Every marriage has those moments when it’s hard to find agreement on an important issue. Add in COVID and the many parents who are having to make decisions they never could have anticipated about their children’s education and their own careers and you have a recipe for confusion and conflict.
Here’s 5 things to do when you realize you and your spouse see things from a very different perspective.
1) Pray – Okay, I know it’s cliché. But it’s become cliché because it’s worked so well for so many years for so many couples. Pray for your spouse. Pray for the ability to understand their perspective. Pray for God to bless them. Pray for God’s will. Do not pray to get your way. Nothing negates the power of prayer like praying for your will rather than God’s will.
2) Listen to Understand – Focus on listening to your spouse’s opinion with the goal of understanding their perspective not winning the debate. Ask honest open ended questions about your spouse’s reasoning, not sarcastic questions meant to poke holes in their reasoning. You will likely discover your spouse has hopes and fears you never fully understood which drive their thinking about the decision in question.
(For instance, you don’t understand why your husband isn’t content with his 1998 Toyota Corolla. New vehicles are expensive and it still runs fine. You never realized he’s been parking a block away and walking to work because he can’t bring himself to park it besides his buddies with F-150s.)
3) Seek Consensus – Share the reasoning behind your own perspective and the hopes and fears which drive you. See if your hopes and fears overlap with your spouse’s. It may be that after you’ve talked it through without the pressure of trying to “win” the argument, you may find a solution you both agree on.
(For example, you want to be able to invite people over to the house anytime to visit. Your wife balks when people come by without her knowledge. In talking you realize, she feels people judge her by the appearance of the inside of the house and she realizes how important being social is to you. So you agree to personally make sure the house is kept to a certain level of neatness before you invite people in.)
4) Compromise – When consensus isn’t possible sometimes compromise is. You both give up something that you want so you can each have something you can live with. (e.g. You want steak and potatoes. Your spouse wants kale salad and tofu. So you go to Chipotle and get rice bowls.)
5) Select and Support the Stake Holder – If you can’t reach consensus and you can’t find a compromise, then it’s time to determine who the highest stakeholder is. Whoever has the most at stake in the decision should get to make the decision. The other spouse should fully express their opinion, but respect the right of their spouse to make the decision even if they disagree. Once the decision is made the spouse who did not get their way should try to fully support the decision until an agreed upon time to reevaluate. I know it’s tough when consensus or compromise can’t be reached. But there’s very little that builds trust in a marriage like supporting your spouse even when you don’t get your way.
(e.g. My wife is the bigger stake holder when it comes to our kids’ education. She’s the one who keeps up with the teachers and projects. She’s the one who often sacrifices her career to give our kids the support they need. So, if there’s a question about their education, I’m going to be very involved. I’m going to articulate my opinion honestly and forcefully. But at the end of the day, if we disagree and just can’t find consensus or compromise, I’m going to fully support her decision every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Note: this isn’t the case for all families. They are many families where the dad is the primary education stakeholder.)
Now if these steps don’t work for you, there is one more step worth taking: Talk to a counselor. We all need someone to help us see things from a different perspective. And we all know in the midst of a busy, hectic, messy family life it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees when it comes to your marriage.
If you need a counselor in the Knoxville area, you can go to concordumc.com/counseling-center/. There you will find contact info for great counselors who have helped a lot of couples I know. If you are not in the Knoxville area, I encourage you to ask around until you find a trusted counselor nearby. Or if you are open to counseling via video conference, you are welcome to use the services of the Concord United Counseling Center no matter where you reside.
Sometimes there is nothing like an outside perspective to help us sort through what’s really happening on the inside of our most important relationships.