Every so often, my husband will do something that frustrates me, which I have heard is pretty normal in married life. When you get two sinners together living in the same house, especially as closely as do husband and wife (you can't get away!), you are bound frustrate, annoy, hurt, and upset each other. We all make mistakes. The disagreements, hurt feelings, and irritations are generally not optional. What is in our control, however, is how we respond to those difficulties.
When handling conflict, I am definitely not the type who yells or gets obviously angry. Instead, I tend to go inward and stew about whatever it is that frustrates me. I am an introspective thinker most of the time, so I will often reflect on things like, "Why does this bother me?" "What was the trigger that caused me to become angry in this situation?" "Is this something that I need to deal with in my own heart or do I need to bring it up with my husband?" And when I stick with asking myself those sorts of questions, things usually go okay. I can either bring up the subject with my husband and explain why I feel the way that I do and what caused me to react how I did, or I can recognize that I am just being nit-picky and I need to let it go.
Things do not always go that way, however. Especially since we got married, I have a tendency to prepare for conflict in a negative way. Rather than contemplate what is wrong and how it can be fixed, think on what frustrated me and how upset I am. If it bothers me that my husband did not put his clothes in the laundry basket, I will think of every possible argument or poor response he could possibly come up with and prepare for it. That way, if he responds with any sort of a sigh or possible sign of frustration at my request (regardless of what his verbal response actually is), I can launch into attack mode. You hardly ever help clean the house. Fine, I will just not wash your clothes. Why can you not just do this one thing for me? I don't know why this is such a big deal to you. My goal with this is obviously not conflict resolution, even though that should be the point of bringing up an issue. I keep doing it, however, and it keeps turning out poorly--generally a long argument, tears (on my end), frustration for both of us, each of us feeling a lack of love and respect. Now, sometimes, his responses may not have been the best or the most conducive to conflict resolution, but my responses certainly do not help.
When a conflict comes up between my husband and I, the goal should be to resolve it, not to have the best response. In light of that, I have found that it matters immensely when I bring something up--if he is stressed with work or I am suffering from a lack of sleep, arguments almost always ensue. That is when I am much more likely to make unkind remarks and he is more likely to respond in a negative manner. The main thing that I need to handle arguments in a proper way, however, is humility and love...aka, help from God, because humility and love do not come naturally unless I am abiding in Christ.
So, preparing properly for conflict does not involve thinking up missles with which to shoot down my husband's response. Rather it involves lots of prayer, some self-evaluation to make sure that my heart is in the right place, and lots of God's grace.
Lord, give me the grace to deal with frustrations in a way that is honoring to You, not searching for faults in my husband or trying to justify myself, but with humility and love, looking out for my husband's interests and truly seeking to resolve conflict, not simply proving my point.
"Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility, consider others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)