The Art of Compromise

Hint: It’s not giving up or giving in.

Before John and Margaret Bell were married, we walked them through 10 dates to help them prepare for marriage. One week they pulled into our driveway, but didn't get out of the car. About 30 minutes later they knocked on the door. They had been discussing a marriage topic we'd given them to discuss, but it had turned into a heated argument. They strongly disagreed.

They needed to learn the art of compromise. While they didn't enjoy it as a pleasant experience, by talking it through and adjusting their expectations, John and Margaret were able to reach a mutual solution.

Every marriage involves give and take, and in order for a marriage to grow, both spouses must practice the art of compromise. For couples in ministry, it's especially vital to work out these issues together. It's so easy to get used to seeing things through a ministry filter that you begin to ignore each other's personal needs. Putting God first may be misinterpreted as putting your marriage and family second, third or at the end of the list after the Monday night finance committee meetings.

We asked couples in ministry about which issues they have had to come to a compromise. Here's what two told us:

Soccer dad needed

"I really think you should spend more time with Kelly," Liz told her husband, Paul, pastor of a 500-member church. "Kelly needs her father to be more involved in her life, and this is a great opportunity — to coach her soccer team."

Paul played soccer in college and loves the sport, but coaching Kelly's team would require him to miss several regularly scheduled committee meetings at the church. "I'm not sure the church leadership would understand if I didn't show up for those meetings," Paul replied.

"But if you weren't the pastor of the church, you would do it in a minute," Kelly said. "Why should I be penalized just because you're the pastor?"

The compromise? Paul agreed to coach Kelly's team, but recruited an assistant coach who could relieve him when he absolutely needed to be at the church. And Liz agreed to sit in for him one meeting a week.

The neglected spouse

"I want to be the supportive wife, and often I say nothing," Wanda explained, "but last week I told my husband, 'I need some attention … now! I need to spend some time with you, but when you finally come home, you walk in the door and head straight for the TV remote and your recliner. I feel like I'm invisible. You know, there's little demand for divorced pastors.' "

"When I walk in the door at night, I'm exhausted. I've been with people all day," Sean said. "All I want is a few minutes to de-stress. I'm the only full-time staff member at our church, and I'm supposed to be all things to all people. But I love my wife, and, to be honest, the "D" word got my attention."

While a neglected spouse may appear supportive, hidden issues are often just below the surface. Wanda felt Sean cared more about the church than he did about her. Sean felt that Wanda was not as supportive as she could be and that she wanted to control his involvement with the church. Together they looked at ways they could reconnect.

The compromise? Sean agreed to cut back on weeknight church functions and began to mobilize lay volunteers to help with some of the overload. "I had to take a hard look at my own expectations. Serving Christ should not mean neglecting Wanda," he said. Wanda suggested they take an extended lunch break once a week and meet at home. During this time they wouldn't answer the phone or check e-mail. And they planned regular dates. "When I know I am going to have Sean's full attention on Friday night, I'm more patient when our weekly schedule is interrupted by a crisis at the church," Wanda said.

One can't go without the other

Hilton and Jane Davis wed 35 years ago, but it was several years into their marriage when Hilton became a Christian and was called into the ministry. Jane supported him through seminary and always felt that they were a team in ministry.

"I believe that God calls both of us," Hilton says. "So when a church I really liked contacted us, I expected God to 'lean on' Jane, but she didn't get the vision. I kept waiting for her to compromise. She didn't. Over the years we've learned to trust each other's heart, and I know if she isn't called, too, it's not going to work. I reluctantly declined."

"Then we received the call to the church where we are presently serving," Jane says. "This time our hearts were in sync and we accepted the call. Since moving to Florida we have compromised in other areas. I didn't plan to work, but for us to survive financially I really need to work part time."


Sometimes one spouse compromises more than the other, which isn't beneficial. Instead, compromise is best achieved by taking turns asking questions, answering truthfully and listening attentively to each other.

Marital researches report that 80 percent of the things we argue about don't really need a solution: We just need to be able to talk about them.

When you simply can't find a compromise, give a gift of love with an attitude that says, "This is more important to you than it is to me. This time let's do it your way." This is a valid way to resolve an issue unless one is doing all the giving. Another approach is to agree to disagree; marital researchers report that 80 percent of the things we argue about don't really need a solution: We just need to be able to talk about them. Seek to truly understand the other's perspective and feelings — even when you disagree.

Compromising will help you work together as a team and develop "we-ness" in your relationship. And as you collaborate, you'll discover that giving a little isn't giving up or giving in.

Article copyright © 2003, David and Claudia Arp.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Use by permission.

David and Claudia Arp served with Campus Crusade for Christ for several years in Europe. They are founders of the Marriage Alive Seminar and the 10 Great Dates program. For more information visit