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When 1 + 1 Doesn't Equal ONE: Decision-Making When You Don’t Agree

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Early in our marriage, we resolved that we would always make decisions together, and if at all possible, we would work to be in agreement with each other.

But there have been times when we reached an impasse after much discussion and prayer. Then Barbara agreed that because God has given husbands the ultimate responsibility as the head of the home, we’d go with Dennis’s decision in the matter.

This process works as long as a husband is fulfilling his role as a servant-leader in marriage and his wife agrees. According to the biblical model, God’s organizational structure for the family begins not with the husband, but with Christ. Read this passage by Paul in Ephesians 5:23-28:

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.

Though God has given the husband a position of authority and headship, this passage makes it clear that instead of emphasizing how his wife should submit, the husband should concern himself with how he should compassionately lead his wife. Husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” That’s the opposite of selfish leadership.

God’s blueprints for marriage teach that each spouse is made complete by the other. Paul’s statement applies here: “… in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman” (1 Corinthians 11:11). We need each other. We marry to do life together, to be a team. Why would anyone knowingly choose to ignore or dishonor the other in decision making? Both husbands and wives have a responsibility to listen to one another in decision making. It just makes the most sense.

Some in the Christian community hold the notion that there should be no head of the home (a roleless marriage), and that a husband and a wife should share in all decisions equally. Sometimes you won’t agree, even after days of discussion, prayer, and carefully listening to each other. In a roleless marriage, who decides—especially on a major decision? Many couples end up in a bitter struggle for power and control.

Likewise, there are others within the Christian community who embrace a dictatorial model like I described earlier—leadership by the husband that disregards the value and counsel of his wife.

Both of these models dishonor God’s design for husbands and wives in marriage and neither has a great outcome.

So, what pattern will you follow? How will you go about making decisions? Let us illustrate what happened in the first decade of our marriage.

Our first schooling decision

Every individual and every married couple make a lot of smaller decisions every day. We have learned to get one another’s opinion on most everything because we truly value our different perspectives. Rarely have I (Dennis) gone against Barbara’s counsel, but on occasion I have made a tough call that she disagreed with.

One of those major decisions was our first schooling decision. Our oldest daughter Ashley’s fifth birthday was coming up in August, meaning she would be the youngest child in her kindergarten class. Here’s how Barbara told the story:

I had enrolled her in an excellent preschool program to prepare her for kindergarten. The director of the school and Ashley’s teacher said she had done beautifully and would do just as well in kindergarten. I agreed.

I came home and reported all these facts to Dennis. I laid it all out carefully and convincingly, but to my surprise, he didn’t agree. I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t buying my persuasive logic! He said, “I think we should hold her out for a year.”

I pursued with my arguments: “She makes friends easily. The teachers think she should be in school next year. Why can’t you agree with me?”

Dennis reasoned that he would rather Ashley be the oldest in her class all the way from K through 12, rather than the youngest. He reasoned that the year would result in her more being more mature and being stronger to resist the pressures of peers and adolescence

I backed off and waited a couple of weeks, prayed about it, and tried again. I presented all my facts, trying to beef up every point to make my position more convincing, Dennis did listen and seek to understand, but he didn’t budge.

I decided I had to do something, so I prayed and said, “Okay, Lord, I pray that You will change his mind but, Lord, if I’m wrong and he’s right, I want You to change mine. I’m willing to do whatever You want me to do.”

My attitude and perspective changed in the days that followed, and God gave me peace. And as my stance softened, I saw Ashley more objectively as a little girl who needed another year to be a child without the pressures of school.

As it turned out, starting Ashley in kindergarten as a young six-year-old was the right move. We learned several years later that she was dyslexic, and the extra year at home gave her a much better chance to deal with learning to read.

I’m glad the Lord broke our impasse by reminding me to pray and trust Him to work as only He can. It was a good experience to watch God gently change my heart and perspective. Trusting God’s design for our marriage resolved our impasse.

It works both ways

That was an important experience for us, but also a rare one. We agree, although not necessarily immediately, on the vast majority of our decisions. And we should add that it works both ways. On many occasions I (Dennis) changed my mind and followed Barbara’s advice and instincts in the decision-making process. For example, when we first began thinking about sending our children to college, we discussed how we would come up with the money. Barbara advised me several times not to make a particular type of investment—not because of her knowledge of financial matters but purely from an intuitive feeling. I heeded her input, and I was wise for doing so. Time would prove that her intuition was right.

Decision making for the Christian couple should not be reduced to an issue of who is right and who is wrong. As Barbara writes, “In those rare situations when we disagree, I am glad that Dennis and I have a biblically based structure that enables us to decide and move forward. It has meant that he must assume his responsibility as head of the home, but in assuming that position, he has learned that the role of a leader is that of a servant. As he serves me by listening to and understanding my perspective, and really taking into consideration my advice, he has made my submission to him easier. I didn’t say it was easy—just easier.”

What if roles are reversed?

What if you and your husband have already begun to reverse roles and you make the decisions? Maybe he doesn’t make decisions as quickly, or is not as aggressive in his personality. What should you do?

A good starting place is to revisit God’s blueprints for how a husband and wife are to live with each other. The position of the head of the family should not revolve around one’s personality or giftedness. Too often a husband can become passive when his wife takes over. It isn’t right, but in those situations he may find the road of least resistance appealing. A wife may get her way, but her husband may feel disrespected in the process.

Listening is crucial

Decision making is an art that takes time to develop in a marriage. There are many factors that make any given decision one day more complicated than another day; stress, fatigue, anxiety, job pressures and more impact our decision making ability.

Which is why listening to one another is so crucial. If you are at an impasse it may be about a lot more than just the immediate decision. It may be an opportunity God is giving you to learn more about each other or to go deeper in your understanding and compassion for one anther.

Keep praying for one another and about all your decisions. It’s a wonderful way to experience the work of God in your lives and your marriage.

Discuss how decisions should be made in your home and how both can share in them. Then when the next decision comes along that you are tempted to decide for him, don’t. Toss it in his lap. Engage him around the issue. Ask for his help and perspective. Make this a matter of prayer as a couple. Ask God to help you complement each other in the area of decision making.

A profound promise appears in Scripture repeatedly: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Think about that for a minute. Nothing is too hard for God!

Your ability to make decisions together may seem impossible now, but nothing is impossible for God.



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