When I first fell in love with my husband, I remember telling him, “We get along so well, I can’t ever imagine us fighting.” Wow, what a naïve thing to say! After 12 years of marriage and two kids, I can tell you we’ve had our share of conflict and disagreements. What marriage doesn’t?

Whether we like it or not, conflict is part of life and happens in any relationship, especially within marriage. Marriage is really two sinners uniting to make a life together. Because we’re imperfect and sin against one another, conflict happens. Men and women think and process things differently, so sometimes we just don’t get each other. Our childhoods and the way our parents did or didn’t do things affects much of who we are and why we do what we do, which can also be another source of conflict.

On top of that, there are so many decisions to be made, bills to pay, chores to do and kids to raise that the stress of it all can cause tension, miscommunication and hurt feelings. How we handle these conflicts with our spouse can make all the difference in the strength and success of your relationship.

How do you and your spouse generally resolve conflict in your marriage? Do you come away satisfied that you worked through the problem? Or do you avoid conflict or confronting one another like the plague? Unfortunately, one of the best ways to improve at something is by practicing.

So here are five tips to remember the next time you’re working through marital conflict:

  1. Fight for your marriage: Remember that you’re on the same team. Your spouse is not the enemy, the devil is our enemy. He would love nothing more than to separate and divide your marriage. As you’re working on resolving the conflict, don’t fight to be right, but fight for unity and a strengthened relationship.
  2. Don’t allow bitterness to take root: Does this ever happen in your marriage? Instead of bringing up an offense, we don’t say anything or let it slide because we don’t want to cause an argument. But what can happen is that by continually stuffing things inside, bitterness takes root. We keep track of the way our spouse has wronged us and it builds emotional distance in the relationship. Bring up and resolve issues as they happen so that there’s no time for bitterness to take root in your hearts.
  3. Honestly communicate in love: You cannot read each other’s minds. Although it would be nice, it’s unrealistic to expect your spouse to be capable of this supernatural ability. Instead, you must speak what’s on your heart and mind honestly, but in love. The way we say something is often more important than how we say it. Proverbs 15:1 NIV says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
  4. Give each other the benefit of the doubt: Assume that your spouse’s intentions weren’t to harm you. Maybe your husband spoke harshly to you because he had a bad day at work. Maybe your wife is tired or grouchy because she’s hormonal or sleep-deprived from waking up with kids at night. Giving each other grace and assuming the best in each other instead of the worst can help you remember what the conflict was really about.
  5. Forgive as the Lord forgives you: This is so much easier said than done, but forgiveness is key to restoration in any relationship. As imperfect humans, we all will inevitably hurt one another at some point. If we don’t learn to forgive, we’ll never have meaningful connection or relationships with anyone! None of us is deserving of God’s forgiveness, yet He gives it to us anyway because He loves us. Colossians 3:13 NIV says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you condone the offense, but it means you choose to let love cover over the hurt. Don’t we want that when we’re the one who has hurt someone else? 1 Peter 4:8 NIV says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

I hope that your marriage will be strengthened and more united as you use these tips and work through the inevitable conflicts that married life brings!