By David and Constantino Khalaf
Several years ago, when we first started dating, Constantino had to buy a car. David, who is always more practical, advised him to buy a reliable used Honda. But Constantino, who had recently moved to Los Angeles from New York City and hadn’t owned a car in more than a decade, wanted something more exciting. He also didn’t want to spend a lot of time shopping around. He test-drove a VW and decided to buy it on the spot. David strongly advised him against it, but Constantino didn’t listen. Sure enough, within a week, the car broke down, requiring the first of many expensive repairs.
What do we do when we can’t stop our from partners from making a decision we’re certain is bad? Should we dig in our heels and oppose them every step of the way? Or should we voice our concerns, then hold our peace and support them no matter the outcome? It’s a matter of whether you want to be right, or whether you want to be successful in your relationship.
To be clear, we’re not talking about enabling destructive behavior or relinquishing your stake on decisions that will severely impact your marriage and future together. But when it comes to the myriad small decisions in life, we’ve found that sticking by your partner and supporting their choices is more important than keeping them from making mistakes.
Supporting each other even when you disagree is an important part of marital friendship. So is extending grace to your spouse by refraining from speaking the dreaded “I told you so” when their ill-advised plans go exactly the way you warned they would.
Marital friendship is important because, as Dr. John Gottman’s research has proven, it is what makes marriages last and what staves off divorce. Deep, intentional friendship is the very foundation of Dr. Gottman’s theory of a Sound Relationship House. As he explains in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:
“Bolstering your friendship is so critical in large part because it fuels the romance, passion, and great sex that we all hope marriage will provide….The strength of a couple’s friendship not only stokes the fire but also foretells the relationship’s future because it is the fundamental ingredient of positive sentiment override.”
Positive sentiment override occurs when the positive thoughts you have about your spouse and your marriage are so predominant that they make any negative thoughts seem insignificant. It’s hard to have positive thoughts about someone who is constantly pointing out your mistakes or who always says that they know better than you. If we’re always opposing our partners, then our dynamic naturally becomes adversarial.
Even when you disagree, rallying behind your spouse’s decision and facing the consequences together makes you a stronger team. Taking your partner’s side in solidarity, even when you think their perspective is wrong, communicates that you respect them and that you’re willing to accept their influence. Most importantly, it reminds your spouse that you are taking on life together, no matter what the future may hold.
When Constantino’s VW became a money pit, David refrained from reminding him of his advice to buy a reliable car. Instead, David patiently drove him to and from the repair shop. All these years later, Constantino remembers the car fiasco with gratitude for David rather than with bitterness over their disagreement. David was, first and foremost, a good and loving friend.
The next time your spouse is about to make a mistake, express your reservations with love. If they choose not to listen, stand by them and quietly help them out of the predicament. Proving that you’re right doesn’t make your marriage stronger, but being supportive does.
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David and Constantino Khalaf started their blog, Modern Kinship, to share their journey as a Christian same-sex couple and encourage others who feel called to marriage. Their faith brought them together and remains the cornerstone of their marriage. Constantino works for a non-profit dedicated to building bridges between the Church and the LGBTQ community; David is a fiction writer specializing in adventure and fantasy stories. They live in Portland, OR, where they spend most of their time drinking coffee, attempting to eat healthy, and occasionally sipping whisky.
Originally published at www.gottman.com. Want to improve your marriage in 60 seconds or less? Over 40 years of research with thousands of couples has proven a simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time. Got a minute? Sign up for The Marriage Minute here.