How to Fight Together (on the Same Side): A Valentine’s Gift to Couples

from Pure Sex: The Spirituality of Desire

by Gordon Dalbey
with Mary Andrews-Dalbey, PhD

Not long into our first year of marriage, Mary and I got into it over something—I don’t even remember what set us off. After trading shots for some time, however, it became clear we’d gone down a rabbit hole never to return unless some power greater than the two of us entered the fray.
Yes, we’re each highly educated, but sometimes that only means our barbs become more intelligently crafted.
Frustrated and scared—how in the world were we going to get out of this dark place together?—I sighed deeply, un-grit my teeth and girded my loins.
“This argument is over,” I declared, taking Mary’s hand.
In previous generations, this announcement commonly meant that both partners stopped talking and went their separate ways as the man disappeared behind the newspaper. Of course, because everyone was now quiet, peace was restored and everyone lived happily ever after.
They don’t call the devil the prince of Darkness for nothing. As the Destroyer of God’s work, he thrills to see couples withdraw from communicating and seethe quietly amid thoughts of self-justification and vengeance.
So I pressed ahead. “I’m tired of hurting each other,” I urged. “Let’s pray.”
With that, I drew Mary with me into our bedroom and invited her to kneel down beside me at the foot of our bed.
Forgive me if this seems elementary. If you and your spouse do this together all the time, give me some grace. This approach to “conflict resolution” was not in my hard drive before that time. I never saw it done anywhere in the culture—not at home growing up, not between other married friends, not in any Hollywood film, not in my seminary curriculum, nor even in any of the many churches I attended growing up and since.
Today, since our wedding in 1990, I haven’t seen anything better.
Indeed, this wasn’t the only time Mary and I knelt together. In that first year together, we wore four holes in the carpet.
It’s worth noting here that the word “kneel” comes from the root word for “knee.” That’s the joint between your ankle and your hip. When it bends you get smaller–and that’s the idea.
In any case, as the two of us knelt side by side, I took another measured breath and led the way. “O God,” I cried out, modeling after King David in Psalm 139, “search my wife’s heart, and find out what wickedness there is within her!” (Freely translated from  THB–The Husband’s Bible).
OK, actually I didn’t say that—though I confess the thought did cross my mind. With a nod to David’s asking God to “search my heart” for evil, I struggled to give it my best shot.
“OK, Father,” I sighed out loud, still holding Mary’s hand tightly, in order not to run. “We give up. To you. We’ve done our best and we only keep hurting each other more. We can’t seem to stop it. It’s getting to where we don’t even want to. Please come and speak to us, Father! Lead us out of this place back into the love we know you have for us.”
“Yes, Father,” Mary agreed. “That’s what we really want.”
In spite of my righteous intentions, I confess I knelt there fuming. Come on, Father! I prayed quietly. You’re the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. You were there–just tell her the truth! Hopefully, I waited—but heard nothing either from the Father or from Mary.
            And then suddenly, three words popped into my mind: “Listen to her.”
“Listen to her,” Father? I echoed in silent frustration. What do you mean? I’ve been listening to her for half an hour! You’re all-knowing. You know it didn’t happen like she says.
Frustrated, nevertheless I’d already exhausted all my intelligent and insightful options. Father,You know I love your Word! I prayed righteously. Please, give me a Scripture to get us out of this mess.
The word I did not love, however, returned: “Listen to her.”
Struggling, I tried another avenue. Please, Father—how about a rhema word of knowledge? Yes, come Holy Spirit!
 “Listen to her,” I heard yet again.
Exasperated, I cut to the chase. Father, look:You know I’m right. Mary hears from you–just show her that.
“I never said you were wrong,” I sensed. “I said, ‘Listen to her’.”
Amid the frustration, my beloved’s voice suddenly cut in from beside me. “I’m not getting anything from the Lord,” Mary said, confused and shaking her head in dismay. “Are you?”
I drew up. “Well, of course,” I offered–humble Christian that I am—“I don’t know if it’s from the Lord or not. I mean, you know, it could be just me.” After all, the Bible says we see only as ‘in a mirror dimly’ in this present age—right? (1 Corinth. 13:12).
“OK…,” Mary offered, genuinely at a loss. “But if you’ve got anything at all, let’s try it anyhow and see.”
Apparently the dim mirror was about to become more clear—and uncomfortable. OK, Father! I prayed quietly, walk me through this!
“Well, OK. I mean, the gist was kind of like…, maybe I haven’t been listening to you very well.”
That got Mary’s attention. Straightening up, she looked me in the eye, focused and intense.
“Maybe” I allowed, “if you could tell me once more what you were saying, I’ll try my best to listen.”
A tentative squint of Mary’s eyes said, Do I dare trust this dude one more time? After a significant pause, however, with measured breath she began talking to me about her being afraid, including something painful that had happened to her before we ever met.
Minutes later, we were in each other’s arms, asking forgiveness for hurting each other.
I could almost hear the Father huff in disgust, “And you wanted to be right!”
That day, I learned a simple but powerful lesson: There’s something better than being right. It’s being real–before God and the one you love, trusting Him to draw you back together for His larger purposes.
“When couples fight,” as my seminary pastor Rev. Herb Davis used to say, “they always think the question is, Who’s right? But each one already knows the answer to that question: ‘I’m right! Otherwise, I wouldn’t be fighting.’
“Instead, The Question for couples who want to grow up is, What’s God trying to teach us here?”
You just have to give Him a chance to answer.

Gordon Dalbey books (signed paperbacks, CD and mp3 reading),
DVD, cd/mp3 teachings at

4 thoughts on “How to Fight Together (on the Same Side): A Valentine’s Gift to Couples”

  1. I guess that’s why God has to take us through the valley of Baca (weeping) and seasons of brokenness to show us how truly independent we still are. And even after seasons of brokenness it is still not my default to take the log out of my own eye first. Maybe to the extent we can be offended, to that extent we are still immature. Being offended reveals much deeper sin and pride. We all probably need a divinely designed ‘thorn’ to be thrust into our flesh. Man it’s enough to bring us to the end of ourselves isn’t it? That’s the point though, it’s supposed to. Thanks Gordon. In Christ, Nigel

  2. Nigel–Thank you, brother. Always good when the Father uses your own mistakes to help others! I’m writing a new book now Loving to Fight, or Fighting to Love: Winning the Spiritual Battle for Your Marriage. I’ll let you know when it comes out, hopefully by the end of the year.

  3. Hi Gordon, I love, respect and deeply appreciate your work. I started reading ‘Healing the Masculine Soul’ as a twenty five year old. I got halfway through it. Now, 20 years later I’m back to finish the work, that was started in my youth. Unfinished Business as they say. Thank you for lighting the way.

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