We’re in this thing together

Frank Sinatra's unabashed proclamation "I Did It My Way!" may have worked on stage for old Blue Eyes, but it rings flat in marriage.

Couples must continually make tough decisions, and if one person constantly chooses to insist it's his way or the highway, the road is going to get rocky. A far better theme song for marriage would be a duet titled "We're in This Thing Together."

Wise marriage partners know they must blend their wishes, wants, and wisdom to make good decisions, and that those mutual decisions must be Spirit led, not ego fed.

When You Just Don't Agree

One of the toughest decisions in our marriage involved a move to Germany. Our children were 6, 4, and 15 months, and we were settled happily in Knoxville, Tenn. Move to Germany? Who would even want to consider it? I (Claudia) certainly didn't. But Dave did.

We spent hours discussing the pros and cons. Dave saw the opportunities, adventure, and challenge of a new job. I saw giving up my family, friends, and the home I loved - plus the complications of living in a different culture with three small, energetic boys. Dave was challenged; I was petrified. We prayed together and separately about the possible move. Dave got peace; I got panic. We just couldn't agree. I felt totally out of sync with Dave.

Finally, I realized he felt stronger about us going than I felt about staying. I also realized that his feelings were based on how our gifts meshed with the job opportunity, coupled with his strong conviction that God was calling us to Europe; my opinion was based on fear of the unknown. At that point, I decided to yield.

Was it easy? Absolutely not! It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. But in the end, I was glad I took the risk. We planned to go for three years, but we stayed almost 10. We now call that time "the golden years" of our marriage. If we had not committed to working through the decision together, however, that time would have been pretty rough.

Making decisions together is tough; and all couples have times when they just don't agree. From the heavy issues, such as how to discipline the kids or handle the checkbook, to the daily issues, such as the battle for the remote or who'll clean the bathroom, we're given opportunities to build our marriage partnership by approaching decision making as a team.

Consider the biblical admonition of Ephesians 5:21: "Submitting to one another in the fear of Christ." How do we live that out when we don't see eye to eye? Jesus washed the disciples' feet, but we argue over washing the dishes. So when tough decisions have to be made, do we follow Christ's example and seek to serve the other, or do we demand to be served?

Three Rules for Deciding Together

To resolve conflict and live out our faith in the context of marriage, Dave and I learned to keep our eyes on Christ and egos in check, and to follow three rules:

Rule 1: Be civil.

In a head-to-head conflict, civility is often the first casualty. We have a simple contract: We will not attack each other. So, when we find civility slipping, we remind each other of our deal.

We've also found it's hard to argue when we're both praying and seeking what God wants, not what we want. Prayer softens hearts and makes us more receptive to seeking God's guidance and to finding common ground as a couple.

Rule 2: Be calm.

When disagreements raise emotional temperatures, we've learned to let the hot potato cool with a few techniques:

  1. Take a time out. Don't talk or look at each other for 10 minutes. If necessary, go to separate rooms.
  2. Take a walk. Exercise helps you deal with anger and frustration.
  3. Make a positive list. To help you counterbalance the traits that irk you, list the ones you appreciate about your mate.

Rule 3: Be clear.

When we try to solve problems without defining the issue, misunderstandings abound. It's best to separate talking about an issue from trying to solve it. (If you aren't searching for a solution, you can focus on clearly communicating and clarifying what the real issue is.)

To add clarity, we use the communication cycle and take turns being the talker and listener. Here's how it works: The talker makes a statement, and the listener paraphrases it; this cycle continues until both agree that what one person said is what the other person heard.

Work as a Team

In any marriage you will have different opinions about how to make tough decisions. At that point you have a choice: You can nurture a sense that you are working together to solve a problem or operate as if you are working against each other. The key to resolving conflict is developing a way to look at those issues from the same side of the fence.

In a healthy marriage partnership, neither spouse is going to insist on doing it "my way" all the time. That's a guaranteed way to sing the blues. The best decision we've ever made is to be in this thing together.

David and Claudia Arp, founders of Marriage Alive Seminars, are conference speakers, columnists, and authors of numerous books and small group video curriculum, including The Second Half of Marriage and 10 Great Dates. You can visit their Web site at www.marriagealive.com.


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