When my wife Ashley and I got engaged fifteen years ago, people started giving us all sorts of marriage advice. We really appreciated all the insights, and much of it has helped us greatly in our own marriage and in our work helping other couples. One bit of marriage advice we heard over and over was the common saying, “In marriage, you have to meet in the middle.”
Compromise and communication are clearly hallmarks of a healthy marriage, but the longer I’m married, the more I’m convinced that “meeting in the middle” is actually really bad marriage advice. Let me explain why…
When we “meet the middle,” it means both spouses are giving up something, so it becomes a scenario where neither spouse “wins” but both spouses lose on some level. You might think that’s simply the nature of any kind of compromise, but let me propose a radical shift in your thinking about how to approach differences of opinion in marriage. This simple shift could make a massive and instant improvement in your marriage. Seriously.
Option 1: No Compromise
This is obviously the least healthy option. It’s where both spouse’s dig in their heels and refuse to budge. They’d rather be “right” than be loving. They view marriage as a power struggle instead of a relationship of mutual love, respect and service to one another. They never place their spouse’s needs ahead of their own. Couples who approach disagreements with this mindset usually divorce eventually.
Option 2: “Meet in the Middle”
The “Meet in the Middle” option is clearly better than not compromising at all, because both spouse’s are making some effort, but the end result is usually not very attractive. If one of you wants a hot drink and one of you wants a cold drink, “meeting in the middle” would mean sharing a lukewarm drink (which is pretty nasty and not on Starbucks menu anywhere). There’s a better option.
Option 3: The “Higher Standard” model
Give this a try! This is the key to finding the best possible outcome where BOTH spouses win. In every disagreement in your marriage, default to the preference of the spouse who has the higher standard. Even though one spouse will be “giving” more in terms of preference, BOTH spouse’s will ultimately win. Here’s how…
Say one spouse likes a very clean house and the other spouse doesn’t care much about cleanliness or organization, instead of meeting in the middle with a “moderately clean” house, default to the higher standard and the messier spouse says, “Cleanliness is important to you, so I’m going to make it a priority as well.” You both win with a clean house.
Say one spouse wants to have sex once per week and the other wants to have sex three times per week. By defaulting to the “higher standard,” one spouse will be stretched bit more out of his or her initial comfort zone, but the habit of the higher standard will eventually produce more pleasure, connection and satisfaction for both spouse’s in the bedroom.
Say one spouse wants to save one hundred dollars (or less) per month and the other wants to save five hundred dollars per month. By making cutbacks in the family budget and defaulting to the higher standard, BOTH spouses will win with the freedom greater savings can bring.
There are countless examples, but you get the idea. There will sometimes be scenarios where “meeting in the middle” may be the only way to bring resolution, but as a whole, if you will resolve together to live out a “higher standard” marriage, you’ll achieve much more than you ever could by meeting in the middle!
Don't give up on your marriage. It is worth the effort and investment. If you feel like your marriage is struggling, or even failing, there is hope. There is healing.