T he perfect decision is one that works for both spouses.

When a person lives by herself, she gets to decide everything. It’s up to her whether she stays up past midnight, buys ten pairs of shoes, leaves her dishes in the sink, or makes any other lifestyle choice. Her choices are just between her and Hashem. But when she’s living with a spouse, her freedom to decide is compromised.

“My husband has all these ‘rules’ he imposes: There must be two clean towels hanging on the shower rack all the time, dishes can’t be left in the drainer, nothing should be left on the kitchen counter, and on and on. He cites all this as if it were in the Torah. I have my own ways of doing things. I really don’t feel I have to become a whole different person just because I married him.”

She’s right, of course. But if she doesn’t change, then he’ll have to — either the counters will be clear, or they won’t. So how does a couple decide who will have to give up and give in?

Controlling

“Shani is a control freak. She issues all the commands: The baby has to have his nap at precisely 12:30 p.m., in his crib, not in the car or in my parents’ spare bedroom — making it impossible for us to have Shabbos guests or visit anyone.

“I’m not allowed to give my other kids treats because they’ll get cavities. I can’t play ball with my son because ‘People don’t do that’ and on and on. And if I don’t obey her — I pay for it big time. It’s easier to keep quiet and go along with it, but I’m filled with resentment.”

Shani has good reasons for all of her parenting decisions. But she’s operating as if she were a single parent. As far as she’s concerned, her husband’s wishes are irrelevant. As she puts it, “He’s just a big kid. He doesn’t apply any limits to himself and I don’t want him messing up my children.”

While her feelings are understandable (mothers tend to be very protective of their children’s well-being), she’s missing one important point: These children aren’t only hers, and her husband’s as much a parent as she is. Just because she prefers her own way of doing things does not mean that she can act unilaterally — at least, not without causing severe harm to her marriage.

Self-Centered

“My husband just told me that he’s accepted a new position at work that involves a lot of travel. I wasn’t surprised that he would do something like that without discussing it with me first because this is how he’s always behaved. He doesn’t care how anything affects me — in fact, he never even considers it. He acts like he lives alone instead of with a wife and children.

I’ve learned that there’s no point in confronting him because he just says things like ‘I make the money and I have to do it the best way for me.’ Then he’ll point out how controlling I am because I need him to do everything my way — referring to how I want to discuss things that affect me. His behavior puts a thick wall between us. ”

Deciding Together

Marriage requires a merging of methods and hearts. Individuals have to move out of their own ways of doing things to meet their partners halfway. When a decision impacts both spouses, there needs to be a discussion between them. That discussion should not focus on who is “right,” as in, “I believe that dinner needs to have three courses or it’s not dinner,” and, “Yeah, well, I believe that cereal can and should be dinner when the mother is tired — let’s go for counseling to see who is ‘right.’ Rather, it should focus on how to fulfill each other’s needs and wishes: “I know you aren’t always up to making a three-course meal and you know how important that is to me. How can we solve this so that both of us feel happy and comfortable?”

The willingness to listen, care, and compromise leads to decisions that are not always a perfect fit for either of the individuals but that are a perfect fit for their marriage. When the marriage thrives, so do the husband and the wife. The best thing for me turns out to be we. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 566)