Dealing With Your Differences: Decide, Don’t Slide

Close-up of faces of happy husband and wife standing back to back and looking over their shoulders at each other.

Learning constructive ways to handle your differences is one of the most important things you can do to protect your marriage. You can decide to take control of your issues.

God designed marriage to be a relationship in which trust, openness and vulnerability can thrive. He designed the first relationship to be nourishing, enriching and fruitful. Adam and Eve were the first to experience the joys and miseries of marriage. Let’s see what we can learn from this very first couple.

As God was creating matter, light and life, He declared everything He made to be good. There was one notable exception: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone'” (Genesis 2:18). Sin and the fall had not yet happened. But still it was not good for man to be alone. Why? Simply because God created man for relationship: with Him, in marriage and with others. But relationships, especially close relationships, are difficult. In fact, it seems that our relationships with those we love most are the relationships most difficult to manage.

Consider this one crucial fact about the need for the kind of commitment that supports lasting love in marriage: It is the sense of permanence based in a healthy and strong commitment that allows a marriage to thrive even though it is made up of two imperfect beings. One of the greatest problems for marriages these days is that people have grown to expect more than is possible from their relationships. Marriages can be great but will not be perfect. The reality of two people thriving through the trials and imperfections of life trumps the fantasy of perfection.

Learning constructive ways to handle your differences is one of the most important things you can do to protect the promise that your marriage holds. These key principles can help guide you whenever you are not sure about what to do. If you apply them, you will seldom go wrong. They are powerful, simple and easy to remember.

  • Decide, don’t slide.
  • Do your part.
  • Make it safe to connect.

Key 1: Decide, don’t slide

This principle is a result of research on commitment and relationship transitions conducted at the University of Denver. I believe that couples form their relationships these days by “sliding” through all sorts of transitions without even realizing what they are doing, much less talking about it. For example, couples are making all kinds of important, potentially life-altering changes, without clearly choosing to make them. This matters because commitments are, at the foundation, decisions. Sliding now rules the day in how relationships develop, and this probably undermines the solidity of the commitment many couples will make later on.

Strive to thoughtfully decide about the things that matter. When you’re taking a journey, it’s necessary to make a clear decision about where you want to end up, instead of just driving around hoping to eventually end up somewhere you like. Sliding through — just letting things happen — is fine in non-crucial situations. For example, if you like the evening’s routine together, just letting things slide will usually work out just fine. But when something important is at stake, make a decision.

Decisions take effort, energy and teamwork. Do you need to decide where you will live in terms of the best work options? Are there major transitions coming up in your children’s lives? What about how you manage money? Who does what around the house? How do you treat each other when you are upset? Do you just let things slide and let whatever happens just happen? Making a thoughtful decision supports a stronger commitment to follow through on whatever has been chosen.

Where it matters, don’t slide — decide to take control of your issues rather than letting them control you.

Excerpted from A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage by Scott Stanley, Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain and Milt Bryan, Copyright © 2014 by Christian PREP, Inc. Used with permission from the publisher, Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

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