For the first time in our nearly 10-year marriage, my wife Allison and I have come to a bit of a fork in the road. That first sentence sounds way more ominous than it should, but hang in there. I don’t mean to say we’ve never been at odds. That’d be impossible. But on our core beliefs, the foundational truths we believe, we’ve always been in agreement. The more I think about it, the more I realize how amazing that is. Whether it’s faith or finances, politics or parenting, we’ve more or less seen eye to eye on the biggest issues.
But we recently came across something that has challenged us like nothing has before. I won’t get into specifics because it isn’t pertinent to this post, but a recent change in our lives prompted a reevaluation, so to speak. Unfortunately, we slowly realized we came down on opposite ends of a pretty important issue.
Again, we’ve had disagreements before, but never on something this foundational. It has prompted countless conversations that seem to go nowhere, eventually leading to one or both of us getting frustrated and shutting down. If we’re able to avoid shutting down, our conversation ultimately sounds like a broken record as we both reiterate a point we’ve made at least 20 other times. Finally, we’ll get tired of staring at each other with nothing new to say and decide it’s time for bed. Sound familiar at all to you? Have you ever been in a situation like this?
The question we ultimately ended up asking ourselves was this: how do we disagree on an important topic while still remaining a team?
It’s not a rhetorical question, either. If you happen to have the answer, hit me up.
Kidding aside, this is a really tough thing to accomplish, I think. There’s a certain power that comes with being in agreement with another person. “Power” isn’t really the right word, but I’m struggling to articulate what I mean. A sense of belonging, recognizing that another person feels the same way you do about an important topic – there’s a draw to that. It validates your thoughts and opinions. There’s a strange kinship, a harmony, a certain level of intimacy even, that can come from seeing eye to eye with another person. And for the better part of our lives together, Allison and I have been on the same page about the most important topics.
That’s being challenged now. To this point, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of working together, despite the difference of opinions. We’ve asked clarifying questions of each other and have listened well. Both of us have kept an open mind. When she or I starts to get a little emotionally flooded, we either try to start over or agree to take a break and come back to it later. And most importantly, we’ve tried to assume the other has the very best intentions at heart.
We don’t currently agree about this particular issue, and it’s possible we never will. At some point, one (or both) of us will have to relent to some degree. This issue isn’t one that can be ignored, and it’s not one of those “agree to disagree” sort of situations. We’ll have to come to an agreement.
About a week ago, we hit a point where both of us felt sort of helpless about the entire conundrum. How the heck were we supposed to agree on a path forward? Allison sat on the floor across the room, both of us staring off into space. Then it dawned on me. This woman, my wife, is not my adversary in this matter. Consequently, the issue we’re arguing over is one that would ultimately draw us even closer together. So I realized it wasn’t me versus her. It was us versus the issue. “It’s not ‘you or me'”, I said to her. “It’s ‘we’.”
Yeah, I’m corny like that. Once we re-framed the issue to an “us” perspective, the entire issue was completely fixed. All our problems disappeared!
That’s not true at all. Life ain’t fair.
No, we still disagree about the issue, but after that shift, it felt like we weren’t fighting against each other any longer. We started fighting for each other. This has been a very vexing problem to this point, and we’re still unsure of what we’re going to do, but we have confidence in each other that we can find a solution together. That feeling – the harmony felt when you’re on the same page with another person – I feel it again, even though we disagree. We’re in the trenches together, on the same side of the field. We still have to figure out what we’re going to do, but we’re doing it together.
This sort of situation can be found in just about any part of life. Maybe it’s debating a move across the country for a career opportunity, or a decision about where to send your kids to school. People everywhere struggle with this on a daily basis. Allison and I have been fortunate to get this far down the road with each other before having to deal with an issue with this level of complexity. But some of us live in a perpetual state of fighting against the people with whom we need to be in harmony. There are times when that’s absolutely necessary, of course. But I wonder how often is has to be that way.
I think we’ve gotten too good at digging our heels in, all in the name of “taking a stand”. Any time I hear that phrase, I’m reminded of something my pastor says from time to time. When you decide to take a stand, a natural consequence is that you ultimately stop moving forward. Again, there’s a time and place for that. However, I think we do it too often. The funny (not funny) part is that being cooperative and learning how and when to acquiesce is harder than taking a stand. That’s why I think less people are doing it. Or at least why less people are doing it well. It’s hard, but it’s necessary.
My wife and I are at a fork in the road. We’ve both decided to keep walking. ♦