Making decisions in life can be difficult, especially when the decisions have potential to change the direction of your life. When a couple begins life together, making decisions suddenly gets a whole lot harder. Key questions that arise are: “Who has the final say?” “Is it possible to make a decision if one of the party disagrees?” and “Can one partner decide on something without consulting the other?” Psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow observes that "Making decisions as a couple is not so much about what you decide on, but rather how you go about the process of making the decision." Here are some ideas on shared decision making.
Shared Decision Making
Making decisions in a marriage is contested territory. This is complicated by culture, religious views and the way your own parents made decisions. Some have suggested that we use the Bible to explain how couples ought to communicate. However, the Bible is a collection of cultures and traditional practices and so provides various examples of decision making between couples: Sarah commands Abraham to take Hagar as a second wife (Genesis 16) and then commands him to get rid of Hagar and son (Genesis 19) – and Abraham obeys her! David ignores the wishes of his wife Michal and marries Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:27); and Paul suggests that women should be quiet: Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection (1 Timothy 2:11).
Jesus says nothing about how decisions ought to be made in marriages. But Jesus does speak about relationships in general: he encourages us to love one another (Matt 22:34-40); we are to care for the needs of others and the best gift we can give anyone is to sacrifice our own interests for theirs (John 15:13). St Paul has offered advice to married couples – much of which is framed in terms of the patriarchal culture of his time: he lived in a culture that believed that men are the head of the home. Paul takes this concept and modifies it:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. (Ephesians 5:22 & 23) Paul speaks into the patriarchal culture to say to the man that he is not head of his home – the Lord Jesus is head of both husband and wife. This is repeated in 1 Corinthians 11:3 : “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ”.
Both the Husband and the wife are in submission to God, Who is head of the home and marriage. If either one of the couple try to take authority – they are usurping the place of God! The couple thus work as a team under God’s direction. They pray for guidance from God, who will give the same answer to each of them. If this is not the case, then they need to keep on praying until they have perfectly heard the direction of God. Matthew 18:19 tells us that we will find agreement when God’s Spirit guides us. For this reason when St Paul begins his section on human relationships in Ephesians he begins with these words: submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
Making the Important Decisions
Hopefully, you aren't deciding as a couple when to cut your hair or what colour socks you are going to wear. These choices don't warrant a long discussion! Beware if one member of the couple insists on making such decisions for the other – this is unhealthy, and reduces the other to a subservient child. While it is crucial that the big decisions be made together, it is as important that trust be created that allows a couple to make decisions independently of each other. In this way each party in the relationship is allowed to contribute to the relationship as an adult.
What you consider to be important decisions is one of the first decisions you should make in your marriage. Most couples consider the following decisions to be major ones that require both discussion and agreement.
- Where the two of you will live
- How many children you will have
- Who will work/stay home after having children
- Parenting styles and the discipline of the children
- How you will spend and save money
- The amount of free time you will spend together
- The amount of time you will spend with extended family/in-laws
- Household chores
- When to take vacations and where to go
- Future plans
Once you have agreed about what decisions you want to make together, talk about how the two of you will handle making the decisions together. It is vital for you both to express what is on your minds and hearts freely. Either withholding your input or dominating the conversation will both negatively affect the outcome. If one of you tends to be more dominant in speaking, you will need to use self-discipline to give the other an opportunity to speak. The less dominant of you may also need to practice assertiveness
It is vital to ensure the purity of your motives and intentions in any discussion. If either of you has a hidden agenda—an unspoken intention or goal—or you want to manipulate one another, the couple consultation is on a weak foundation from the very start. Remember: Consultation is not a method to get your own way.
Written by Rev Dr P Grassow