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Marriage
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To Achieve Win-Win, Find a Third Option That Works for Both

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Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Genesis 2:24 tells us God’s plan for a husband and wife beginning their marriage together: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

“One flesh,” however, does not mean that once married a man and woman somehow mystically have only one opinion, one preference, one mind, one set of needs. Indeed, they will still have different names they like for their future children, contrasting ideas for where they should take their summer vacation, and differing preferences for the type of church they feel most at home in.

But for these times and others when a decision must be made, is a win-lose result the only option? Unless one spouse is able to put on their best lawyer hat and completely convince the other of their preference (good luck with that!), is a happy spouse / unhappy spouse situation the inevitable outcome?

Not at all! Even when a husband and wife have differing opinions, as a result of their different gender, upbringing, spiritual gifting, and temperament, a win-win result is still a viable possibility.

So Where Do We Start?

To achieve win-win, a husband and wife must find out what both need and don’t need; what both like and don’t like. Identifying what one prefers must be understood first. Both may require a little time to discern what they want.

Each must get in tune with the likes and dislikes being shared. Each must be permitted to change their mind when these likes and dislikes are discussed. For instance, both may need to look at hundreds of pictures of kitchens to determine what each really likes and dislikes before remodeling. All of us have different tastes and preferences, and we need to figure out what we favor.

Given there are differences between likes, the goal is to find a solution that both like. This is referred to as a third option. The strategy in achieving the goal of a third option begins with believing a third option exists. Each must believe there is a third option that causes them to declare, “That works for me!” They are unlikely to see this third option at the beginning but must have the conviction it will come to light. 

The Math Doesn’t Make Sense!

As for finding the third option that both like, this requires that both get something significant of what they like but not everything they originally wanted. In essence, they are getting 75 percent of what they liked, not the 100 percent they originally had their mind set on. At the outset that might cause one to think they will not be happy with what they get, but the third option does provide what they like as well as what their spouse likes, which makes for relational happiness. 

Hence there are times when the third option at 75 percent is better than the 100 percent option they began with. 

But how can a third option that gives me 75 percent of what I wanted actually be better than if I got 100 percent of what I wanted solely for myself?

In the HGTV show Designing for the Sexes, with Michael Payne, he told of the wife who wanted all traditional and the husband liked all contemporary. “So what I did with a couple of their rooms was: In one, while keeping in mind what I heard from her about what she liked, I would create a traditional interior that was mostly for her. Then, within that same room, I’d take a piece of contemporary furniture, place it in a very obvious space and spotlight it, making it the focal point of what was mostly a very traditional room. This furniture piece could be anything: a dresser, an armoire… you name it and it would work. Because I placed so much focus on the contemporary, it made the traditional look even more traditional, and the contemporary piece look even more contemporary.” 

Wow! The third option became more meaningful and likable because it accented the value even more. The 75 percent became more than 100 percent! Go figure! This is brilliant. This serves as a great illustration that every husband and wife can find a third option they like more than their original proposal, though technically they receive less. A third option can cause both to declare, “That really, really works for me!”

Ultimately, the marriage is not a happy relationship if one spouse gets 100 percent of what they like, and the other gets 0 percent. The idea behind the third option is that both get 75 percent of what they like, which totals 150 percent toward a healthy joint decision. This 150 percent is obviously a figure of speech. It is non-literal, to create a vivid effect. The higher the total, the greater the long-term happiness in the relationship of husband and wife. The more often both can say, “That works for me,” the better the marriage will be. 

The good news is that people of goodwill know that decisions made between a husband and wife should never be 100 percent of one spouse’s preference and 0 percent of the other’s. They teach this basic principle to their kids squabbling over who gets the last piece of cake. They tell Johnny to divide the last piece and then Davey chooses. Fairness honors both and both are happy. After all, they need to do other things like go outside and play. If Johnny got 100 percent of the cake, Davey is not going to want to play. All immediate decisions have larger implications for the relationship.

In marriage, God intends for the two to become one, which means they must seek the third option that is fair and honors both, achieving oneness and happiness even though neither is getting all of the cake they originally thought they wanted.

Questions to Consider

  1. In the past, how have you and your spouse traditionally made the decisions that had to be made when the two of you had differing opinions on which way to go? Have both been happy with this method?
  2. Why is it helpful at the beginning for each to share their specific likes and dislikes on a matter before continuing on to find that third option?
  3. Emerson wrote, “There are times when the third option at 75 percent is better than the 100 percent option they began with.” Do you agree? Have you noticed this before in a previous decision made between you and your spouse? When?
  4. Why would the marriage not be a happy relationship if one spouse got 100 percent of what they wanted and the other got 0 percent?