- Dr. Gil Stieglitz
Eight Habits of Great Marriages - Learn to Make Wise Decisions Together
I hope you have enjoyed this series on eight fundamental habits in great marriages (which tend not to be present in bad ones). Here we are at habit #8, but in case you missed habit #7 (eat one meal -- at least -- together), click HERE. Habit #8 is critical to having a great marriage. I hope you take this one to heart.
Habit #8: Learn how to make wise decisions together.
In marriage, couples disagree about all kinds of important things in life, like money, schedules, people, relatives, parenting, days off, love life, food, and more. And, there will be disagreements about lesser things that don't really require any decisions to be made, like favorite colors, sports teams, favorite foods, clothing styles, music, etc. What's the big deal? It's ok to disagree on things, isn't it? Yes, but only to a point. Do you and your spouse have a system you use to express your opinions, preferences, and desires to help the two of you find wisdom over that issue? One that welcomes both perspectives in a fair and balanced way in order to achieve the best possible decisions?
Too often, I watch as couples fight, spend, scream, cry, ignore, seethe, hate, and selfishly cling to their own ideas. But a good marriage requires there to be a system in place that moves you past just your point of view. God put two people together for a reason -- so that both people's wisdom and perspectives are used to rule their world. An inability to decide things together in marriage destroys trust and love in the relationship, not to mention arguing, anger, and hurt feelings.
Let me suggest a system that I have seen to be incredibly helpful at pushing couples toward wisdom. It can be used for any dispute no matter how large or small. You just plug in the different perspectives, go through the phases, and out will come a wiser perspective than when you started. This system requires a little humility to use, though, because it means you are both willing to admit that you don't have all the knowledge or all the options.
First, let me explain what wisdom is and what it isn't. Wisdom means finding what is best for everyone, a solution you both can support. Everyone thinks their point of view or opinion is the right way at the beginning, but if a marriage is going to work, there must be a way to hear different opinions, collect facts, talk to wise people, pray, and then come to a mutual decision. This would be for things like how to spend your tax return, remodel the house, if and where to move, what kind of car to purchase, what to do on vacation, what the budget amounts are for weekly spending, where the kids go to school... your job is to arrive at wisdom, a place where God wins, the other person wins, and you win. It is almost never made up of just one person's perspective. It requires listening to others in order to become wise.
The decision-making system me and my wife, Dana, use has five phases, which may take considerable time but allows for a wiser decision than just going with one person's perspective. Here are the five phases for making a good decision and what each one entails:
In this phase, both people get to talk, "What do each of us want to do with ... the money, time, energy?" No decisions can be made immediately after this. We are just listening to each other. Both people get to ask questions about the other person's perspective, not to run it down, but to understand what the other person is saying. This is not an argument but a chance to hear another perspective. If you listen well, then you can decide well. Many times, couples find that a little bit of both people's perspective can be used to make a better decision in the end. I like to say, "There are always options. Let me know what you think."
Some couples need a reminder that this is just a discussion and that no decisions can come out this phase of the process, so they put a card labeled "discussion phase" on the table to remind them that this is just a discussion. This can be a hard phase, because some people don't want to listen to their spouse's ideas for fear that it will suggest they are in favor of them. Make it clear that this is a time of hearing what the other person is saying, not arguing for your position or making a decision. It is just putting options on the table.
After both people's points of views have been heard, various options are explored that would combine perspectives or other ideas that come to mind now that everything is on the table. When you are in the options phase, you are hopeful that your spouse and yourself will come across other options that you have never thought of before. This phase and the next phase, the counsel phase, may happen at the same time to give you the opportunity to find more options. Questions you may ask are:
What are various ways of doing it or something else?
If we were to incorporate your ideas, what are some of the various options?
How would we rate various options?
Here, you actively search for other people, books, magazines, and websites for information, and options to help you make a wise decision. You may ask your spouse, "Who do you think we need to talk to convince me you are right or to get the best wisdom?" I can remember asking Dana who she wanted me to talk to -- it was always her dad and a consumer's report website if it was about a purchase. Both of these were very helpful as we worked through the various decisions we needed to make.
For us, this phase has lasted a few hours, or even a few years at times. If you have a very difficult decision to make, such as changing jobs or having another child, this counsel phase can take a long time. It is always helpful to have lots of wise people to get advice from. Your sources of wisdom should be broad enough not to just convince you that you were right in the first place. Talk to thoughtful people. Talk to successful people. I am amazed at the people who want to give us advice on how to do something when they themselves have failed every time at the thing they are advising us on!
I strongly suggest that both of you take the time to pray individually and together about the decision. Honestly and humbly kneel before God and let Him know in the presence of the other person that you want wisdom, not just your way. Ask Him for His wisdom and His guidance. God will guide those who really want His direction. We have an ottoman that our family gathers around and uses to focus our times of prayer together. In this phase, we know it is time to pray about this together and see how God directs us. Both people pray. Both people plead with God for wisdom, not their way.
When it seems clear what the combined wisdom is leading to, the husband should say something like, "It seems like we agree that _____ is our decision." "Do you agree?" "If you have new wisdom or information, let's look at it now."
If your partner doesn't agree that the wise choice is obvious or it isn't what you thought it was, then you start the process all over again on these new ideas and directions. Don't be in a big hurry ... focus on finding wisdom. I have watched couples start over several times as they move together toward the wise decision they can both live with.
Great marriages are those that work together not those that make the perfect decision every time. It is the process of talking, listening, checking with other, finding places of compromise, looking for new ideas, researching, growing your ideas, praying together, and making a decision together that will strengthen your marriage.
You may adapt and adjust this system to suit the type of decision that you as a couple are trying to make. But find a way to let both people in the process without one person's selfish perspectives dominate the way the marriage functions. There are always options if both spouses will be reasonable.
Commit today to learn how to make wise decisions in your marriage. Don't fight ... find wisdom. Let me know how you're going by emailing me at email@example.com.
Thank you for joining me for this series on eight habits for great marriages. I hope you have found it useful and beneficial in your life.
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Marital Intelligence, subtitled “A foolproof guide for saving and supercharging marriage,” is based on thousands of hours of marital counseling and observation by the author. Stieglitz is a counselor, speaker, mentor, professor, and leadership consultant based in Roseville, Calif. He is currently a professor at Western Seminary, a district superintendent for the Evangelical Free Church of America, and a church consultant for Thriving Churches International. He also directs his own ministry, Principles to Live By. Stieglitz says there are only five problems in marriage: (1) Ignoring needs; (2) Immature behaviors, (3) Clashing temperaments, (4) Competing relationships, and (5) Past baggage. With each issue, he carefully and consistently lays out biblical teaching on the subject, and then includes helpful anecdotes, solutions, and self-tests to help the reader.
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