For my husband’s wedding gift, I embroidered and framed our wedding vows. The promises we made to each other over 35 years ago hang on the wall in our bedroom. Through those years, I can honestly say we have not had one mean argument. Never have either of us sought to hurt or harm the other with personal jabs at their character or by taking advantage of the weaknesses we each know the other has. A marriage is an extraordinary relationship where we both know how to hurt the other if we are so inclined, and we have plenty of opportunities to do it. However, in addition to endowing him “with all I possess” (which was only a car at the time), I promised to cherish him. And he promised to cherish me. (He didn’t possess anything to endow me with.) That man prioritizes me and treats me like a princess 97.2% of the time, despite the fact that I’m only bonafide royalty about 80.8% of the time. I feel cherished, and I really want him to know that I cherish him too.

I’m convinced that the elements of handling conflict well in a marriage are very basic and lie in the way we treat each other in the hours, days, weeks, and years before a disagreement. We hold ourselves accountable to the wise guidance of scripture regarding human relationships:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
— Ephesians 5:21

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
— Romans 12:10

And we love, as best we can, in the ways we all have heard so many times:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
— 1 Corinthians 13:4–7

And I’ll say it again: We hold ourselves accountable to these standards. We each take our own responsibility to treat the other well seriously, regardless of what the other does. And after so many years, we’ve each built a cushion of goodwill so that even when we aren’t at our best, when we disagree badly, we are still not unkind, and we forgive. Each new disagreement stands on its own. It is not sitting on a pile of hurt caused by previous conflict.

If you have hurtful conflict or damage done by prior mistakes or experiences, even before marriage, take responsibility for seeking healing for whatever makes it hard for you to love and be your best in your marriage. Make it your mission to cherish your spouse above all else and express it in every way you can. You may be surprised at the difference it makes.