Disagreeing Spouses

We can't seem to agree.

Question

My wife and I have problems agreeing on many things. We seem to hold on strongly to our parent’s view. What can we do to start agreeing? For example, even though my wife is really ready to have kids, I don’t want to have children yet because we disagree on child rearing and financial responsibilities. She wants to have the authority to discipline our children without having to call me at work first. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have her call me before disciplining the children. My wife wants to be in charge of bill paying. I think we should sit down together every month and do it together, like my parents did. She thinks this is impractical. We have been to counseling, but that didn’t help us resolve anything. What can we do to start agreeing?

Answer

It may seem to you like your problem is about not being able to agree, but that’s not the real problem. You and your wife are experiencing a continuous power struggle with each other. Marriage is a place where two people come together with their history, background, upbringing, gender, personality, bad habits and good habits, gifts and talents. In other words, marriage is a coming together of many differences. God then says we are to become one! Easier said than done! The good news is we have the lifetime of the marriage, the promises of God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us accomplish that.

Conflict is always an opportunity for growth in a relationship. In fact, in one of my books I entitled a chapter, Healthy Conflict: Key to Intimacy. Whenever there is conflict, there are always different values and opinions. Conflict opens the door for us to honor and value our partner by listening to them and trying to understand their perspective. Notice we didn’t say agree with their perspective, but to understand it.

Whenever there is a conflict, our immediate response is to try and solve it. What that usually means is that we want to lovingly help our spouse see things as clearly as we see them. Rather than focusing on agreeing, we would encourage you to focus on learning how to listen to each other.

Power struggles come out of insecurity and are about the need for control. Giving up control for some people feels risky because it feels unsafe. Building intimacy is risky business! We will make mistakes, we will get hurt and at times we will fail. Having control will never prevent failure but we can guarantee you that it will prevent intimacy. Decide right now to let go of some of the control. It takes two to have a power struggle. Try to generate other options besides the “view” you both have.

The next step in growing through conflict is choosing to listen and understand. Are you listening to one another, really hearing and caring about the concern of your spouse? Researchers tell us that we can listen 5 times as fast as someone can speak so when someone else is talking, it’s easy for us to get distracted. The most effective listening involves making eye contact with the person and letting them talk without interrupting to make suggestions or help them finish a sentence. When you are really listening, you aren’t thinking about what you are going to say when the other person stops talking.

If an idea is not working, are you willing to come back together to explore more options rather than accuse or blame the other for having a stupid idea? When you do have a good idea that is working in the relationship, are you able to encourage each other and give praise? Are you able to acknowledge and celebrate when your spouse is “right” and be thankful that God gave you such a wise partner?

Rather than argue about child discipline I would encourage you to follow the advice in Proverbs to seek wisdom and understanding. One step would be to read a couple of books on parenting. Two of our favorites are Parenting with Love and Logic and Raising Kids to Love Jesus. Another step would be to interview several couples who have at least 10 years’ experience as parents and appear to be doing it well.

What would it look like for you to develop a “couple” view of some of the issues that you argue about? Both of you seem to be holding on to what you learned growing up and certainly there is value to that experience. Becoming one means many things. One thing it means is taking a look at how you and your wife can create your own unique ways of making decisions and setting up policies in your marriage. Becoming one is a process that takes time and energy. But there are few things that God has called us to do that pays greater dividends throughout our lives than a strong, healthy marriage relationship.

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