen Ones, holy and beloved.” And that identity undergirds all of these spirit-led behaviors. And, of course, if they’re called of all Christians, that means they’re called of us in marriage too.

Josh: Right.

Phylicia: We wanted to talk in this episode, like Josh said, about fighting well, and we have a history of fighting, don’t we?

Josh: Yeah, we do. I think, starting out, you were always so fiery. 

Phylicia: [chuckles] 

Josh: And I grew confidence over time. Sometimes, I let things, being a passive person, boil up, and the pot would boil over.

Phylicia: [laughs] Which was never a good situation for anybody, but how would you describe fighting for us in the earlier years?

Josh: I said sorry a lot.

Phylicia: You did say sorry a lot. Were you truly sorry?

Josh: No, but it usually ended the fight.

Phylicia: That’s a good example though, that you were not actually dealing with the conflict. You were just trying to escape it by taking responsibility.

Josh: Yeah. And unfortunately, it would usually become another arrow in the quiver. 

Phylicia: What do you mean by that?

Josh: Like ammunition for later, because it was never resolved. It would rear its head later on.

Phylicia: Right. I always felt like, “Oh, that fight was resolved.” 

Josh: Moving on.

Phylicia: Moving on, but you would hold a grudge and bring it back later, which felt to me like a betrayal. I’m like, “I thought we already dealt with this. Why is this being brought up again? You said that it was over?” It would create this cycle where you couldn’t trust the other person. Whether you felt I didn’t take responsibility for things, I felt you held grudges and didn’t forgive, it really created layer upon layer of a history of distrust.

Josh: Yeah, definitely. The biggest thing was a lack of honesty with one another, and even with ourselves, just in communication and being honest about how we feel. Also, I guess some humility on one part or the other. 

Phylicia: Yeah. A lot of people when they hear you say that are probably going to be like, “Oh, if I was honest, I would be super hurtful, and I don’t want to hurt them. And I don’t want to have like that conflict, so I just don’t deal with it.”

Josh: When you let the pot simmer and then you boil over, that’s when you do more damage. Because then you are angry and you’re saying it hurtfully, because you’ve just stewed on it. Whereas if it was dealt with initially, it would have been at least more constructive.

Phylicia: Yeah, that’s true. I know that when we were in the middle of this pattern, I don’t think what we realized was that in dealing with this and then fighting well, communicating through it, it’s going to get worse before it’s going to get better. You have to be okay with feeling really uncomfortable and making them upset by being honest in order to actually communicate your needs and hear theirs. Because I do see a bit of a trend on social media now, where I think there’s a good side of it, we’re becoming aware of patterns of communication that are really unhealthy but we’re also becoming super selfish in our communication where it’s like, “Well, if you don’t say it to me exactly this way, then I don’t have to listen to you.” Or, if you don’t communicate, honestly, in a way that appeals to my love language, personality, I don’t have to listen to you. And that’s just not how it works in the body of Christ.

Josh: Yeah. Like, if you’re not seeing the way that you feel you need to be seen, then–

Phylicia: You can stop trying.

Josh: Yeah. I think early on, for us, when we were working on this, we would just duke it out, and we get to the point where we’re just like, “Well, I went like this way,” and like, “Well, I went like that way too.” “Well, fine. Fine.” 

Phylicia: [laughs] 

Josh: So, like, “Wait. We’re on an agreement on then?” “Oh, okay.” [laughs] 

Phylicia: Yes, I do remember that. We would like fight and fight and fight and fight and fight. I would say, the first couple years, you didn’t always, you didn’t like the conflict, so you would say, “I’m sorry,” and then just leave or end the conversation. You wouldn’t leave-leave, but you’d be like, “Can we talk about this later or something?” It wasn’t actually resolved. And then as you grew in your faith and as a person, you would push back more and be more honest in our fights. That’s when you started to actually do get out more with me. I am not afraid of conflict. So, it’s not difficult for me to fight. But you didn’t like it. As you grew in strength, I think you were able to actually stand up to the conflict more, but it was still uncomfortable.

Josh: We didn’t always come to a resolution, but we knew that one another’s sides were heard and we could agree to disagree.

Phylicia: Right. And be like, “What can I do?” “What do you want?” “What are you hoping for?”

Josh: But it’s not just lingering there. It’s like, “Okay, well, maybe we can revisit this later but I know where you stand and you know where I stand.” That’s at least not going to fester.

Phylicia: Yeah. And then we did try– the early years, it was pretty unhealthy. I’d say, years two, three, four, really rough. But then as we got towards, I would say, the middle years closer to where we are, moving towards where we are now, we started to have that. Do you remember that unspoken rule where we would have to hug after our fights?

Josh: Oh, yeah. That lasted for a little bit, at least.

Phylicia: I think it lasted– I remember it being for a pretty long time. We would fight and then try to hug each other at the end of the fight just as a way of reconnecting with each other. I understand that wouldn’t necessarily work for every person, I’m not a physical touch person, but it did help me feel like, “Okay, we are actually reconciled,” even if we’re still working through the emotions.

Josh: I think too when I hugged you, when you were upset, it cut through the anger and brought out the true emotion underneath. 

Phylicia: That’s very true.

Josh: Which was often fear or grief.

Phylicia: Yeah, that’s a good point, because I think anger for me, which we’re going to talk about in a second, our counselor helped us identify the underlying emotion behind the initial emotion and that’s not something that we knew how to do until we started seeing a marriage counselor, which we’re going to talk about in the second half of this episode, and that really helped me see like, “Phylicia, when you come off super angry at Josh, you’re actually pushing him away and he’s not hearing you as easily. You’re making it hard for him to listen to you.” That was helpful to me. Even though anger is the emotion that I’m most comfortable with, it doesn’t accomplish the righteousness of God and it doesn’t accomplish a unified marriage. [laughs] 

Josh: It also doesn’t help you to be heard. 

Phylicia: Right. But you, when you would use affection to cut through the anger, it actually did usually make our fights more productive, which was a huge step for you, because who wants to move towards a cornered badger? Josh called me that once. 

[laughter] 

Josh: True? No. 

Phylicia: Yes, it is a little bit true. Since we’re still talking about fighting, I want to talk about leaving a fight. One of the things both of us were familiar with was experience with family or extended family leaving, or abandoning a person mid conflict. Leaving completely, walking out the door, driving away, or just refusing to engage with the conflict. I think we’re both pretty triggered by that experience. 

Josh: Yeah.

Phylicia: It’s something that we knew when we got married, even though we were not super healthy in many ways, we knew we did not want to be a spouse who walked away from a fight.

Josh: Yeah. I do remember when we were in college, there was one time we were working out together, and I was just like, “If I didn’t just take a break and cool off, I would have said something that would have left some scars.” There was that moment, but after that happened, we talked about it and we’re like, “Okay. We’re not going to do that. We can be open and honest with each other and come to a resolution.” 

Phylicia: I remember one a couple years later when we were in early marriage fighting, you just said that to me. You said, “I have to walk away, because I’m going to say something I regret.” But you told me you were walking away and that was the difference, was you didn’t just up and walk away and ignore me. There was another time in the first year or two when I’m the one who literally walked out the door and drove away. When I got back, you said like, “This is exactly what we promised we wouldn’t do. You can’t just leave a fight like this. You can’t just walk away without telling me where you’re going.” And I never did it again. 

Since that first year, I think almost every fight I can remember, we’ve seen it through to the end and no one is abandoning the other. We’re not marriage counselors, this is just postulation, but if you can at least just say, “Hey, I am too emotional to have this conversation right now. I want to talk about this with you. I’m going to leave the room, but it’s not because I’m abandoning you.” Even just saying that, I think it’s important. 

Josh: Because just walking away is saying the person isn’t worth your time. 

Phylicia: I’m done with you. 

Josh: You’re choosing on your terms, “I’ve had enough. We’re done.” You are just choosing for the both of you that the conversation isn’t going to be finished.

Phylicia: It’s a like a power move is what it is. Like taking control of the conversation.

Josh: It’s also huge disrespect because you’re saying the other person doesn’t have a right.

Phylicia: Yeah, I don’t have to listen to you anymore. It is. It’s disrespectful and it’s contemptuous, which I read in a marriage book, I don’t remember who said it, but they said that contempt is the death knell of a relationship. When there’s contempt for the other person, just like this absolute distaste for them, that’s the first sign that something is seriously wrong. The more a couple is okay with that, just walking away and abandoning the other person mid fight, the more opportunity there is for that contempt to grow because the person who’s left behind is left feeling like I don’t matter. The person who left might be frustrated for valid reasons, but they’re showing disrespect to the other person by just leaving them standing there.

Josh: It also creates a pattern of just disconnecting when you don’t want to deal with something, like you’re constantly just putting a wall up.

Phylicia: Yeah, that’s true. Which is why, to circle back to what I was saying about the social media thing, I think we have to just be so careful when we’re consuming secular content about communication, that we remember that all of it has to be filtered through the selflessness of Scripture. That, yes, it’s really important that you be heard and you should be valued. If your husband or wife is not doing that, you probably need to get a counselor or mediator to get to the root of it. But you also have to remember that you married a sinner, and you should set your expectations accordingly. I’m not talking about abusers. I’m talking about your average, run-of-the-mill marriage, where you’re married to a sinner. 

I feel if your expectation is, “They need to constantly pay perfect attention to me,” the way I see these, like, things that circulate on Instagram, these quotes and stuff, “If so, and so doesn’t do X, Y, and Z, they’re not worth your time.” Well, I don’t do that to other people. I fail at making people feel listened to and valued. I need to do better at that. There’s a measure of humility, like this passage in Colossians says. It says, “Put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” And that’s the basis of fighting well. 

Josh: Yeah.

Phylicia: It’s assuming that you’re going to do things that need to be borne with. [laughs] 

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Josh: As we began to work on communicating better and all, I did actually see there was a pivotal time where you were a little more raw with your emotions. Not just anger, but just showing some of the underlying emotions. You did begin to start saying you were sorry, and you were the first person to say sorry.

Phylicia: And why is that significant?

Josh: Because I was always the first or only person to say it previously.

Phylicia: [laughs] For several years. 

Josh: [laughs] 

Phylicia: Yes, you often initiated the apology. And I would say I’m sorry, but I would say I was sorry after he first said he was sorry.

Josh: Yeah. Or, there was a big but.

Phylicia: Yes. Big explanation for why I was sorry. [chuckles] 

Josh: But I definitely saw growth through that for you. It coincided with your gratitude growth that you did, and just thinking more positively and it helped with your humility and when you were wrong to own it.

Phylicia: [chuckles] Part of that was, as I was growing in my faith, and if you haven’t listened to– I think in our first episode of this series, we talk a little bit about spiritual growth and where you’re at spiritually when you get married, but I knew more intellectually but spiritually, I think, I had a lot of immaturity because I was still holding on to so much anger, and so much just bitterness and how I operated in the world and criticism of myself and others, and so that came through in that first emotion of being angry. As the Lord worked on that, I was able to be more honest and more safe with other emotions with you, and feel safe to show them instead of just initially reverting to anger or criticism. 

Josh: Yeah, because you previously felt having emotions was weakness.

Phylicia: Yes. It felt like, “Well, if I show I cry, or if I let down my guard, then I’ll be taken advantage of, or I’ll be made fun of. So, I have to be strong all the time.” But what that looked like was actually not strong, but hard, like not able to be vulnerable. So, yeah, you were a part of that, you made me feel safe to be vulnerable with you, because when I was, you were very quick to take me in to hug me to tell me that you loved me. I knew I was okay to be vulnerable with you, and that was a big part of why that changed. 

Josh: Yeah. Although a part of me started to feel like, “Oh, this isn’t fair. She’s crying. How can I–?” I just feel like the bad guy again.

[laughter] 

Phylicia: Well, that’s true, because you would hug me after a fight, I start to cry, and then maybe your side of the fight wouldn’t be completely resolved, because you didn’t want to bring it up because I was crying. But I think this brings us to a good point in this conversation, which is around year five, we started to see a marriage counselor. We saw her specifically for this reason.

Josh: We just wanted a maintenance plan. 

Phylicia: [laughs] 

Josh: Some preventative maintenance.

Phylicia: “We’re here to get our tires changed.” Yeah. We basically told her, “We’re not in crisis. We’re not getting a divorce. But we cannot seem to get out of this cycle.”

Josh: We would bond over stressful times. So, when times were easy, we would get bored and start to fight. [chuckles] 

Phylicia: Yeah. Which is so strange to me that that’s us, but it really is.

Josh: Well, fighting is something else we have in common. 

Phylicia: Yeah. We would get super irritated about dumb things. We fought over how to fry an egg and how to make sure– you’d make an egg for somebody, you think they’d be grateful. But instead, I was like, “No, I wanted it fried.” Or he’d be like, “I wanted it fried.” But we had two different definitions of fried egg. We could never make each other the eggs the way the other wanted.

Josh: The steak was too chewy. The lunch meat was too deli.

Phylicia: Too deli. [laughs] Yeah, it was such dumb things that we would argue about because we didn’t have that unifying project to both throw our weight behind. I started looking around for a counselor because we kept going in this cycle. We looked for a licensed counselor who was also a believer. That was important to us, because we knew that we wanted her to have this professional education and experience, but we also wanted someone who would understand just how important our faith is to us and could understand the biblical basis for our marriage.

Josh: The Bible does have some solutions in it.

Phylicia: Yeah. And God invented science. So, together-

Josh: It’s true. 

Phylicia: -it works really well. We’re an example of a couple that sought out counseling not because everything was going down the tubes, but because we wanted to improve our communication. I think more couples should just be open to doing that just to learn how to communicate better.

Josh: Yeah. She was very insightful into– she’s very good with body language. Whenever one of us would say something, she’d noticed the other person twitch or something. [laughs] 

Phylicia: She’s so good. 

Josh: She’s like, “Why did you cross your hands when he said that?” 

Phylicia: She always saw it. I didn’t even know– 

Josh: “Why does this make you feel defensive?”

Phylicia: You’re like, “How did you know I felt defensive?” “Well, your face.” [laughs] 

Josh: Well, it was really helpful. She was helping us work through just supporting one another in our fears, and potential baggage that’s putting us at a predisposition for reacting in specific ways in a fight, and just going to the root of the issue of why we keep reverting to the state.

Phylicia: Yeah. She had us work through this cycle of communication that we had, where Josh would say something was bothering him, and I would get defensive and angry. So, then he would get defensive. And then, at that point, it’s just another spiral. What she had us use when we were first– we did an eight-week intensive session with her. And then, we did once a month– now it’s more like once every three months. Once a month, we would see her and just work through anything we were recently struggling with. So, during that intensive period, she had us– do you remember the emotions chart?

Josh: Yeah. Like, “My emotion isn’t on here.”

[laughter] 

Phylicia: I still remember you’re holding them [crosstalk] “My emotion is not on this.” I was like, “I don’t know.” People of my personality type are reputedly disconnected from their emotions, because emotions get in the way.

Josh: You’re like, “This is a lot of emotions I’m looking at.” 

Phylicia: “Argh. This is so many emotions,” because emotions are something I feel very, very deeply. So, I will turn them off temporarily to get done what needs to get done. I have to turn my emotions off oftentimes to do my work, because people say really hurtful things. So, in order to work, I have to turn off my emotions to operate, but then you have to turn them back on to love your spouse, to love your children, to love your neighbor. So, when she hands me an emotions chart, I’m like, “Ugh, I don’t know. I guess. What does this one mean?” But it was helpful, because she was like, “Okay, I want you to look at the emotion that you feel. But then, I want you to think about what’s the underlying emotion?” 

Josh: Yeah. Like what? We were saying earlier, you would get angry, but really, you’re scared of something going terribly wrong or not being taken care of, and so it exhibits itself in anger.

Phylicia: Yeah. For you, that defensiveness and often, instead of focusing on the issue at hand, he’d get into all of these really minor details that were unrelated to the issue to explain. I would say, “That’s not we’re talking about. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about this issue over here.” But you were trying to basically defend yourself from being falsely accused, and we’re very sensitive to being falsely accused. She helped us work through where did those fears come from in your childhood, and how can you be sensitive to those things going forward so that when you do fight, you fight well.

Josh: Stay away from the hot words or triggers.

Phylicia: Yeah. Or try to express that you hear them.

Josh: Yeah. Be supportive. 

Phylicia: Right. Would you give counseling five stars? [laughs] 

Josh: Yeah, our experience has been great.

Phylicia: Yeah, I would just encourage couples who maybe think, like, “Well, we’re not in crisis. So, we don’t need counseling.” Or, “People when they go to counseling, if they’re about to get divorced.” I would just really encourage you to reframe that, because biblically seeking counsel and wisdom is something that is encouraged. It’s encouraged to ask for input from somebody who has knowledge in that area. It’s not something you– If you’re like, “I’m not going to get a financial advisor until I’m about to go into bankruptcy,” everyone would say, “That’s insane. You should be doing that way earlier.”

Josh: Yeah. I was just going to say it shouldn’t be viewed as a last resort and you shouldn’t feel once you’re in counseling, you’re at the end.

Phylicia: When we first started going to counseling, we did have a few people comment, “What’s wrong?” And we just said, “Nothing’s wrong. We just want to learn to communicate better.” And it has, it’s helped so, so, so much to communicate better, and learn how to better love one another, which is the whole point of this Colossians passage. 

Josh: Yeah.

Phylicia: Well, we hope you guys that this was an encouraging episode or at least gave you some things to think about in your own relationships. We hope that husbands and wives will listen to these episodes together and discuss them together, because having both Josh and myself here, I hope that makes more men comfortable with Verity podcasts, which is a woman-dominated listenership if we’re being real. So, we’re grateful for you listening. We hope that maybe this resonated with some of you and you feel a little bit less alone in your own patterns of fighting in your marriage and that you get the help you need, no matter what it takes. 

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Verity. You can connect with fellow listeners by following me on Instagram @phyliciamasonheimer or on our Facebook page by the same name. Also, visit phyliciamasonheimer.com for links to each episode and the show notes.