My wife and I can usually come to agreement on our major decisions but, occasionally, we simply don’t agree. How can we resolve disputes while being respectful and loving toward one another?

The easy answer — the one the world at large prefers — is that the two of you ought to just keep discussing until you come to a mutually agreeable resolution. The trouble is, the experienced, battle-tested married folk among us know that this just isn’t always realistic. Sometimes, after prayer, discussion, more prayer, listening and still more prayer, we just don’t agree on the right move for our family. And yet, circumstances demand that a decision cannot be put off any longer. What then?

Caroline: We certainly don’t want to sell short the process of prayer and discussion. If either one of us enters into a conversation about our upcoming decision with the mindset of a trial attorney looking for a victory, of course we’ll never come to an agreement. Our hearts must be oriented toward resolution. This means really listening to and valuing each other’s point of view. If we combine that with prayer, in which we ask the Lord to conform our wills to his for our families, chances are pretty good that he will lead us to mutual understanding.

Tom: Caroline and I have always tried to use the above technique. In our nearly 15 years of marriage, I can count on one hand the number of major decisions we have faced that we never came to agreement on. In fact, I’d still have a couple of fingers left over.

Caroline: And yet, even though they may be rare, those times still require a decision. We can turn to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit communicated through St. Paul in Ephesians 5: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Note that both husband and wife are called to yield to the other out of love for the Lord. They live out this yielding in two different ways. Especially to wives: “Be subject to your husbands as to the Lord.” When deadlocked, it may be time for a wife to defer to her husband. It’s not that she isn’t an equal partner; rather, she acknowledges that God has given him a role of leadership in the family. Every corporation needs a CEO. The husband is like that CEO for the family.

Tom: For husbands, St. Paul continues: “Love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” The family CEO would be crazy not to listen to the advice of his senior partner. Husbands are called to make great sacrifices for the family. So while a wife bears the cross of submission, a husband bears a cross of leadership, often dying to his own wishes.

When we were looking to buy our first home, we wasted countless hours and days trying to convince each other to like this or that house. It never worked. Finally, I happened upon a house that provoked this thought: “I bet Caroline would love this house.” My suspicions were right on the mark. I took the lead in the decision, but made Caroline’s happiness my top priority. We spent seven memorable, happy years in that house.

The McDonalds are family-life

coordinators for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.