If I had one evening I could spend with any person, no one in the world would outrank my wife. We have grown in mutual understanding so that it is rarely necessary to quarrel and argue. Nevertheless, Shirley and I once had a dandy fight and three distinct concepts emerged which may assist you in your marriage. 

1. Miscommunication results from differing assumptions. 

I had assumed that my responsibilities as husband and father would not resume until I had been given a chance to rest and recuperate (after an extended work trip that took its toll on me). That was a reasonable expectation, but it happened to differ with Shirley’s assumption. She felt that her duty at home was to end with my return, and that I would accept the burden from her weary shoulders with the rise of the Saturday sun. It was a reasonable supposition, but not in harmony with mine. 

I should have said, “Shirley, I know you’ve had it rough here at home these past six weeks, and I intend to help you pull things together. But I’m going to ask you to understand me for a few more days. I’m more tired than I ever remember being, and I find it difficult to even engage in conversation. If you’ll let me hole up for a few days…watch some football games and sleep…I’ll pick up my domestic responsibilities the first part of next week.” 

Shirley would have understood this request and honored it. Likewise, if she had said to me, “Jim, these past six weeks have been extremely hectic here at home. I know you couldn’t help it, but we’ve missed your presence here. Just as soon as possible, I need you to get involved with the kids, and for that matter, I want to be with you, too. And besides, there’s one task I can’t do that I would appreciate your handling Saturday morning. You see, the umbrella is dirty and–” 

The brief explanation would have helped me understand Shirley’s situation. But we allowed our differing assumptions to remain unspoken. 

Bad marriages are saturated with differing assumptions between husbands and wives. Friction occurs where those diverse views collide. One of the purposes of marriage counseling is to work through differing points of view in search of compromise and harmony. 

2. The hostility in many marriages is a direct expression of deep hurt. 

Returning to my conflict with Shirley, remember that neither of us sought to hurt the other person. Our initial anger was not motivated by malice or vindictiveness, but by a sense of having been wronged. That situation often underlies marital conflict. Being wounded in spirit gives birth to anger and resentment, leading to destructive words between husbands and wives. 

Let’s visit a couple in the midst of a terrible battle. She is screaming insults at him and he hurls the meanest concoctions back at her. Observers might be surprised to learn that their basic problem is not one of anger. They both have been hurt by the behavior of the other. The accusations they sling back and forth are merely reactions to the pain inside. Nevertheless, their words serve to deepen the original wounds and intensify the pain. It becomes a vicious cycle. 

That cycle could be broken if one of the combatants could muster the courage to talk about his own pain, rather than increasing the discomfort of his partner. 

“John, I cooked this delicious meal…spent three hours in the kitchen…Then you didn’t even call to say you’d be late. It hurt my feelings and made me feel that you don’t respect me.” 

John can receive that message without having to say hurtful things in response. But if Mary calls him “irresponsible, uncaring, heartless and just like your mother,” then the battle lines are drawn. Understanding the dynamics of conflict can help lessen the hostility when disagreements occur. 

3. Overcommitment is the Number One Marriage Killer. 

Fatigue and time pressure undermine even the healthiest of marriages. How can a man and woman communicate with each other when they’re too worn out even to talk? How can they enjoy sex when they are exhausted at the end of every day? How can they “date” one another or take walks or sit by a fire when they face the tyranny of an unfinished “to do” list? 

From this vantage point, I have to admit that my fight with Shirley was primarily my fault. Not that I was wrong in wanting to rest after arriving home. But I was to blame for foolishly overcommitting my time during that period. The conflict would never have occurred if I had not scheduled myself wall to wall for six weeks. My lack of discipline in my work caused Shirley and me to become exhausted, which brought a chain reaction of negative emotions: irritability, self-pity, petulance, selfishness, and withdrawal. Few marriages can survive a long-term dose of that bitter medicine. 

By: Dr. James Dobson