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Will we ever see eye to eye?

Every marriage has conflict. Every relationship has conflict as well.

John Gottman, one of the leaders in the field of marriage research, has discovered that the majority of marital conflicts are perpetual in nature. They’re continual and repeated. In fact, 69% of all marital problems fall into this category.

Now before throw up your hands in frustration, hear me out.

There are many areas in marriage where you’re simply not going to agree. Here’s a few:

  • One of you wants to have children (or X number of kids), while the other says they’re not ready, or are happy with the current number of kids.
  • One of you wants sex far more frequently that the other.
  • You want to raise your children Baptist, while your spouse wants them to be raised Catholic.
  • Your spouse is lax about housework and rarely does his or her share until you nag, igniting anger.
  • Or one of the bigger issues — one of you is a saver with money and the other is a spender.

Problems in marriage are inevitable. The question is — can you remain satisfied in your marriage in spite of differences? Can your marriage thrive when there are differences between you?

Photo by BitBoy

The key is to continually work it out. Acknowledge the problems and talk about it. Your love for each other doesn’t have to be overwhelmed by your differences.

Think of it this way — the times when there’s tension between you and your spouse, it’s like the elephant in the room. You both can sense its presence when you’re together. Rather than allowing the elephant to roam freely between you and takeover your space, name it. Speak up. This won’t make the elephant leave completely, but it will decrease its size.

In unstable marriages, elephants are likely to kill the relationship. Instead of coping, the couple gets gridlocked.

You have the same conversation over and over, resolving nothing. You’re spinning your wheels. And since you’re making no progress, you both feel more frustrated, hurt or rejected. When this happens, resentment moves in and humor and affection leave.

Problems in marriage will happen. How you address these problems is up to you. Here are some ways to communicate well:

1. With respect.

One of the main things I see in couples on the verge of marital collapse is a lack of respect. When you reach a point of no longer liking each other, you’re in trouble.

“Respect is defined as not trying directly or indirectly to change anyone.” -Thomas Fogarty

Sadly, we often treat common strangers with more respect than people in our home. Respect is one of the key factors to a successful marriage — respect for those around you, and most importantly, respect for yourself.

2. With a clear definition of self.

Defining yourself 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 his or her 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. But in your spouse’s family of origin, tables are great places to eat dinner together, so they need to be free of clutter.

Neither way is necessarily “right,” they’re 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.”

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. This is determined by what’s important to you and what you value. For example, if your kid’s grades are more important to you than they are to her, you’re more likely to do her homework for her, or at least keep on her about it, because she can under-function, knowing you’ll pick up the slack.

One thing to keep in mind — if you’re over-functioning for someone, 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 very likely that together, you will be able to come up with a solution.

4. Live by what you hold dear.

When you are faced with a situation where you and your spouse aren’t on the same page, live according to your own integrity and values.

If you want to save money and your spouse doesn’t, save.

You want to eat healthy and your spouse only wants fast food? Eat healthy.

At the end of the day, all you’re responsible for is you.

What do you think? Are you able to live by what you hold dear in your marriage? And what might this look like as you raise children together?

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  1. Kelli

    I thought you had credibility until you quoted Rob Bell.

    • Corey

      Really? Is this all due to his latest book?

      • Kelli

        Partially… I honestly can’t believe any follower of Christ (which I obviously do not know if you are, but assume so based loosely on what I’ve read from you) would quote Bell after his latest book. Or after hearing any of his interviews from the last 3 or 4 years. I believe any Christian should be able to give a view point on big moral issues such as homosexuality, which he won’t. I also believe his book is completely wishy-washy, written to make people feel good, rather than point them in the direction of Christ and what HE taught. So, yeah, it does steal a bit of your credibility as a Christian source when you quote him.

        • Corey

          I am a follower of Christ.

          And to me, just because someone has a different view than mine (even among “believers”) doesn’t make their statement like the quote I used any less true.

      • Jenny G

        I think you have credibility BECAUSE you quoted Rob Bell. 😉 (Most people who do not like Rob Bell have not read Rob Bell.) Sad. And I do not think you have to know someone for their words to resonate.
        I also think that it is funny, after I read the comments (which I shouldn’t have done, my poor blood pressure), that the expectation is that you cover EVERYTHING about marriage in one blog post.
        Anyway, great article, I especially appreciated the last bit about really only having control over ME. I get to choose to compromise over having all the control, I get to choose affection over irritation. I get to choose to be healthy, so that I can have healthy relationships with my husband and my kids.
        I will be checking out your blog…I am guessing my husband will like it too.
        Thank you.

        • John

          I think Rob Bell is all bad.

          See how silly that sounds? Personally, I’m not into him; I disagree with him. Mostly, I think he’s a dork for wearing Bono glasses. No need for a fire alarm, though!

  2. Rachel

    I agree that you can only be responsible for your own choices in your marriage, but I feel like a lot of the “big disagreements” listed at the top of the post can be avoided by simply knowing where your significant other stands before getting married at all. I think communication is key there and honestly, if my husband and I disagreed on at least two of the topics mentioned, we would not have gotten married.

    All that to say, if you do find yourself in a marriage where certain things were not discussed before saying your vows, I completely agree that you cannot expect your spouse to be someone you wish they were.

    • Missy June

      In some cases, a spouse is deceptive about his/her own views or those later change. Sometimes a person genuinely finds themself married to a person they would not have originally chosen.

      • Anne

        And in some cases a person or their spouse might not know themselves – be self aware – when they got married.

        • Missy June

          Absolutely, in which case I wonder what is best: adapt to the new set of values in your now very different spouse? or be true to your own core values and let the person go to pursue another path in life?

          As mentioned, one spouse took up the use of illicit drugs after years of marriage, which is against core values of legality and safety for the other spouse. Does she set her boundary and give him freedom to choose? Does she believe his actions or his words?

          In another case a spouse may grow to know himself as unable to be faithful to one woman. The spouse holds this as betrayal and unacceptable, but he is willing to live in an open marriage. I believe she is more wise to be true to her own identity and values by letting the marriage go than to keep the peace at any price – even the price of herself.

  3. IncidentalDomestic

    I think you left out one really important part — and I don’t totally agree about the concept of holding onto your true definition of self … maybe on a foundational level? I think people change and adapt in any successful relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about relinquishing your core psyche, but in a really solid relationship, I think there must be give and take. And I know I have “sacrificed” many things about myself that were not conducive to a successful marriage, and I feel my husband has done the same.

    I think this “sacrifice” is a necessary component of any successful relationship or marriage. He knows all my flaws and he loves me anyway, which kind of blows me away because he thinks HE is the lucky one. (Yes! I have him fooled! 😀 – kidding). I’ve been married for going on 16 years and he has been my best friend for 21 years. I adore him. I trust him. I LOVE him. We started out at totally separate ends of the spectrum in a lot of ways and worked together through respect and communication (both things you do mention 😀 ) to find the happy medium on things that we disagree on and I feel most importantly, sacrifice of self. In an abusive relationship, sacrifice of self can be a dangerous thing, but in a healthy relationship I believe to a certain extent it is 100% necessary and actually strengthens the foundation.

    You do bring up the over functioning – under functioning thing, which I think from my own experience is far more relevant to my relationship with my children — which I think is largely due to the fact that they don’t have any other real emotional relationships except with each other, their father and me, and certain other family members. It’s almost like the emotional maturity levels of both parties contribute more to the under and over functioning issue. Could be way off base, but that is what it feels like to me.

    And I hate to do this to you, but I disagree with your last point whole-heartedly in regards to a healthy relationship. (I think this point would apply more if there is an abusive spouse or a spouse that has an addiction problem or something of the like.

    I do think your last piece of advice could be very damaging to a healthy relationship. There have been many times that I have eaten somewhere because I know HE wanted to, and I know that if I was really craving a certain thing, or wanted to eat a certain way, he would be the same way. That’s an over simplification of the issue, but the principle remains the same for me. When two people continually put each other first, there are bridges built and repairs made continually by emotional deposits that make a huge difference over time.

    I think there is far TOO much “what about me, what about my wants and my needs” in today’s society, and people get so focused on that, they forget this is a team thing. This is a you and me thing not a you. and. me. thing. It’s not about being responsible FOR the other person, but being responsible for how you treat the other person in your partnership. (Going back to the child example, you are responsible for your child, but not your spouse.)

    Maybe this post doesn’t jive with me because it is a perspective from an emotionally immature standpoint. Like … in the baby stages of a relationship, these might be approaches you use in order to find out if someone is compatible or not, but once solidified, things take on a different view.

    Hope this makes sense. Although I do disagree with you on a couple of these points, I really liked your post and your points about communication and continually working things out; I like the fact that it got me thinking and I couldn’t help but assess my own relationship and feel the urge to compare my emotional approach to my children versus my emotional approach to my husband. Looking forward to reading more!! 😀

    • Amie

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply on the subject. I was thinking some of the very same things, even though we’ve just been married for almost 11 years, together for 15. Sacrifice is the key to successful marriage when you are dealing with two people in a healthy relationship.

    • Sarah

      Even though I have only been married for a short 3 years I could not agree more with your post Incidental Domestic. I strongly believe that many of the issues discussed could and should be looked at long before the commitment of marriage is even thought of. I also believe that a healthy level of sacrifice is important and perhaps lacking in many of the relationships of the young these days. I know that most people my age are so concerned with the “what about me” that they forget that they are part of a “we” now too. After all, if we don’t grow together then we grow apart.

    • Corey

      I’m interested in more clarification on this idea …

      “Maybe this post doesn’t jive with me because it is a perspective from an emotionally immature standpoint. Like … in the baby stages of a relationship, these might be approaches you use in order to find out if someone is compatible or not, but once solidified, things take on a different view.”

      Care to elaborate?

      • IncidentalDomestic

        Sure thing (you’re asking me to talk more? why YES I think I can oblige!! :P)

        When a relationship grows and strengthens, the emotional maturity of both parties regarding that relationship also grows and strengthens. In the beginning of any human-to-human relationship, there is a high level of unbalance, where each person is trying to find their footing. I think that is part of what makes new romantic relationships so exciting — where you get that “new relationship high” and you feel like you can leap over a tall building in a single bound — except maybe wearing pink tights instead of red ones. 😉

        (This is also what makes being a new parent so scary too — it’s scary because the emotional maturity of the other party – who happens to be a child – won’t really develop for some time, so the burden is ALL on the parent to develop that relationship. I strongly believe that children aren’t their “own person” till around 10 -12 years, when they start to apply the ideas you’ve discussed and allowed them to be exposed to and they start to really apply those ideas to build their own relationships foundation which they will use for every relationship from then on. And that is why I strongly believe parents are responsible FOR their children up to a certain age – sorry, disagree with that other post too heh heh But I digress.)

        When a relationship is more solidified, and both parties are more emotionally mature in that relationship, their sense of self DOES shift. It NEEDS to shift. If it doesn’t then you have a great potential to end up in a very co-dependent, lopsided situation where one person is fighting to keep “self” and the other person has to let go of self in order to maintain the relationship. Usually this results with the more selfish of the two parties becoming the dragging force and the other ends up going along for the ride, setting the stage for an affair (when someone comes along and tells her all those things she wants to hear from her spouse who is too busy “preserving” his own sense of self to realize that his marriage is falling apart.) or a divorce (or break-up if not married).

        I believe when any two people, no matter how emotionally mature they are in general, come together in the learning-how-to-be-in-a-relationship-with-each-other status, emotional maturity regarding that relationship is low. It grows through shared experiences, communication, respect and other relationshippy things that happen over the general course of a relationship.

        I believe when two people are compatible, their emotional maturity can grow in leaps and bounds, while if people are not compatible, they tend to retain self more, dismiss their own responsibility in regards to the success of that relationship and other things that you would normally see coming from a teenager learning how to navigate the dating world.

        There still has to be a ME and a YOU. It’s can’t be ALL us, because that’s dysfunctional too, but there definitely has to be a me and you and us in order for things to work the way they are supposed to work.

        Someone commented above, probably stated it more clear than I did initially — that stuff you talk about is stuff that needs to be worked out in the dating phase, where you find out if you ARE compatible enough to really pursue the relationship. If it’s not worked out then, it can make things extremely difficult regarding long-term relationship success. If you feel you have to go to relationship counseling in the first few months of your relationship, you probably shouldn’t be in the relationship.

        Hope this makes a little more sense ….

          • IncidentalDomestic

            I have not yet, but I will … currently trying to figure out how to print Ebay Shipping Labels and Packing Slips for mailing in less than an hour with no internet connection on the home printer. This is why I pay way too much for a broadband card, because DSL is so spotty. Now if I can just get the printer driver installed before it’s too late (actually waiting on the download now to see if this will do the trick) …… wish me luck! I’ll definitely let you know what I think, can’t help that, it’s kind of a genetic flaw 😉

    • sarah

      Incidental Domestic, I couldn’t agree with you more. The same thoughts were running through my head as I read this post. One of the most beautiful old myths I’ve heard about marriage is the Eskimo story of skeleton woman – where a fisherman pulls up a skeleton and gives it flesh through his care and they eventually become married. (Very brief description that doesn’t do the myth justice). Essentially, what we’ve forgotten in this culture of “me” and “I” is that marriage is in a sense a little death of yourself and a rebirth into a new person that’s part of something bigger.

      Sure we need to hold on to much of the richness we bring, but we also need to be prepared to grow and change and become someone in ways we never thought possible. The depth of my husband’s love for me is that he doesn’t let me off the hook but expects the best of me at times and has helped me achieve more and grow more than in any other time in my life. Someone who loves you challenges you out of respect for who you can be and who you are deep inside but never have the fortitude or courage to become.

      Yes, compromise is a part of marriage – but also letting go of identities, ideas, routines we cling to out of familiarity in order to create something new and powerful that brings us to another level of being, nurtures our relationships and creates a healthy place for our children to grow in.

      • IncidentalDomestic

        Well said Sarah!! This can also be intertwined to the Biblical concept — leave and cleave, but that would mean another 700 words … heh heh

        -Jennifer P.


        • Missy June

          This all assumes that over the course of a relationship there is reciprocal giving and taking, although there may be seasons of less and more. Yes, I believe it is healthy to purposefully sacrifice time, resources, self, etc. But at what point do you sacrifice identity? Is marriage our God?

          • IncidentalDomestic

            Marriage is not our God, of course not, but God is glorified and honored by our relationship. This presents in our fruits, our children and our relationships with others via our marriage relationship. If our marriage relationship is stagnant or suffering, the fruits are going to reflect that and over time, will break down not only the marriage itself but also everything affected by that marriage – children, friendships, etc. etc.

            And I know, divorce happens. Sometimes relationships just don’t make it. And sometimes people don’t WANT to ever be married. Sometimes relationships are unsafe for one or both parties. It happens. Let me make this very clear: A person is not any less of a person because they are unable to make their marriage work, or because they don’t wish to be married.

            The sacrifice of SELF I refer to, is not necessarily “identity” as much as activating the selflessness needed to maintain and grow a successful relationship, even though I can see that most people use the two terms interchangeably. (just to clarify, I feel that “Identity” is how others see us, what others think make me Jennifer, and “Sense of Self” is how we see ourselves, the things about me that I think makes me Jennifer. I realize this is not everyone’s definition, but one that fits with my own ideas about marriage or relationships in general and how I internalize both concepts).

            Activating that selflessness that is a necessary component in successful relationships sometimes involves giving things up, pieces of our sense of self in order to accommodate the growth in our relationship.

            Like … for instance — using an emotional personal example, I used to need constant validation that I was OK. That things were good. That I was pretty, that I was a good spouse, etc. etc. My husband is not, nor has ever been the kind of person who easily expresses praise or even emotions. I always expected I would marry someone who would fill that puzzle space for me, to give me the validation I craved and thought I required.

            Over the course of our relationship, especially in the first three-four years or so, I always felt like I needed more from him in that regard. In true Jenn Form, I communicated, communicated, communicated how important it was to me that he do this. We even decided to see other people because we were not happy with how things were progressing. And for a while, I felt like this particular point was going to result in the end of our relationship, because he simply did not provide what I thought I needed.

            However, over time (lots of compressed story here), I found that it’s not something that is ever REALLY going to change, because he’s simply not built that way. The things that make him HIM do not involve the mushy love fest I was accustomed to. That doesn’t make him any less of a friend, husband, father or man, it just means I had to decide to adjust my sense of self — what I thought I needed, a piece of what I thought made me ME — to accommodate his Identity. That is a piece of my sense of self that I gave up.

            There is a whole lot more to this story, so this is a bit of an over simplification of a very complex emotion for me, but I think it describes the kind of sacrifice of self I’m talking about. These are the pieces of the relationship under the water, the part of the iceberg that you don’t see on from the surface, but that are the foundation of the iceberg (and the part you have to watch out for if you’re a ship on her maiden voyage).

            I know when I REALLY need to hear “I love you,” I will simply ask him “Do you love me?” and he responds appropriately. I’ve also noticed in the past few years that he actually initiates this kind of exchange more, and I know that is something he is changing to accommodate me, because he DOES love me and he DOES want me to be happy and fulfilled in our relationship as much as I want the same for him. He is still the same emotionally stubborn goat I met 21 years ago, but I love him even more for trying to accommodate me in this manner.

            This is also a good example of why, in most instances, you can’t make a broad sweeping accommodation for all relationships, because I fully realize there wold be some women who would not want to be in a relationship where their significant other did not reciprocate the constant outward expression of love in traditional romantic kinds of ways. I’m related to some of those women. My younger sister is a perfect example — but again, there are just too many aspects that would need to be explored to fully explain the concept in a blog comment thread.

            I think one thing to remember in this whole discussion is that every marriage needs different pieces of different things to make it work. When God is in the center of any relationship, both parties feel fulfilled, not because it’s a perfect fit, but because God fills in all the gaps where the puzzle pieces don’t quite come together, so in a way, a marriage with God in the center has a huge advantage over other marriages, but it doesn’t mean that things won’t work with these other marriages, it just means that things will most likely be much, much harder and more work over the course of the relationship. I prefer to take the easier route, of course. 😀 😀

            One more thing before I ends this long rambly thing, I believe it is important to note that a relationship is two separate people. The lines get blurred sometimes but those two people are still part of the equation. Can’t have US without at least one other person.

            Might be beating a dead horse here, but I also think that is a important to note that there will be pieces of our self and identities that we sacrifice for the success of the relationship. I believe that is the nature of a healthy relationship. Like Sarah said, way more succinctly and eloquently than I, “letting go of identities, ideas, routines we cling to … in order to create something new and powerful … brings us to another level of being, nurtures our relationships and creates a healthy place for our children to grow in.”

            Hope this makes sense … but please totally feel free to ask if something doesn’t make sense– this is really stream of consciousness and might seem a bit disjointed at times. (We’ve been under a Tornado Warning all morning, so I’m not sure about Internet access. Hope this comment comment through.)

            Corey!! Going to hopefully check out the Marriage stuff this afternoon, but if not today soon — really looking forward to reading them. I dig this stuff.

            -Jennifer P.


          • lehall

            I don’t think you guys are as far from Corey as you think you are. Remember that the point of the post was specific: How to deal with ongoing conflict in a marriage. We can sidestep the “should you have gotten married anyway” question since the post assumes that the relationship already exists.

            I can give one example from my marriage that fits Corey’s pattern and addresses the concerns about selfishness that you mention. It isn’t such a big issue that we shouldn’t have gotten married. But it is an ongoing disagreement, and for a while it was really bleeding over into other areas. Our big, unending, we’re not going to agree issue? Making the bed.

            It is really important to me that our bed is made. For me it is a sign that there is at least some order and discipline in my life. When the bed is not made, I feel like I’m not managing the bare minimum of adult responsibility. My husband could not care less about the bed being made. It just doesn’t bother him at all. We are not going to agree about the importance of the bed being made. So, I turn to Corey’s suggestions:

            1. Respect: The issue is the bed. Not his worth as a person or his care as a husband. I will affirm him as a person throughout the disagreement.

            2. With a clear definition of self: Having the bed made is important to me. It makes me feel that we’re taking care of our home and being good stewards of our space. Because I associate the made bed with adulthood and responsibility, it is hard for me to understand why my husband doesn’t care. I also have a pretty good sense of who my husband is. He doesn’t see bed-making as a big deal. We just mess it up again at night, and no one goes in our bedroom to see or care what our bed looks like. He likes to focus his efforts in the areas with greatest impact, and for him, making the bed is not that area.

            3. Over-functioning/Under-functioning: I’m clearly the over functioner here, because it is important to me. I can choose how and whether to address it.

            4. Live by what you hold dear: In this case, I just make the bed. I don’t judge or grumble at my husband for it (or I try not to). I can’t force him to care about bedmaking the same way I do. I occasionally ask him to make the bed, but I don’t try any more to convince him how important bedmaking is.

            The result, for us, has been really positive. We have a workable plan for the particular issue and we can live with our differences on the conceptual level. When we were gridlocked, I spent a lot of energy thinking about how to convince him to see it my way. I moralized the issue and chose to see it as a character flaw in him, and further I tried to change that part of his character. Now I just let it be what it is. I still kind of want him to see it my way. The moral message in my head is still there. But it will be no good for me, for him, or for our relationship for me to push the issue.

    • Rachel

      Amen, sister! (IncidentalDomestic)

      • Jenny G

        Lehall…”Remember that the point of the post was specific”–exactly what I was thinking as I was reading people’s comments. AND I really appreciated your example.
        Are you a teacher? and do you have a blog

  4. Audrey

    I really enjoyed this post. There will always be things that come up as differences in relationships, but how you deal with those issues with your spouse makes all the difference. And yes, all we can control is ourselves & our actions, not those of our spouse or our children.

  5. Sarah Park

    Great post! I took the last bit about “at the end of the day, all you’re responsible for is you” to apply to when a relationship is LESS than healthy. That is, if your spouse is a spender or wants to eat only junk food, you need to recognize that you can’t make him or her change by sheer force of will. But you need to not capitulate to unhealthy ways in the name of “unity.”

    Hopefully, by sticking to what you believe is right, and doing so graciously, a spouse in this type of unhealthy dynamic could start to win over the other spouse. For instance, regarding food, if the spouse committed to eating in a healthy way took on the work load of planning and preparing healthy AND tasty meals, it might help the other spouse to see, “Wow! this stuff tastes good, AND I feel better, AND I’ve lost some weight!” Or something.

    In my marriage, I’ve been continually grateful for the fact that we married young. That is, we feel as though we’ve gotten to do (and are still doing!) our “growing up” together, rather than individually. Even if you have all the big discussions, pre-marriage, about money, sex, children, etc, you still don’t know what it’s going to be like when you’re in the thick of being married. Your thoughts, as well as your spouse’s, can change on things, even fundamental things. And the tricky but vital part is to keep communicating openly, keep compromising, and keep growing together and closer as best you can.

    • Rachel

      I have to agree. We married young too. Our core values and faith were and are still the same but so much has changed. But because we were together experiencing the things and supporting one another through it often we come to the sane place or at the very least our respect and love is strengthened because of shared experiences. We don’t believe that divorce is an option so we will say at times “well we have 50 years together left – they can be miserable or they can be fulfilling.”

  6. Lynn

    “At the end of the day, all you’re responsible for is you.”

    I thought this was a great post until I got to this final statement.

    If you are a living in a marraige without any children, then yes, that statement could be true, but when you have kids, you’re responsible for them too – including the home they live in, etc.

    Once you have kids you are no longer ‘I’, but ‘we’.

  7. Living the Balanced Life

    Awesome post with great tips! Hubby and I will celebrate 30 years this June. We have not had it easy as we got married very young, but buy learning to agree to disagree on some things and compromise on others, we are still madly in love with one another!

  8. Sarah G

    Like others above, I have some concerns about this article. Yes, it’s important to recognize that the only person we can change is ourselves, but marriage involves a lot of sacrifices from both parties and I think this article really under-represents that.

    I particularly found this quote interesting, “You are allowed to live life the way you choose, but so is your spouse.” Given that your example was something that couldn’t take place at the same time. Either the dining room table with be cluttered, or it won’t be. One person will have to sacrifice/change their prior way of doing things. I would argue that when we marry we aren’t just allowed to live life the way we choose, but must constantly be striving to move ahead together in a united direction. This happens even before children enter the picture.

    As a very secondary issue, I was also surprised by the Rob Bell quote. While there is nothing wrong with the quote itself, your reference (in my opinion) acts as an indirect endorsement of his work to someone who may know nothing about him.

    I’ve really enjoyed articles of yours in the past and look forward to reading more in the future, I just felt I needed to speak about those concerns.

  9. Lauren

    I can’t believe there was not one word about compromise in this post. As a married couple, my husband and I pay bills together, eat together, go out together… there is no “my money and his money”- it is our money, and if we’re going to save we need to be on the same page about it, or else our finances are going to be a giant mess.

    Same thing with eating out. We eat our meals together because we’re a family, and so if I’m wanting to eat healthy, I make a healthy dinner and we eat it. I take into consideration what he’ll like, and make something healthy we’ll both enjoy. If my husband wants to get fast food, we go to a place we’ll both enjoy- and yeah, I might order a salad while he gets a burger, but he won’t ask to go to a place that he knows I don’t like. We think about one another when we make our choices and we’re both happier for it. We would be far unhappier if we were constantly eating dinner separately- we’re a couple and we like spending time together!

    And here’s where I have to disagree with another commenter who said, “Once you have kids you are no longer ‘I’, but ‘we’.” No. Once you get married, declare your intention to spend your life together in front of other people and the state, you are a a ‘we’. For a marriage to work, you have to think of yourself as a team- not two people who live in the same house. The advice you gave in this article consistently urges married couples to think of themselves before their partner, and that is a guaranteed way to drive yourselves apart.

    Not only that, but some of the issues you mention, like what church to raise your kids in, are things you cannot not compromise on. If both parents insist on the kids going to their church, there will be a constant battle with the kids stuck in the middle, and that’s not good for anybody.

    And regarding over-functioning and under-functioning: if you know you are the over-functioning spouse in an area, and are fine with it, that’s good. But if you aren’t fine with it, there are ways to gently communicate that with your under-functioning spouse and gradually improve the situation, assuming you are both committed to making things work. And if you aren’t well… I guess couples who aren’t committed to making things work could just follow your advice and only think about their own needs and wants, and eventually separate.

    • Corey

      Ah, compromise in marriage.

      If you’re interested in my take on this idea in marriage, here you go:

      • Elissa

        Yikes! I don’t know what kind of compromises YOU’VE taken part in but the ones you described in that link are NOT what goes down in my marriage. A compromise, in my marriage, is where both parties have come to a consensus on something and are satisfied with the resolution. For instance – he wants to go to the symphony but I find the symphony boring so we go to the opera which gives him his classical music fix and me some action to watch. He wants to go golfing, I say fine and go get a pedi. We both come home happy. What you described in your post was not compromising but one person caving to the other without expressing their needs – which isn’t a compromise at all.

        • Corey

          Correct, what happens a lot in marriage is actually caving, which sets up an exchange based mindset. “You got to go golf, I now get to go out with friends.” When this mindset takes over, resentment is soon to follow because life (and marriage) is never fair.

          The goal is to make choices based on your own values and heart. If you choose to give up something in order to go out with your spouse to something they want, great … it’s your choice. You can’t then come along later and be upset at them because of your choice.

          • Sarah G

            Ok, I think I finally see where you are coming from. On face value, this advice looks like you are saying, “I don’t want to clean the house, so I won’t” but I think what you’re really saying is more along the lines of me thinking, “I may not want to clean the house, but I do LOVE seeing the joy in my husbands eyes when he comes home to a tidy living room” and then choose to clean. There is both sacrifice and the choice, not based on what you might “get” because of it later. Is that right?

          • Corey

            Anytime you choose something based on a possible outcome, you often set yourself up for disappointment.

            To me, it’s better to live according to my authentic self and values and then respond accordingly regardless what unfolds. I can’t control what most outcomes are, all I can do is control myself (the concept that seems to have ruffled a few feathers in this post :)).

          • Elissa

            What? Why would I be upset with someone because I made a choice? If my husband makes a choice to do something, and I make a choice to do something different, yay for us. Or we both agree to do something different than we had originally wanted (such as the opera in the symphony/broadway example) why would I be upset over this? Or if I do something I don’t really want to do but I know it brings joy or happiness to another, why would I begrudge anyone that? To do so would be incredibly petty and childish, and I got over that when I left my teen years.

  10. Corey

    Allow me to clarify something that seems to be missed regarding sacrifice …

    If I don’t take responsibility for and care for myself, I have nothing to sacrifice! There’s a huge difference between giving and caring and sharing in marriage – and being a doormat who martyrs themselves for others. It’s my belief that the latter is far more prevalent today than the former.

    Sacrifice is part of marriage, but it’s based on choice, not simply to keep the peace.

  11. Kristen

    Thank you for this post… even the Rob Bell quote.
    I am reminded that conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when resolved well becomes the catalyst for deeper intimacy and knowing of our spouse and relationship. The key is how we handle the conflict.

  12. Jan Cox

    Very interesting discussion. We have been married for almost 40 years. We have been through ups and downs but in the end it always comes down to – do I love the man I married? – and the answer is yes. I respect him and he respects me. We work through things together.

    Christ is the centre of our lives and we ask Him into all discussions. We also know balance – which is where neither party is hurt but self is not the important part.

    I write about balance in my blog A Better Way – which is having Mary and Martha in each of our lives. I think if you read through the comments on Corey’s post you will see that balance is there.

    Compromise doesn’t mean someone “losing” but both of you agreeing to a middle ground. And I totally agree we cannot change our spouses – only God can – just as He can change us. Blessings on a very interesting read.

  13. Polly

    Wow, rough crowd, Corey.

    I have to say that I identified with the under-functioning and over-functioning section and how it affects our own self care. (Something I am trying to work on lately)

    As a mom of 6 little ones, with one being a newborn, I often feel I am the over-functioning one in the relationship when it comes to the kids. But, I just realized the other day that I am totally under-functioning when it comes to taking care of the finances.

    Now I can see that we both need to name the issue with each other and see if we can balance out our over and under-functioning areas so we can fill in for each other when needed and appreciate each other’s areas of strength and giftedness when we fall back into the default mode.

    • Corey

      I’m all for disagreement with my thoughts … especially if it helps people examine and think about their own relationships and life!

      • IncidentalDomestic

        And you’re handling it beautifully, I might add. …

        -Jenn Again

      • Polly

        Well, it did make me look at my relationship in a different way. Thanks for the article!

  14. John

    “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.”

    It’s one thing if you have “something you want to change”, e.g. stop ordering an organic produce box, or . But that is very different from “changing your spouse” or “wanting your spouse to change”. Example: spouse likes watching lots of sports on TV (not me, but some guys do). Yes, maybe you want that something to change, but what you’re really asking is for your spouse to change. If your spouse “isn’t on the same page” it’s best first to consider appropriate boundaries and ask the question “am I asking my spouse to change”. And if what you’re really doing is asking your spouse to change something about their personality, it’s very different than asking for a change in circumstance. There’s a big difference between wanting to change “something” and wanting to change “someone”. The way I read this article, “something” is code for “someone”.

  15. Lise

    There were some interesting points in this article but overall, I feel like many of the suggestions are what is fundamentally wrong with marriage in America today. It seems incredibly me-focused as opposed to we-focused.

    I agree with an earlier poster that many of issues can be avoided with great communication before marriage but inevitably, we all have challenges. I’m coming from a Christian worldview, but to me, once you’re married, that’s it unless there is adultery or abuse involved. For that reason it’s in my and my husband’s best interest to find a way to make the best of life for BOTH parties.

    The other thing I felt was missing is the long-term view. If you’re always looking at the snapshot of “right now”, you’re really setting yourself up for failure. When our first child was born, my husband would have been hard-pressed to be less helpful. It was a serious point of contention and over time, he improved. When our second child was born, he was a different person – very helpful, more thoughtful, more involved. If I had thrown in the towel after our first was born because he was under-functioning and I wasn’t happy, that would have been very short-sighted and a mistake.

    That’s a great quote by Rob Bell but sure am in violent disagreement with his other recent works.

  16. shari

    You had me until you said Rob Bell. Just to be fair, Mark Driscoll and his wife also have a book coming out on marriage. I’d be more apt to read that.

  17. Maggie @ Maggie's Nest

    I love this article! We’re getting married this September and having lots of little conversations about how to “do life”, as you put it. Each talk brings us closer together and strengthens our relationship.

  18. dmd

    I think there’s lots of good advice here. I have one major issue to add to the list of make or break areas of disagreement: Drugs and Alcohol. My husband smoked pot before were met, did not for the first 10 years of our marriage, but has started to again recently. It is a HUGE problem for me. We have a child and illegal drugs of any kind are simply UNACCEPTABLE to me.

    Second, on the point about if you have something you want to change, change. I like to save. But my husband has been un/underemployed for more than a year. We run a negative balance every month, so saving is impossible. We have cut every ounce of fat from our budget but there still is simply not enough. How can you make your own change like that when your resources/life are combined.

    • Corey

      There are times in life when what you want to do simply can’t be done due to circumstances or situations. Even during these times however, we still have plenty of opportunity to live according to our values and integrity.

  19. Kell

    I am in total agreement in the respectful communication. I believe that a major missing component in society right now is respect. State your argument in a logical point by point way, but, don’t expect your partner to change because of that argument; Do, however, expect your partner to give you their side of the argument, and continue discussion.

  20. Melissa

    Wow! This is the wildest conversation I have seen on this blog in a long time. I guess it means that marriage just isn’t as simple as a lot of other things in life.

    I thought it was a great post! I thought the under-functioning and over-functioning part was great and good for me to reflect on the areas that I am over or under-functioning in my marriage.

    I think there is definitely a way to compromise in the last point of “live what you hold dear” (as long as it is a healthy relationship). My husband has a “spending” fund that he can spend on things he likes to spend on, magazines, etc. I don’t need or want that because I am a saver, but it helps me to know how much will be spent and that it will not be a threat to us paying our bills and investing some for the future. I eat healthier than my husband, so I cook somewhat healthy dinners, but still have junk food in the house so he can have a soda and a swiss cake roll after the kids go to bed if he wants it. My main desire in my marriage is to love my husband and connect with him deeply. I just need to keep reminding myself that my connection with my husband is more important than extra calories or $30 a month, even though these seem really huge when I am exhausted!

  21. Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy

    Love that Rob Bell quote. What a great way to describe a marriage.

  22. Todd @zerotofamily

    The older I get, the more I come to believe that nothing that brings us stress is as important as we think it is. Just ask yourself, “Is this really worth fighting about?”

  23. Sarah G

    Hmm, for some reason, I can’t find the reply button on our original thread, but in response to your idea that we should, “…live according to my authentic self and values and then respond accordingly regardless what unfolds.”

    I think either I am still misunderstanding you, or I am reaching the “agree to disagree” point of this conversation. If you believe that putting the good of your spouse above your own selfish desires inevitably involves “caving” or “martyr syndrome” then I must heartily disagree. Perhaps this is true in some cases, but I think when your hearts motivation is to “love because He (God) first loved us.” it does not “set me up for disappointment” but is part of living out what God called marriage to be in Ephesians 5:21-33.

    • lehall

      It’s not about whether or not you put your spouse first. It’s about your attitude as you do so. I occasionally slip into the messed up head-game of “I gave in on X so he owes me Y” or “I gave in on X, and now I get to cast myself in the role of misunderstood, martyred, long-suffering wife”. When I do, we’re headed for trouble. If I choose to give in (and often I do), I need to own that choice. I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do. I don’t win points or get to load expectations on him. In a healthy relationship, this goes both ways. Even if it doesn’t, each individual can make and own their choices, even if you’re choosing between less-than-ideal options.

  24. Missy June

    In my marriage, I learned a great deal about letting go of my expectations and allowing my spouse to be himself – things I would not choose and all. For us, the core of our values emerged as different and in being true to myself and the Lord, I lost him. Obviously, this was painful and unwanted, but when being together means losing yourself and all that you hold dear, the choice between man and God is clear.

  25. Sarah

    Ok..the non-eye-to-eye issue for us is a gun. My husband thinks it’s essential we have one for our family’s safety, and I think it makes our home more dangerous (we have children under 10, and neither of us shoot – I don’t even want to touch the thing) I understand what you were saying about respect – I do respect that he is taking seriously his responsibility to our family, and I think he respects that I want to create a safe place for our kids. I just don’t know how we can life with a “true sense of self” on this issue – it’s not like saving money or being healthy. A friend let us “borrow” a gun for my husband to try out. It was the biggest fight of our lives. Almost a deal-breaker. When the friend moved away, I suggested he give the gun back, and he did. He doesn’t like that it’s an issue for us either. I know the issue will probably come up again, and I’m not sure how to handle it. I know as the wife, I should submit to the leadership of my husband, but this is something that I feel very very very very strongly about not having.

    • Jodi

      I’m not a huge fan of the gun we have either but totally agree that it is needed for safety in the event of a worse case scenario. My requirement for a gun was we have a safe that the kids don’t even know about. It’s secured to our bed frame, within easy reach, push button combo so you’re not fumbling ever for a key. They know my husband shoots occasionally but that’s about it. When they’re older, 3 & 5 now, I have no problem with them getting an education and healthy fear of guns. I would never allow a gun in the house without knowing it is secured 99.9% of the time.

  26. Anne

    Corey – you’ve gotten a lot of flack for not writing about sacrifice and compromise. I grew up hearing all about sacrifice and compromise. When I got married I was all about sacrifice and compromise. I wish I’d learned more in church about how it’s okay – even good – to say that you’re angry about something, or to not do something that you do not want to do. I think that what you had to say in this post is what many women (and men) need to hear, but maybe they can’t hear until they’ve lost their identities then wonder what happened, only to realize that their sacrifices and compromises were really co-dependency and boundarylessness. Or at least that’s what happened to me. And when I talk to my women friends, many of them can identify. I was married for sixteen years before I even heard that it’s okay for me to consider what I need. And that it’s not selfish to consider what I need.

    • Missy June

      I was one of those wives, my friend. Somehow I got the message that it was wrong to stand up for even what is right. I made my spouse and my marriage my god and even fell into sin of my own to try and ‘keep’ him. I’ve learned much and the concept of healthy boundaries was one of the first steps out of my pit.

      • Anne

        Hooray for boundaries!
        Hooray for grace!
        Hooray for you, Missy June!
        I’m so glad you are climbing out of your pit. You are very brave.

      • Anne

        Corey – According to the dictionary definition of selfish, which is to consider only your own needs, you can be selfish. However, this is what I think: the definition of selfish has dangerously morphed into “considering your own needs _at all_.”

        After all, we are admonished to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” The verse that follows presumes that we look to our own interests. It doesn’t tell us not to look to our own interests, it simply tells us to look at others’ interests too.

        I think God wants us to consider our own needs. I think it grieves Him when we don’t.

  27. Katie

    Dude. Seriously rough crowd. As a Christ-follower myself I am embarrassed at the self-righteousness. Ok, so people don’t agree with Rob Bell on some major points of doctrine, and therefore everything he says about anything is worthless? Come on. C.S. Lewis was a universalist. John Stott, one of the most respected theologians today, is an annihilationist. Nobody gets everything perfect all of the time but that doesn’t mean they have nothing worthwhile to say.

    Great post!

    • Anne

      Katie – yes! Great comment!

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