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Marriage: Knowing When to Give and When to Take

Couple communicating their thoughts on an issue

“Do you want to pick up dinner?” He asked.

“Do you need me to?” I replied politely.

“If you don’t want to, then you don’t have to.” He smiled.

“Ok.” I finally said.

In the tug of war of reading between lines, and crossing the unspoken boundaries of brevity are two hungry people just trying to make a decision. Tonight it’s dinner, but yesterday it was how long to let our son play on his iPad, the night before, who’s going to take the garbage out.

Here’s the thing: we’re not fighting. What we’re really saying is “I’m tired, I don’t want to get dinner,” and “Me too.” For us, saying these seemingly dead-end phrases is a learned process of feeling for the other’s day, mood and stress threshold. Calmly working through our days, decompressing, while progressing to a decision took years of choosing battles and nonverbal translations. It’s like a well-choreographed dance.

What’s the importance of choosing your words in exercising compromise? It’s a matter of tears or triumph, really. In another time, earlier in our marriage the ‘what’s for dinner’ conversation would have sounded a little more like this:

“What did you make for dinner, I’m starving?”

“I just came home from work, like you. What did YOU make for dinner?”

“Well if you weren’t going to make dinner you should’ve told me and I guess I would’ve made it!”

“If you see there’s no dinner made, do I have to tell you to make it?”

Yes, this is an A and B conversation. I didn’t want to add husband-wife characters because I don’t want to start anything! While biblically speaking, it is a wife’s job to manage the household, in this day and age based on your family’s need, chores and the mundane maintenance in between will often fall on each member of the household. Yes, kids too! (Read about the truth about chores here!) In the West, not many are able to manage a one-income family, so by the end of the day our bodies are tired, our nerves shot and our pots? Cold. This seesaw of justification and blame can happen to anyone. It usually happens more frequently to the couples learning their communication styles and what compromise really means. It’s not just giving into a pair of Jordan’s, or sitting through an opera. It’s much deeper than that.

There are parts of yourself that you desperately want to bring to the light, bring into the conversation, into absolution, parts that you will have to put off for the sake of peace. You do this, not because you are ‘whipped’ or weak, but because it is what is necessary in true compromise. Now when I say ‘put off’ please don’t misunderstand it as ‘put away forever.’ There is a time and a place for everything under the sun, including your love for Korean soap operas. But when it’s the NBA Finals, let your wife have the TV.

For us as a couple, we’ve learned the ebb and flow, the fine print of what our ‘compromise’ remarks really mean. Why don’t we just be upfront and say the words we want to say? Because it can be a slippery slope where our eyes notice all the other chores left undone and we race to pass on the blame first. This is especially true, when we’re exhausted. We know it, and after more than 15 years of being together, we’ve learned to choose our battles. ‘Small talk’ is our signature communication style for compromise and our unique way of working towards peaceful conflict resolution for the little things. For the more meaningful things like faith, family or finances, we use a different tone and style. Our styles may not work for you. I know couples that text each other when working towards a compromise, others, masters of communication, need only look at each other!

Compromising is a gesture, one that is not ‘deserved.’ You don’t just compromise when you feel your spouse has ‘been good.’ Compromise contributes to your narrative as a unit. As a unit, blessed by God, we are expected to live in peace, harmony, and patience. This means we love our spouses without judgment and always with forgiveness and understanding at hand. It’s tempting to nitpick, and pass around the blame like it’s dodge ball or hot potato, but above all, ABOVE ALL, even our moods, our days, our deeply rooted need to be loud and heard – is love. It’s our love for our spouse and therefore our respect for their moods, days and needs. It’s simple: you take care of your blessings form God. You don’t pummel into the ground because its lights are flickering, or its batteries are low. Keeping all this in mind should guide our words and actions towards compromise… not the number of dinners served or miles of carpet vacuumed.

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