Catching the Foxes in Marriage

Every marriage has the potential for negative attributes and if we aren’t intentional about tending it, they will run rampant.

“Catch the foxes for us, 
the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,
    for our vineyards are in blossom.”

(Song of Solomon 2:15 ESV)

“If you have a conflict-free marriage, you need to open your eyes. One of you has passed away.”

I remember laughing along with the crowd when I heard a Christian comedian trot out that line. It was funny at the time. And I guess it still is. But as someone who thinks she has a pretty good marriage, the underlying truth still resonates: “We all,” as James 3:2 puts it, “stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect.”

We all stumble. We all say things we wish we could take back. And we all—even the most well-suited couples—can get into it with one another.

I like the fact that James uses the word stumble, especially when it comes to handling conflict in marriage. Because more often than not, it’s not a boulder that derails our relationship. It’s a stone—a habit or attitude—that seems fairly minor…until it isn’t.

She interrupts.

He leaves dirty clothes on the floor.

They make us late (every time).

Grounds for divorce? Hardly. And yet these are the negative patterns that can chip away at a relationship, destroying both intimacy and affection. King Solomon called these trouble-makers little foxes. “Catch all the foxes, those little foxes,” he warned, “before they ruin the vineyard of love.” (Song of Solomon 2:15 NLT)

So how do we do that? How do we corral negative attributes or behaviors and get them out of our gardens?

Three Ways to Keep Conflict from Killing Your Love

Marriage expert John Gottman maintains that two-thirds of relationship conflict is “perpetual”—meaning, it’s not going away. With that in mind, it can help to implement a few strategies before tension has a chance to escalate. Here are three of my favorites.

1. Remember that you’re on the same team.

It can be easy to see your spouse as the problem—they spent too much money, they forgot your birthday, they never help with the housework—but those issues are just spillover symptoms of our self-centered nature. The real problem—the real adversary—is Satan. Satan hates marriage, plain and simple, because it reflects God’s love for his people, and he will to whatever he can to destroy it. And when we buy the lie that our spouse is our enemy, we play right into his hands.

2. Don’t go to bed mad.

Getting angry isn’t a sin; it’s a normal human emotion. But holding onto that anger—letting it fester and put down roots—is a no-no. If you can’t resolve differences quickly and you find yourself fighting at night, don’t keep talking, lest you say something you’ll later regret. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” Scripture says, “and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)

3. Count the cost.

My mom tells the story of how irritated she was when her husband John repeatedly left dirty dishes in the sink. Does he think I’m his maid? she asked God. In answer, the Lord prompted her to count how much time she spent doing the dishes—and to pray for her man as she did so. Thirteen seconds. Thirteen seconds was all it took to clean up—and to pray. “Now,” she says, “John sometimes loads the dishwasher on his own, but even if I have to do the dishes for the rest of my life, I’ll cherish the chance I get to pray for him for those few extra seconds.”

Remembering your team, managing anger, and counting the cost of the things that upset you (and even using your annoyance as a signal to pray) are just three ways to keep the little foxes at bay. There are others, of course; talk with your spouse about the tools that work best for you.

And as you do, remember God’s promise to establish the steps of the one who delights in his way. “Though he may stumble,” the psalmist says, “he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24 NIV)

We all stumble. But as we entrust the vineyards of our love to the Master Gardner, he will not let us fall.

In His Word

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2 ESV)

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9 NIV)

In Your Life

What causes conflict in your marriage? What would it look like to repay insults (or offenses) with blessings? How about walking in love—are you willing to give up your own desires or selfish habits out of love for your spouse?

Ask God to help you identify ways you can guard against the little foxes, knowing that as you delight in God’s way, you can hold fast to his promise:  He will not let you fall.

We Recommend

Read more about handling conflict—and 20 more relationship topics—in Praying the Scriptures for Your Marriage. Filled with real-life illustrations, biblical insights, and compelling prayers, this book makes a perfect wedding or anniversary gift (it’s available in a hardcover format), or just keep a copy handy to help you pray about everything from navigating differences in your faith to having more fun!

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