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When Two Goodwilled People Disagree in the Gray Areas of Life - Part 3

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In parts 1 and 2, we discussed the first two ways to keep gray-area disagreements from escalating to knock-down, drag-out fights, where the issue is no longer the issue.

  1. Make sure you acknowledge the ton of good things going on in the disagreement.
  2. Don’t claim to be 100 percent the victim.

Last but not least, I cannot overemphasize enough the positives that can result from any gray-area disagreement when one or both spouses focus on looking for the common ground in the disagreement.

For example, I have received many emails just like the one below. How might this disagreement turn out better if they were to begin by looking for the common ground?

My husband and I disagree intensely on the church we go to. Our whole family dislikes it and feels like it is so dead and legalistic and performance-oriented and not much grace there. My husband is the only one who likes it there. We have eight children, all thirteen to twenty-three years old. Four still live at home, while the four that left have stated that they will never return to that church. One of them said that she will never return to church at all. I have pushed and pushed to leave and tried to force my husband’s hand. He believes we have to stay and change the church, and has told us that the only reason we want to leave is we are selfish and don’t want to be servants. We have been there for fifteen years and I feel like enough is enough.” 

How might this wife better approach this disagreement? Before letting her frustration result in a primal scream (a release of intense frustration and anger as an act of aggression), she needs to affirm all that she can and hone in on the common ground. A husband like this needs to feel honored for his faith and faithfulness. If she denounces him as an unloving Pharisee who is really against the family and Christ Himself, he will either dig in deeper against her mortar fire or comply with bitterness. 

What does common ground look like in this instance? 

  1. This husband is church-focused, as is this wife and most of the children. 
  2. This husband likes church, as does this wife and most of the children. 
  3. He has a mission to change the church for the better, which we can assume the family also values, though not their mission per se.
  4. He wants to be a servant in this church, which the family knows Christ calls them to be as well. 

These common elements need to be front and center when disagreeing about changing churches. She needs to tell him that as a family, they are aligned with him. This lets him know the family is not against him, especially when he prizes these features and will defend them as biblical. 

Too, consider what I refer to as the four s’s: sustenance, security, satisfaction, and significance. He has a purpose in the church that brings him meaning, worth, and influence. Clearly, this last value of significance drives his involvement at the church, along with satisfaction. He derives satisfaction from the significant role he sees himself fulfilling there. 

Yes, he should have the same consideration for the family, but the best way to engage him on this is by acknowledging his values rather than telling him he is the cause of one child leaving all church life. She could very well be using her dad as a scapegoat to excuse her carnal interests in worldly activities. She blames dad and mom believes her.

In her discussion with her husband, she should honor the motive of all involved. She can say to her husband, “You are a noble and honorable man seeking to serve people who have issues in this church. It would break my heart for you to think I am trying to attack that and take that from you. I am not trying to halt your service by offering the idea of attending a different church. So, help me here. I am seeking your counsel on expanding your service to us as a family without appearing selfish to you. We need your honorable service as well. We need your ministry to us. Most of the love toward Christ in this family is due to your influence, but they are requesting you lead them differently now. You have created an appetite for Christ in them, and they need something different and more. They are now saying, ‘Dad, we need a new environment to be challenged in the faith you have ignited in us. Yes, we can serve at our church, and you are godly and wise for promoting this, but we need to be built up by attending a church and youth group that helps us take the next steps in our faith journey. How do we appeal to you helping us without us appearing ungrateful for all you have done?’” 

She needs to give him time to process this new message. Don’t assume the initial denials, if there are some, will continue. Don’t interpret an initial negative reaction as proof he will forever resist. Give it a little time. I have seen people change their tune in response to this kind of message. 

Also, inching forward on making a change may require the “add-on” approach, not the “subtract” approach. By that, I mean, do not put the husband in a position to feel he is losing everything he has invested in over the years by suddenly taking it from him. Another way of saying it is: propose a “both-and,” not an “either-or” solution. Propose attendance at two churches, not just one. Though this adds time in that the family needs to attend two churches, or some kind of arrangement entailing the two churches, there is no subtraction from what he likes but it opens the door to visiting other churches to allow the kids to be invigorated in the faith that he ignited in them. Explore and experiment with the add-on idea. Nothing needs to be in concrete, but test the waters.

How sad that when disagreeing, some default to pointing out all the bad or wrong things in the other’s position instead of honing in on the common ground and then proposing ways to build something new on that common ground that results in everyone saying, “That works for me.”

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

Questions to Consider

1. Think of a recent argument you and your spouse had. What was the common ground you shared? Was that acknowledged? If so, how did that help? If not, how would doing so have helped you find agreement?

2. What might have been a “both-and” solution to this disagreement? Did you settle instead of an “either-or” solution?

3. Emerson says that the common elements in a disagreement should be made front and center. Why is this? What happens when two people focus only on where they are at odds and pays no attention to their common ground?

4. Consider all three suggestions for navigating through the gray-area disagreements in this series:

  • Make sure you acknowledge the ton of good things going on in the disagreement.
  • Don’t claim to be 100 percent the victim.
  • Look for the common ground in the disagreement.

Which one do you believe will make the most impact for you, if you were to begin regularly practicing it today?