God calls married couples to live in unity, but unity does NOT always mean uniformity. A husband and wife should be unified in their commitment to each other and their core convictions, but every couple is going to have different personalities, different perspectives, and different opinions. In those moments of disagreement, how should we respond?
That’s a loaded question without a one-size-fits-all answer because every situation is unique. For example, if your spouse wants to become an illegal drug dealer and put the entire family’s lives at risk, then you obviously have a responsibility to disagree with them and to do so without compromise. On the other extreme, if your spouse is wanting to watch a TV show you think is boring, instead of staging an intervention and stealing the remote, it might be best to serve them by allowing their preference to win out above your own at that moment.
I’m going to format this article a bit differently than usual to help make this as practical as possible because this issue is one we have to get right in marriage. If we allow misunderstandings or selfish pride to creep in when disagreements happen in marriage, the lack of unity could create a lack of peace and trust and could eventually end the marriage altogether. I’m going to break this down as simply as I can by giving three specific categories of potential disagreements and the primary goal for each category. There are probably exceptions and possibly other categories outside these three, but I’m convinced most marital issues fit inside one of these three categories.
The three main categories of disagreement in marriage are:
1. Principle issues
2. Preference issues
3. Poisonous issues
Principle issues include issues like a commitment to each other, commitment to your children, commitment to a core set of values, etc. These are the foundational issues in your marriage where disagreement is tantamount to divorce. In these areas, you must fight for unity. Even when you have slight differences of opinion over how these commitments should be lived out, you and your spouse must find agreement over the “main things” in your marriage and then be uncompromisingly unified in those areas.
Preference issues refer to those everyday issues (big and small) that really come down to personal preference. These issues include at least 90% of all marriage decisions from which house to buy, to what color to paint the walls, to what to eat for dinner to what to name the kids. Both spouses must have input in these decisions, but you’re not always going to agree. In those moments of disagreement, look for ways to serve your spouse by allowing his/her preference to win whenever possible. If your spouse rarely or never reciprocates and allows your preferences to win, then you might be dealing with a bully or a narcissist, which is a different issue entirely. In those cases, healthy boundaries must be put in place for the sake of the marriage. The book “Boundaries in Marriage” (Townsend & Cloud) is a great resource to help you establish healthy boundaries in your marriage.
Poisonous issues include areas of sin, secrecy, and deceit in your marriage that could lead to financial recklessness, sexual infidelity, drug addiction, law-breaking and a myriad of other factors that have the potential of causing irreparable harm to the entire family. The sinning spouse might prideful insist that his/her toxic actions don’t impact anyone but him/herself, but the sin of one spouse has a direct and devastating impact on the other spouse and the entire family. When these reckless behaviors are happening, you can’t sit idly by and give your tacit approval to destructive behaviors. You must take action and intervene to make sure the behavior stops.
To sum all this up, in principle issues, fight for UNITY. In preference issues, celebrate each spouse’s DIVERSITY. In poisonous issues, demand ACCOUNTABILITY. And in ALL issues, let LOVE lead the way.
If disagreements are causing constant friction in your marriage, a healthy next step is to reach out to a professional Christian counselor. Seeking counsel isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of wisdom and commitment to the relationship. Oftentimes, an impartial, trained third party can help two spouses who are stuck in a stalemate. You don’t have to stay stuck! Get the help you need.