What do I do when my spouse and I aren’t on the same page?

couple facing opposite
Photo courtesy of Corbis

Before you read any further – the foundation for this post is that marriage is designed as a place to grow up. If you don’t agree with this idea, it’s probably best if you head on to the other blogs in your reader.

If you are a regular reader of blogs like Simple Mom or Zen Habits, or even Simple Marriage (sorry, shameless plug), then it’s likely you are interested in ways to simplify or improve life, family, marriage, and work.

Tsh just finished a great series on Spring Cleaning, and you can also find great information about saving money, being more organized, and getting things done. But what happens when you come across something that hits home with you, you want to take the necessary steps to implement the tips, and your spouse wants no part of it?

This is actually pretty common in marriage. One of you has an idea, shares it with the other, who responds reluctantly or flat out defensively. Most of this boils down one word we all dread – change.

This can be a major dilemma in marriage. Even to the point of the differences becoming a deal breaker in the relationship.

So how do you approach theses times that are inevitable in marriage?

1. With respect.

One of the main things I see in couples on the verge of marital collapse is a lack of respect.

Respect is defined as not trying directly or indirectly to change anyone. ~ Thomas Fogarty

It’s interesting that we will treat common strangers with more respect than those in our home. One of the key factors to a successful marriage is respect. Respect for those around you, and respect for yourself.

2. With a clear definition of self.

This involves an awareness and understanding of your beliefs, wants, needs and desires. Marriage is a great place to clarify these things in your life. You are living with another person who has their own view of the way things should be, just like you. In your family of origin, tables may serve as great places to store piles of mail, magazines, and kid’s artwork. At the same time, your spouse’s family of origin believes tables are great places to eat dinner together, so they need to be free of clutter.

Neither way is necessarily “right,” just different. You are allowed to live life the way you choose, but so is your spouse. Author Rob Bell refers to marriage as “thousands of little conversations about how two people are going to do life together.”

Defining yourself involves discovering and solidifying the limits of yourself and the relationship. It’s exploring the question “what will I or won’t I do for the sake of the relationship?”

It’s true that relationships require sacrifice – but they do not require martyrdom.

3. Understand the idea of over-functioning and under-functioning.

In every relationship, there will be one who over-functions while the other under-functions. It’s a reality of relationships.

Over-functioning and under-functioning are positions that we occupy in response to how we do life. None of us is all one way all the time – we over-function in some areas of life and under-function in others. One thing to keep in mind, is that if you’re over-functioning for someone, by definition you are under-functioning for yourself.

When you are faced with something you want to change, and have a spouse that isn’t on the same page, it’s best to initiate a discussion about the change. Share your thoughts; openly listen to theirs. It’s likely that together, you will be able to come up with a solution. Now, this solution may require you to carry out the change, but if you know this going in, you’ll limit the amount of frustration between you and your spouse.

How do you and your spouse handle being on different pages?


Corey writes regularly about marriage and relationships on his site, Simple Marriage, which is full of laid back information sure to improve your relationships.You can also catch his radio show - Sexy Marriage Radio, a weekly show filled with straightforward and practical information that will help your marriage.

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  1. We communicate through various forms. He is more visual then a listener so SMS/E-mails are the best ways to get anything communicated to him. We work around each others strengths and weaknesses for the benefit of the kids.

  2. We try to keep calm and not spread negative emotion “in the moment.” Instead, take some time to consider what the other person has to say, and return to the discussion at a later time.


    steadymom.com´s last blog post…What Do You Think?

  3. We actually sacrafice things all the time for each other and our family. We try to work together on almost everything. If we don’t have a happy marriage, we don’t have a happy family! Respect is something we both really believe in. I have been lucky that my husband and I don’t have many arguments and if we do they are over real quick. (knock on some wood, LOL) Great encouragement Corey. I tried to go to Simple Marriage and it won’t go. I’ll try again soon!

  4. Love the clear, simple definition of respect…I know it is essential to healthy relationships of all kinds but when I think of it in concrete terms, “Am I trying to change who this person is or what this person believes?” it really helps keep your my motives in check.

  5. Corey, you’re so right, all of the above require balance. You need to respect those around you – but then you need to respect yourself as well. You need to be able to sacrifice – but not too much, or you’ll sacrifice your own life. How do we learn to find and maintain this balance?

    Emma @ Baby-log.com´s last blog post…Before And After the Baby

  6. I’ll have to head over to simple marriage. Didn’t know it existed! Good plug!

    Jenn @ Beautiful Calling´s last blog post…Garden Rock Critters Rock!

  7. We keep ourselves quiet, and once the children are in bed, we hash it out until we can lay our head on a conscious pillow. In twelve years, we’ve never allowed the day to set on an argument.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post…Meme Oh My-O

    • @Sean- There are many discussions that are better suited away from the children. As for the “don’t go to bed angry” belief, I don’t completely agree. I think there are times when discussions can be tabled until the morning, but only when both parties agree. The rest and sleep can supply energy, and possibly better perspective. The trick to this – you can only go to bed angry when you are still able to go to bed together in the same bed.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…On The Shortness of Life: Lucius Seneca

      • Excellent point! I guess it’s my wordiness that doesn’t allow me to table a discussion.

        : > (

        At least it works for us though.

        Writer Dad´s last blog post…Meme Oh My-O

        • oh man, can I ever relate. and the Prairie Guy is not the wordiest man on the planet and he is not a night talker. I remember nights *crying* cause he couldn’t, just *couldn’t* talk about something that night and “had to go bed.” I finally discovered a trick that helped me through that chasm created by him leaving me and me needing to talk. I let him go and I sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote all my feelings, all the “stuff” that was weighing me down and keeping me from being able to go to bed “at peace.” and then I would tuck the letter away to give to him later. The funny thing is that I actually never gave him any of those letters. By the time I had slept on it, I didn’t feel the need to to say half of the things that I had written down. My poor husband, for a not very wordy fellow he picked an extremely wordy wife =)

        • I too am a very wordy wife and have a man of few words. He did tell me once that if I wanted to talk and talk and talk, I could and he would listen, but I can’t expect him to respond. So when he expects me to keep the house as clean as he wants it, I don’t mind when he chooses to do it himself. Balance and choosing your battles works for us.

  8. What a great post-I love #3 about over-functioning and under-functioning.

    Katie´s last blog post…How to Host a Cooking Party

  9. Thank you for this post!

  10. I stumbled on this site from a link on thesis themes, but the post intrigued me and now I’m headed over to simple marriage. I am very passionate about my marriage and trying to help other people be and stay happy in this wonderful relationship Marriage. My answer is to talk, talk, write, text, email, body language, whatever it takes to work it out fully and completely. It’s much easier to just stuff it back and not get things settled but it’s completely toxic to keeping your marriage intimate and fulfilling.

    Chrissy´s last blog post…Humility – What’s your definition?

  11. I would add just one thing I’ve learned in my marriage.

    Change has to start with somebody. Why not me? I’ve found that more often than not, it is possible for me to do some changing without completely giving up who I am, and when I am able to do that, my husband seems to somehow end up meeting me halfway.

    It’s his natural response to my respect. In short, I keep my eye free of logs, and the specks in his eyes tend to fall out on their own.

    Tiff @ The Faery Inn´s last blog post…I Must Become Less

  12. We have weekly “planning” meetings. I don’t know if it is just us, but whenever one or the other of us tried to bring up something “off the cuff” the other got their guard up, got defensive and was more prone to justify or excuse certain behavior, or just shrug off the need to “improve” certain aspects of family life and relationship.

    In a planning meeting (just 15-20 min’s a week, friday nights before our movie and snuggle on the couch) we come with our little notebook of anything we have written down previously that week to bring to the other person’s attention. We are not defensive, we don’t feel attacked or “critiqued” because we know that this time is about constructively coming together to focus, re-centre and work on improving this “corporation” of ours, our family unit. It’s worked wonders, it’s become a great time of bonding for us just sitting there with our legs entangled on the couch and planning for even better connections and relationship in our home.

  13. Something we’ve instated that I like is when we do talk about a disagreement, we try not to talk after 10p.m (we’re tired ) or when we should be eating a meal (we’re hungry) or when we’ve had a long day (we’re stressed.) So, if we choose not to talk about the issue then, we decide on a time we will talk about it. This helps us both to know it WILL be talked about…and when!

    Rachel Porter´s last blog post…Money Management 101:Talking with Your Spouse About Money

    • I totally agree about not discussing an important issue after 9:30/10 pm or so. I don’t respond well when I’m tired. My husband and I haven’t discussed this but I should bring it up some time.

  14. My husband and I have been together for 16 years, 11 of those years married. In this time, we’ve learned a lot about each other. Mostly, I’ve learned to pick my battles. If it ain’t worth fighting for or about, I just let it go.

    Another thing I’ve learned about my husband, is that he often needs time to think it through. I’ve learned to plant seeds. The biggest example of this was when I wanted to start having babies! I knew he would need some time to get comfortable with the idea, so I planted that seed, even when I was a few months from being “ready” myself. LOL If he had said, “Let’s go for it!” immediately, I would have been stuck, like duhhhhhh… : )

    Lastly, I’ve learned to wait for the right time to talk. When he has had a stressful day, I wait until he has had a little time to unwind. I don’t want to blindside him…and I won’t get the answer I’m looking for either.

  15. I love the Rob Bell quote – “thousands of little conversations about how two people are going to do life together.”

    I just wanted to say bravo – I am a subscriber to Simple Marriage – and that the best marriages have no safety net (no divorce option), and this quote and this post really rang a bell with me in trying to achieve that nirvana. Thanks!

    Stephanie´s last blog post…Quote of the Day: Procrastination

  16. I love the premise of your post: “marriage is designed as a place to grow up.” This, in a very powerful way, makes it clear that we’re responsible for ourselves and our role in a marriage. I would like to share a formula I use: Effective communication = Authenticity plus Timing minus Blame. When we can be completely real about our feelings, express them at the right time, and remove blame and judgment, there’s a much better chance we will communicate respectfully. Thank you for a very insightful post.
    -Jeffrey Levine

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