7 Dos and Don'ts to Remember When You Disagree with Your Spouse
If you have been married for any length of time, it has likely happened that you and your spouse have not seen eye to eye on a particular subject. This can be especially tense when a decision needs to be made. So how does this play out in real life? Here are some practical tips for making good decisions that build up your marriage.
1. Listen attentively before commenting.
If your spouse would like to make a decision on a possible purchase, job or location change, or some other matter, stop what you are doing—or schedule a time when you can—and give your spouse full attention regarding the topic. While it can be easy to give a quick response of “No way!” “You’ve got to be out of your mind!” or “We can’t begin to afford that,” doing so diminishes your spouse’s idea and will likely result in a more strained decision process.
If you listen carefully and learn why your spouse is considering making this decision, you will at least show respect and a genuine concern for your spouse’s desire in this area.
2. Be honest about your view on the matter, and express it respectfully.
The following situation may occur in married life: Spouse #1 is very excited about a certain prospect. Spouse #2 withholds an opinion and goes along with what Spouse #1 wants to do to make Spouse #1 happy. If the decision turns out badly later on, Spouse #1 may rightly say to Spouse #2, “But, hon, I thought you wanted to do it too!”
Trust is built in a relationship when you are honest with each other regarding your views on a pending decision. Being transparent helps you both make a better decision. Express your position kindly, clearly, and respectfully in the decision-making process. If one of you decides to go ahead anyway against the other spouse’s advice and the decision is a poor one in retrospect, the other spouse should resist the urge to say, “I told you so.” Hopefully, the person who made the poor decision is more likely to heed his or her spouse's advice in the future.
3. Ask your spouse to consider alternative solutions.
If you don’t think your spouse’s proposed decision is a good idea, suggest some alternative solutions instead of criticizing the idea. Sometimes a person just needs time to think through a decision. Have you ever had something catch your eye in a store and felt that you just had to buy it, only to find a week later that you’ve completely lost interest in it? This could easily be the case with your spouse in considering making this particular decision.
Some alternative solutions regarding a purchase could be to shop other options (e.g. buying used or a do-it-yourself project) or wait for a possible sale. If a spouse wants to relocate, you could visit the area first, if funds allow. If your budget prevents a scouting trip, there are many ways to “virtually” learn about a place online. Look at a variety of websites that share the pros and cons of a particular area from a variety of perspectives, and don’t let other people rush your family on a decision that will have long-term ramifications.
4. Check with your spouse before discussing the matter with other people.
It can be very helpful to get outside input on decisions upon which a husband and wife cannot agree. You may know people who have excellent advice to give on a certain subject based on their career credentials or life experience. These people can help you and your spouse work through differences to come to an agreement on a decision. The Bible reminds us that
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. (Prov. 15:22)
Out of respect for each other’s privacy, you should check with your spouse before discussing any conflict with an outside party, unless there is an abusive situation occurring. This includes asking your spouse first before getting your children involved in a matter, whether they are minors or adults. No child likes being placed in the middle of a conflict or being used as a resource for parents to get their way.
5. Don’t badger, sweet-talk, cajole, or pout to get your way.
Sometimes husbands and wives resort to various tactics to persuade their spouse to agree with them on a decision. Don’t do this. Nobody likes being manipulated, and the likely result will be some level of bitterness and resentment unless the decision turns out to be a brilliant one in retrospect. Ask yourself, “Is this something I want more than my spouse’s happiness/peace of mind?” In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul exhorts Christians to put others first:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Phil. 2:3)
A unilateral decision on a new job with higher pay and a bigger title might ease financial strains in the short run, but it may ultimately be destructive to a marital relationship if it means a move away from established support systems, lengthy separation due to travel requirements, or increased work pressures.
6. Put off the decision for another time, if possible.
If you and your spouse disagree on a matter, consider whether a decision really needs to be made right away. If you can wait, one or both of you may acquire more clarity on the matter and be happy that you didn’t rush into a decision. While it may seem as if another good deal or great opportunity won’t come along again, you don’t know the future, and things often have a way of working out in the long run.
Several years ago, my husband and I almost bought a house, but we felt it was too much money and decided not to proceed with the purchase. Later, the builder offered us the home at a greatly reduced price. At that point, we realized we were happy living in the smaller condominium we were renting and ended up buying it instead. We both needed to go through the process of deciding how we were going to live and what was important to us. Thankfully, we had learned from previous decisions—good and bad—over the years and were able to make a more thoughtful and unrushed decision than we likely would have made earlier in our marriage.
7. Don’t be too quick to think you are right on a certain matter.
It is easy to think that we know what is best in various situations, but we should value the helpful counsel God provides to us through our spouses:
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (Prov. 12:15)
A healthy marriage includes consideration of each spouse’s feelings as much as possible. When making a decision where there is not complete agreement, remember to pray to God, seek counsel from Scripture and wise people, and be loving and considerate of your spouse in the process. You can trust that God is ultimately in control, and he makes everything beautiful in his time (Eccles. 3:11). As the book of Proverbs reminds us:
Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Prov. 19:20–21)
While some decisions you make as a married couple won’t turn out the way you want, you can learn from all your decisions and grow in discernment together as you also grow in love for God and one another in the years to come.