The 5 Pillars of Decision-making in Marriage

During college I was privileged to study abroad in Germany for a year.  Besides the benefit of being able to study the language, culture and history of my host country, we got the added benefit of footloose and fancy free weekends to flitter about Europe on a moment’s notice.

If you were a native you used your time to work on your homework or prepare your end of the semester research paper.  But if you were an exchange student, like me, that time translated into “Euro-rail Pass!” At the price of just a few dollars my friends and I boarded a train for a two month stint throughout Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy & Austria.

A lot happened on that journey, but one of the places I remember most was Greece and the indelible vision of the Parthenon as we walked up the mount.  I don’t know if it was the size of the Acropolis itself, or simply the tranquil feeling I got while contemplating my existence in that time and place, but the experience was nothing less than awe-inspiring.

The structure of the Parthenon itself was surprisingly dilapidated, yet the massive columns that supported it had somehow managed to hold up the entablature for hundreds of years.

In today’s world no iconic social structure comes under more attack than marriage. Sadly, in many cases, those attacks come from within as year after year, couples destroy the very foundations of what makes a good marriage.

Being able to make good decisions in your marriage is one of those foundations and if you want to ensure that your relationship will stand the test of time, you’ll need to learn how to make good ones together as a couple.

Unfortunately, many couples we counsel struggle to agree on what should be the simplest of decisions.

  • What time should we put the kids to bed?

  • How much money should we save each paycheck?

  • Should we go over to my mom’s or yours on Christmas?

With each passive choice made, with each decision made by one person with out the agreement of the other, we default to the inevitable “shotgun” approach. Point. Aim. Shoot — and hope that you hit some decision–any decision.

But what we’ve found over the years is that sound decision making, the kind that propels your life forward with purpose and in peace, relies on decision-making pillars — or communication principles which support right conclusions.

Here are 5 questions you should use to guide every decision you make:

1.)  Does this opportunity fall in line with the goals we have for our marriage?

Each year my husband and I sit down and discuss the milestones we want to achieve that year.  We talk about the relationships we want to further, the places we want to go, the events we want to lead and sponsor, how we want to grow as a couple and as individuals, and everything in between.

This process has helped us out significantly in determining throughout the course of the year, which opportunities to pursue and which to pass on.  If the opportunity that presents itself, doesn’t move us closer to these goals, then we might either pass on it altogether, or at least “put it on the shelf” for further discussion.

2.)  Does this opportunity fit within our budget?

Perhaps an opportunity has presented itself and it fits with one or more of the goals you and your spouse have for your family.  Great, right?  Not so fast. You must then ask yourselves, “Can we afford this?”

Now, it’s easy when couples reach this question to put the axe down on a lot of great opportunities.  But don’t succumb to this temptation!  Instead of asking if you can afford it, ask yourself, “How can we afford this?” Re-framing this question actually activates your thinking and opens up your mind to discover other ways to achieve your desires.

You might even need to take the business approach to "cost” and think, “What is the long term opportunity cost to our family, if we don’t do this?”

For example, when my husband I were attending ministry school we had some challenges finding jobs that would pay the bills and allow us the flexibility to attend classes during the day. I was a teacher, so I applied for any position I could. Unfortunately, the positions I was offered were always out of my area of certification so in order to accept one, I had to get recredentialed.

At the time we were only living on our savings, so we didn’t feel like we could afford to pay for additional college courses. And for the next 6 months I turned down a lot of offers. Until our savings ran out of course!

But once our savings was gone and I still had no job, it finally dawned on me that if I had taken a job and enrolled in the necessary coursework to update my license, the money I made from the regular income of that job would have more than paid for the courses I was required to take!

We weren’t looking at the lost opportunity of wages — just the fear of depleting the savings account, and ended up losing both.

3.)  Does this opportunity support or jeopardize your marriage/Family?

This seems like a simple enough question to answer, doesn’t it? Wrong.  Being able to have the transparency and honesty it takes to talk about whether or not the opportunities you (and/or your spouse) want to pursue are good for your marriage can be some of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have.

Early on in our marriage my husband was approached by a woman he had met on a business trip and she offered an opportunity to come and speak at a her church.

Being that this was one of his first real invitations to do what he loved, and that the church was offering to pay not only for his expenses, but also an honorarium, it made the deal that much more enticing.

But after having some open discussions about it, we realized that in spite of the financial opportunity it would afford, we didn’t really feel like it was very safe for our marriage, so he declined.

Not more than a few weeks later the church “split” in a revolt led by none other than this woman!

4.)  Does this opportunity fit within your schedule?

Families are just busy these days, aren’t they?  With all the amenities that modern life affords and gadgets that are supposed to save us time, it seems like we have less time today than we ever did before!

So a big question you must ask yourself when making decisions is, “Can we fit this into our schedule?”  Now, just like in our previous question about finances, you might have to consider the ramifications of not adding certain events into your schedule. While it’s certainly possible you might need to cut out some activities, perhaps it’s time to make room for new ones!

A friend of ours follows this slogan – “No passion.  No time.”  If you don’t have a passion for what you’re doing, do you really want to carve out precious time to force it into your schedule? Why not open your schedule up for things that give you pleasure, inspire you, grow the bond between you and your family?

Like most families we sometimes have to move our schedules around to make things fit, but if moving that meeting around causes too much divergence from our scheduled routine then we steer clear or cancel it altogether.

One final litmus test we always follow, which in actuality trumps all others, is this:

5.) Are we being forced to make a decision too quickly?

I know some people would look at our lives and all that we do and assume that we never give a thought at all to how quickly we make decisions. Part of that comes from the ground work we have laid in our marriage for the past 18 years, which allows us to maneuver through the opportunities that come our way.

Because we practice these principles we’re able to decisions more quickly, efficiently and with confidence.

On the other hand some opportunities present themselves in such a way that on the surface seem to fall in line with every principle listed above. But if we are required to “act now”, or feeling coerced to move so we don’t “miss this opportunity,” our answer is always a resounding, “No.”

I pray that as you seek to apply these decision making pillars, you will strengthen your marriage so that will stand the test of time.