The IDEAL Method for Resolving Marital Conflict

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Couples should use speech that builds up. In Ephesians, Paul describes language that edifies the person we’re speaking with. Edification includes constructive criticism given in humility, allowing the person receiving those words to correct behavior not conducive for togetherness. When we use such speech, Paul says we will “give grace to those who hear.” This is a very important phrase, because it identifies an audience beyond the person we are talking to. For married couples, this audience can be our very own children!
Recognizing this truth in our own marriage caused our hearts to break. For years we had been showing our children all the ways to not resolve conflict. They were casualties of the wars we were fighting with each other. We knew that we disagreed with how our parents managed conflict, yet we were guilty of repeating many of their patterns. We were so convicted that we knew we had to confess our sins (to our children as well as to each other), identify where we were getting off course, and develop strategies and plans to resolve our conflicts biblically.


When we realized that our behavior during times of conflict needed to change radically, we created a practical five-step process using the acrostic IDEAL, since this was our ideal way of resolving our issues. These principles may look a little different in your marriage, but if you’re struggling with yielding to the Holy Spirit during times of conflict, prayerfully consider trying these five practices:

t’s Okay to Walk Away. It’s good to remind each other that it’s perfectly acceptable to walk away when things get overheated. Call a time-out and agree to be apart for a set amount of time. During this time, pray and ask God for grace and patience for when you come back together to seek resolution.
D efine the Problem. When you reconvene, take time to identify what you each sense is the root cause of your disagreement. Sometimes you’ll both agree on what triggered the dispute, and other times you won’t. Both of you must be willing to hear the other person’s assessment to tackle all the issues that might be preventing you from walking in togetherness. Any stated root problems need to be addressed.
E xamine your own heart. Take the time necessary to ask the Lord to highlight your blind spots by reading and praying through Psalm 139:23-24. In addition, ask the Lord to prepare your heart to hear your spouse share the blind spots they see in your life.
A ctively Listen to Your Spouse. When both of you are demanding to be heard, neither one of you is taking time to listen. Consider opening the Bible, reading the following Scriptures, and asking God the Holy Spirit to help both of you become better listeners:

Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 18:13: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
James 1:19-20: “Know this, my beloved brothers: but every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

L ist Your Contributions and Solutions. In most cases, both spouses contribute something to the stated problem or problems, so each of you must equally contribute to a finding a solution, rather than just harping on the other person’s faults.

Once we started employing this strategy, we saw immediate results, as did our children. Our knock-down, drag-out fights began to decrease. We spent increased time working through issues while expressing empathy and sympathy. We no longer raised our voices with each other—to the point that when we did during one silly spat about dinner, our oldest daughter started to cry. When I asked why she was crying, Bella told us she was worried we would get a divorce. Immediately D. A. and I looked at each other, puzzled, and asked why she assumed that. Bella said it was because D. A. had raised his voice when he told me he didn’t care what we ate.

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We quickly told her we were not getting divorced and assured her of our love. Then we asked her how often we raised our voices or even fought. Bella couldn’t remember one other occurrence. We found this comforting. The Lord was honoring our commitment to biblical resolution, to the point that our oldest daughter, who had witnessed many of our earlier altercations, could no longer remember the way we used to fight! If you and your spouse struggle with conflict resolution, be encouraged: If God can cause growth in us, He can do it in anyone.

You’ve been reading with Elicia and D.A. Horton from their book Enter the Ring: Fighting Together for a Gospel-Saturated Marriage. You can read a free excerpt of the intro and chapter one here. D.A. and Elicia have been fighting for their marriage for over 15 years and are passionate about marriage and family discipleship. Get your copy of the book or learn more about D.A. and Elicia at


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