Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, my husband, G’Joe, and I debated whether to visit his father, who lived in another state. Was it wiser to forgo our trip to protect his father, who was at a greater risk of getting COVID? Or was it more important to spend time with him, given his deteriorating condition from a decade of battling Parkinson’s disease?
We spent countless hours praying, processing, studying Scripture and seeking wise counsel. Yet every time we tried to untie the knotty decision, the more tangled and complicated it became.
Every couple eventually comes to an impasse over a difficult decision. The obvious goal of decision-making as a couple is to reach a conclusion that both spouses feel good about. A less obvious but equally important goal is to better understand and appreciate each other’s thought processes and insights.
The tool G’Joe and I used to overcome our decision-making impasse came from a counseling friend, Dave Friese, and it’s called the AVEnue of communication, that is, establishing a pathway toward deeper understanding. AVE (an acronym for acknowledge, validate and explore) invites each person to slow down reactions and seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Here’s how the AVEnue of communication works:
The first step for overcoming an impasse about a difficult decision is to identify the complexities of the decision, including the underlying emotions that may be keeping you from reaching a solution. Then verbalize that you’re on the same team.
Simply acknowledging that neither of us had previously lived through a pandemic helped G’Joe and me extend grace to each other as we waded through our emotions of fear, grief, confusion and anxiety. That enabled us to inch our way toward deeper understanding and a resolution to
The second step in overcoming an impasse is to validate your partner’s experience. For example, choosing
to postpone our trip seemed like a reasonable solution to me, but it wasn’t a simple decision for G’Joe. Affirming the other person’s point of view helped. G’Joe needed me to recognize his sense of urgency about seeing his father while he still could. I needed him to understand my fear of giving his father a dangerous illness and experiencing guilt and regret as a result.
As limited, fallible people, we can’t see the future or control circumstances and the unforeseen consequences of our decisions. We can only wrestle, pray, fast and move forward in our decision-making. Validating each other’s feelings and perspectives allows us to move forward together.
The final step for overcoming a decision-making impasse is to explore solutions together. Taking the time to more fully understand each other’s concerns, perspectives and emotions will better enable you to come up with a creative solution that could be a win-win. G’Joe and I asked questions to help us better understand each other’s concerns so we could explore creative solutions.
In the end, we decided to shorten our trip and fly early in the morning so the plane and airport likely would be less crowded. We also agreed to wear masks whenever we were within 6 feet of my father-in-law.
The decision-making impasse my husband and I experienced could have driven a deep wedge between us; instead, it brought us closer together. While the AVEnue of communication
didn’t make our decision for us, it gave us the tools we needed to find a win-win solution.