I recently heard a story about a decision that stuck in my mind. It concerns a man who had been offered his dream job in a state far from where he and his wife were living. His wife was very close to her family and did not want to leave the state. Her husband was apparently given the choice to either remain with his wife and family or give up his dream job. He chose to stay.
I have no idea what their decision-making process really looked like. Here’s one possible scenario:
The husband excitedly tells his wife the news of his job offer, and instead of sharing in his excitement she appears sad and upset. Initially he is angry with her; he has wanted such a position for years and his chance has finally arrived.
He may view her response as evidence that she doesn’t really love him or judge her feelings as selfish. She may feel that he values work more than family, and also question his love and commitment to her.
In our imaginary story, the husband sees how deeply unhappy his wife is. He listens as she shares how important it is to her that their children grow up near extended family members and how sad she feels when she thinks of moving away. He decides that her happiness is more important to him than his dream job, and that he is fully committed to their marriage and family.
Continuing our imaginary story, his wife also listens to him and appreciates how much he wants this job. It is very difficult for her to acknowledge her thoughts and feelings in the face of his excitement. However, she is unable to imagine a happy life away from her family, and he can not imagine being happy separated from her and their children.
If he truly feels he made the best possible choice for both him and his family, resentment will not erode their marriage. If one spouse feels disempowered in the decision-making process, resentment is difficult to avoid.
Many years ago, I worked with a couple who had been married for 30 years. Early in their marriage the husband insisted on a decision that his wife felt was very wrong for her. She believed she had no choice. Her resentment had been building all those years, and acted as a barrier toward establishing a truly loving relationship.
Now that their children were grown, she wanted a divorce, and he had no idea why. With the support of counseling, coaching and mediation they were able to heal their past.
It is not unusual for couples to be faced with a decision in which one spouse feels powerless in the decision-making process. If one of the couple insists on his or her decision, regardless of how the other feels, the disempowered spouse is no longer part of the process.
When this happens, especially with respect to an important decision, it needs to be addressed before resentment has a chance to build. This kind of communication generally requires both skill and support.
It is important to speak without conveying anger or blame, when communicating what is true for you. This helps create trust and respect, which strengthens and deepens your relationship. Developing certain skill sets will assist you to intentionally practice being the kind of partner you want him or her to be. This is the first step toward being heard and understood yourself:
- practice right timing
- actively listen and ask questions for mutual understanding
- acknowledge and manage your emotions
- become mindful of your tone of voice
When you practice these skills there is far less chance that your partner will feel attacked or believe that you feel his or her decision isn’t valid and trustworthy. S/he may instead become more able to really listen to your point of view.