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Attack the Problem, Not Each Other

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
Learn specific ways to focus on your marriage problems instead of on your mate’s shortcomings.

Family Counseling Ministries -

Marital conflict is not fun. Because we are sinners, we are naturally inclined to defend our actions, justify our motives and promote our own selfish agendas. When husbands and wives experience marital discord, one of the greatest detriments to achieving biblical solutions is our innate tendency to attack each other, rather than the problem.

The writer of Romans 2:1 sternly warns,

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

When our spouse approaches us with a question or complaint about a particular behavior or attitude, we are usually quick to retaliate. We often hurl back a counter-complaint,

Okay, so I forgot to mail the car payment on time. You never serve a meal that isn’t two hours late.


When a problem in marriage arises a good rule of thumb is to deal with objective facts, not subjective feelings. We should not blame our mate. A better plan, in the heat of the moment, is to ask God for the insight to see beyond the emotional frustration. We need to pray for discernment to understand the root of the problem.


A wife who finds for example, that her husband has mailed a bill payment late is probably frustrated and anxious because the late payment has adversely affected their credit rating. She must, however, avoid calling his character into question with such comments as, “Does it even matter to you that this has ruined our good credit?” She should instead, express her concern objectively and propose a solution, such as posting a schedule for bill payments on the refrigerator. Such a suggestion becomes a practical step towards solving the problem.

Marriage partners should refrain from cracks about in-laws or other relatives. When a husband observes a trait in his wife that reminds him of a negative quality in her mother, he may be tempted to say, “You’re just like your mother.” The husband must resist the temptation. This is a double-edged insult that is very hard to un-do.

Likewise husbands and wives must not make derogatory comments about their mate’s appearance. We read this exhortation in Proverbs 25:11, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” For example, a wife who is consistently irritated by her husband’s inability to choose matching clothes may be longing to say, “Those pants look atrocious with that shirt. Why can’t you see that they don’t go together?” A kinder and more encouraging approach is for the wife to ask her husband if she might suggest which of his outfits she finds most attractive.

It is wise to fight the urge to use such all-encompassing words as, “You never…” or “You always…” We tend to readily level such irrational accusations in a push to be right and to win an argument. But such comments are counter-productive and they derail the process of conflict resolution. The accused party no longer focuses on problem solving, because he or she now begins to chronicle specific times and instances when, in fact, “He or she did…” or “He or she didn’t…”


Marriage partners frequently interrupt one another in the midst of conflict resolution. Each person wants his or her opinions to be heard. The solution that most naturally comes to mind is to get progressively louder in order to get one’s point across.


Not so, according to God’s Rules. God instructs us in Proverbs 9:13,

The woman Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge.

We ought to make a determined effort to turn the volume down and to wait patiently until it is our turn to speak.

When husbands and wives focus on the problem rather than on each other’s shortcomings, they make great strides toward achieving biblical resolution to conflicts within marriage.


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