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Moving Beyond Compromise in Marriage

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bedroom in polka dots and flowers
iStock/Stocksy. Composite image by Brian Mellema, Focus on the Family.
Don't settle for 'his way' or 'her way.' Find a better way! Learn how to negotiate and communicate with your spouse for a happier marriage.

During our 30-plus years of marriage, my husband, Richard, and I have had our fair share of disagreements. We’ve argued over trivial things (coffee brands, thermostat settings) as well as significant issues (family finances, child discipline). And in resolving our differences, we’ve typically chosen the art of compromise, often reaching a halfhearted middle ground where neither of us is really happy. Compromise certainly keeps the peace, but if it’s the only tool we have to handle conflict, we may be missing out.

A flowery example

I love the story my colleague Philip Jinadu tells:

My wife, Kate, and I have wildly different tastes in home decoration. She loves the floral, expressive, romantic look, whereas my style is understated — chic, chrome and minimal. When we decorated our first home, we realized we had a problem. I thought I’d scored a victory when Kate invited me to decorate the spare room how I wanted it. However, my triumph was short-lived when Kate said: “Now that we’ve done the spare room your way, it’s only fair that we do our bedroom my way.” Soon there were roses, vines and creepers all over the walls. Lying in bed, I didn’t know whether to go to sleep or get out the pruning shears! I’d been outmaneuvered.

Our way of dealing with our differences regarding decor was, in a sense, how couples often do marriage: “Your way, my way.” It may be fair, but it’s not inspiring.

This tit-for-tat approach continued until something dawned on us: Our house had an odd number of rooms! The impasse caused us to take a step back — and then we had an idea. Instead of compromising, we decided to find a third way — not “your way, my way” but “our way.” We’d take our best ideas and combine them to create something uniquely us. We set to work . . . and that’s how floral minimalism was born! That last room we decorated is by far the best in our house.

We can apply this principle in all aspects of marriage: our finances, sexual relationship, parenting, expressing our faith. It’s a way of developing synergy — a creative combination of the best of both of us.

Here are three keys to finding a “third way”:

Take time

First, don’t merely give in or pressure your spouse for a quick resolution. Creative solutions may take longer to reach and abound with false starts, but the results will be worth it.

Talk it through

Second, having a strong sense of identity as a couple is important, and finding a third way gives the opportunity to demonstrate that it’s not just about you and it’s not just about me — it’s about us. Determine what you are trying to achieve as a couple. Take time to talk and listen to find out your spouse’s perspective.

Trust each other

Third, trust that you are both prepared to set aside your personal agenda to find a new way forward. This isn’t just good advice from marriage experts; it lies at the heart of God’s purposes for His children. The apostle Paul reminds us: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

If you want a good marriage, compromise. But if you want a great marriage, work together to find that third way.

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