Here we go again!
Every time we need to discuss something, we have trouble doing it without fighting.
Having effective discussions and reaching peaceful agreements that work are often challenges for married couples.
Increasing skillfulness in this area will help your marriage mature in a healthy way and stay strong and happy.
For a couple to reach decisions without conflict, new skills are needed.
Here are 10 key guidelines for couple decision-making that will help you gradually improve:
- Remind yourselves of the importance of love, harmony, and unity between you. Take a pause break as needed throughout the discussion if this becomes at risk.
- Pray together before starting a serious discussion.
- Focus on a common goal. Agree on what the problem or issue is, so you are not trying to solve multiple problems at once or work at cross-purposes by trying to address different issues.
- Avoid being attached to a particular outcome. Determine to discover the truth together. Avoid stating something as absolute fact. Contribute thoughts towards building consensus and watch for when your perspectives coincide.
- Once you have expressed your thoughts and feelings, visualize them going into a central discussion “pot”. This allows the discussion to flow freely without either of you holding on to what you said.
- Encourage and freely share thoughts, feelings, and opinions with love, respect, and kindness. Strictly avoid criticism or domination of each other. Strive to be open to all expressions without taking offense.
- Carefully monitor and modify your attitude and tone of voice. If underneath your words is criticism, disrespect, or sarcasm, your spouse will hear them, even when your words are positive.
- Listen to each other carefully and without interruption and request clarification as needed.
- Strive for unified decisions, even when it takes longer. At times, consider deferring to the other’s solution, but still look at and carry out the decision as a unified couple one. However, avoid deferring regularly rather than taking the time to thoroughly discuss an issue. Thorough discussions usually result in better and more creative solutions.
- Review significant decisions after some time trying them out to assess whether they are working or whether you need to change direction. Stay aware for when you need to involve someone else in a discussion or decision for maximum effectiveness as well.
Decisions work best when you have equal voices in couple discussions, sometimes known as “couple consultation”. It is vital for you both to express what is on your minds and hearts freely. Either withholding your input or dominating the conversation will both negatively affect the outcome. If one of you tends to be more dominant in speaking, you will need to use self-discipline to give the other an opportunity to speak. The less dominant of you may also need to practice assertiveness. Free expression happens when you are both willing to listen patiently to one another and not interrupt.
It is vital to ensure the purity of your motives and intentions in any discussion. If either of you has a hidden agenda—an unspoken intention or goal—or you want to manipulate one another, the couple consultation is on a weak foundation from the very start. Be very aware if you have developed the habit of manipulation, particularly toward those of the opposite gender. Consultation is not a method to get your own way. You will be wise to help one another in changing this pattern, or it will have a consistent negative effect on your relationship.
Author John Kolstoe shares this wisdom about consulting together:
Since its purpose is to find a solution, consultation should not be used just to gain sympathy or to dump on someone. It’s not consultation when talking degenerates into a gripe session or gossip or complaining. These activities merely rehash the problem, making it worse. Rather than letting the anger out, this sort of dwelling on the unpleasant things of life causes delay, magnifies the hurt, and interferes with long-term healing. … In consultation, the intensity of suffering is diluted while the solution is developing. (Developing Genius, p. 201)
While it is normal and healthy for people to have different perspectives, and couples need to learn how to reconcile them, serious and regular conflict is an indicator of a marriage in trouble. John M. Gottman, PhD, and his team at the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, Washington, have discovered a number of couple communication behaviors that warn of a conflicted couple (The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work).
The warning signs are:
- Starting interactions negatively and harshly
- Criticizing your partner’s character (character attack)
- Showing contempt for your partner (sneering, mocking, being superior)
- Reacting defensively to your partner (a form of blame)
- Shutting your partner out and avoiding communication (stonewalling)
- Experiencing a flood of strong physical responses to your partner’s negativity, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, or sweating
If you are experiencing serious conflict in your marriage, and find that you are unable to build new skills on your own, please consider seeking professional help from a therapist.
Most couples, however, can decide to try new ways of interacting and make positive changes to reduce or eliminate fighting or serious disagreements. Think about how you feel when disunity arises between you, and make a determined effort to find new ways of reaching harmonious decisions.