Decision Making Revisited

Posted on November 23, 2020


Of course, you don’t agree on everything.  If you did, one of you would be largely unnecessary.  The old cliché that two heads are better than one is certainly true.  At the same time, it is also an irritant. 

The research has found (and I am not making it up), that 69% of the things couples argue about are not solvable problems.  No matter how compatible we are, we are still two individuals who see things differently.  What separates the master of relationship from the disasters is how we deal with the perpetual problems.  In successful marriages, both partners feel that their influence is accepted by their mate. 

In Christian circles, there are primarily two views about who is in charge when it comes to decision making[1].  The complementarian view sees the role of husband and wife as complementary of one another, but it is the husband’s job to lead and be in charge.  The egalitarian view is that the two are equal both in authority and function in the relationship.  The latter is certainly more common in modern America.  Though the former may make decision processes simpler, they may be less reliable and have the potential to breed resentment if one partner feels they do not have equal influence. 

What do we do when we are at an impasse?  The Gottman Method (which I certainly respect) would suggest that we understand the “dreams within conflict” for each of the partners.  I would like to offer another alternative to add to your relationship toolkit.

About 25 years ago, I was part of a team that was tasked with discerning the vision for a church of which we were members.  As part of that, we utilized a consensus building method that would make supporting or not supporting a proposed vision less binary.  It wasn’t a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, but where were you on the continuum.  The voting choices were (going from memory)

  1. I believe this is the vision for our church.
  2. I believe this may be vision but I have some questions/concerns about it.
  3. I don’t believe this is the vision, but I could support it if the group selects it.
  4. I don’t believe this is the vision, and could not in good faith support it. 

When it comes to marriage, we want to win as a team.  We want to make prudent decisions on behalf of the marriage and the family.  We want to make choices that will add to our happiness, our security, our well-being.  If that is our starting point, we could say that we want the same things, we just don’t always agree on how to get there.  If we adapted the visioning process above to a marriage, the choices might go something like this.

  1. I believe this is the right thing for us to do.
  2. I believe this may be the right thing, but I still have some questions/concerns.
  3. I don’t believe this is the right thing, but I could support it if you feel strongly and it is important to you.
  4. I don’t believe this is the right thing for us, and I can’t in good faith support it. 

If one of you is at a “4,” there is a lot more discussing to be done before we are ready to make the decision.  This may be where the Gottman’s dreams withing conflict is going to come in handy.  You are both intelligent people, so let’s understand what is behind our positions on the subject. 

My experience is (after 36 years of marriage), that the 4’s become fewer and fewer as the years go by.   Of course, that is easier with an empty nest and relative financial security.  There are just many fewer things that feel like a hill to die on.  Having said that, I think we may often take a “4” position when if we really examined our position, we could get closer to being on the same page.  Hopefully, there just aren’t that many things that your mate wants that you cannot in good conscience support. 

Give it a try.  See how you do with it. 

[1] I am egalitarian in my view.  I have no problem backing it up from scripture and am happy to have the conversation.  I have no issue with couples who are complementarian in their view and functioning.  Just be aware that the scriptures that put the husband in charge also say he is to love (agape) his wife as Christ loved the church.  If you accomplish that, no one will object to your leadership.

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