In the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Decision Making” seminar we teach through the outline below in chapter four.
Friendship is about more than liking the same things and agreeing on how things should be done; otherwise “opposites attract” would be jeered as an oxymoron instead of an accepted proverb. We all have friends who are different from us, yet somehow we enjoy one another more than we enjoy our preferences.
That is what marital consensus requires – enjoying your spouse more than you enjoy your preferences. It is a skill we all have; namely friendship. But marriage requires us to utilize this skill more often for more things of more importance than any other relationship. Friendship-fatigue and familiarity can cause us to neglect the fundamentals of consensus in our marriage; like fatigue can cause any athlete to neglect the fundamentals of his/her chosen sport.
In this section, we will review the fundamentals of friendship in terms of four values. Use these to increase your intentionality in using consensus skills, especially when we are prone to forget or neglect them. Throughout this chapter the terms consensus, friendship, and unity will be used as synonyms.
1. Value the marriage more than the subject.
What makes it “safe” to have a conversation? The awareness that your spouse values the marriage more than the topic or outcome. Whenever a subject of conversation becomes more important than the relationship the opportunity for consensus is greatly damaged.
As you enter any decision making process each spouse will inevitably assess, “How important is this decision? How important is this subject to my spouse and how does that compare to how important our marriage is to my spouse right now?” Even if not overtly thought, this assessment will be made emotionally through the presence of a sense of safety / freedom or fear / defensiveness.
With increased significance of a decision comes increased pressure, often impaired thinking, and bad relational habits. A great way to balance the importance of any subject is to compare it to something more significant. We can establish an atmosphere where it is obvious the marriage is more important than the subject by the tone of our communication in the decision making conversation and frequently talking about what is good about the marriage in the times between decisions.
- What are the verbal and nonverbal indicators each of you give that indicate a subject is becoming more valuable (at least in that moment) than the marriage?
- What day-to-day forms of marital encouragement are most important for displaying a high value of relationship in your marriage?
2. Value unity more than preference.
What is the difference between “friends” and “acquaintances”? One difference is that acquaintance-relationships are more dependent upon shared preferences for mutual enjoyment, while in friendship relationship take precedence over preference. Simply put, in friendship you don’t have to do things “my way” in order for me to enjoy / value our relationship.
The unity in a gospel-centered marriage reveals we are about the same things, not just that we like the same things. When preferences matter more than unity they become a “law” by which our spouse must be “good enough” in order to be (or at least feel) loved. That creates an environment of pressure and fear which stifles the free dialogue of consensus decision making.
- What are your strongest pet peeves and preferences (which probably emanate from your strengths)? How do you ensure that they are serving your marriage instead of expecting your marriage to serve you?
- What are the indicators that your marriage is “good” that have little to do with your preferences?
- What shared goals do the two of you have that are not the re-articulation of your personal preferences?
3. Value relationship over certainty.
Consensus requires trust when the future is in doubt, because during decision making the future is always in doubt. Uncertainty is not the enemy of consensus. Uncertainty is when we become the enemy of consensus. Uncertainty is when we prefer to know rather than to love.
The reality is that consensus (or any other form of decision making) is only relevant during uncertainty. If our friendship skills fade during uncertainty then we will either be controlling or codependent during pivotal moments of any relationship – uncertainty.
- Picture a spectrum where trust is in the middle with naïve / gullible on one end and fearful / controlling on the other. Where are you? Where is your spouse? How does this affect your marital decision making?
- How strong are your “marital trust muscles”? When are the times when you should be intentionally exercising those muscles (i.e., relatively safe times of uncertainty)?
4. Values participation over efficiency.
Decision making is quicker and easier when one person makes a decision. But that convenience comes at a cost; that cost is called “buy in.” A relationship without consensus can (most don’t) run like a finely tuned machine, but it will feel like a machine more than a romance if it does.
Longevity in marriage is about pursuing the same thing; ultimately Christ. Consensus decision making is when a couple refines what it looks like to functionally pursue Christ in the details of each new challenge and opportunity. The value of consensus for most decisions far outweighs the benefit of the time saved by efficiency.
- Which do you naturally value more: mutual participation or efficiency? For what kind decisions does your normal preference change? Is that change made because of fear, ease, or wisdom?
- Do you have adequate time set aside for marital communication in order to allow for a larger percentage of marital decisions to be made through consensus? Do you manage the basics of life well so that consensus decision making time is not consumed by logistics?
Read Philippians 2:1-11. Notice the values that underlie Christian unity. Walk back through this passage and mark the phrases that support each of the four values of consensus described above. Realize that if unity is expected of a relational network as large as a church, it is even more expected in a relational network the size of a marriage and family. Pay particular attention to how we are dependent upon Christ in us to live the life Christ modeled for us (v. 5).
This resource is an excerpt from the following seminar:
CREATING A GOSPEL-CENTERED MARRIAGE: DECISION MAKING
Date Part One: Saturday March 22
Date Part Two: Saturday March 29
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703