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Almost exactly five years ago, my husband and I were asked to create a workshop about consultation in marriage.
Sounds pretty easy, right?
We fought so much while trying to create the workshop that eventually I just took over and he did another topic (oh, the irony!).
And while we’ve since worked really hard to improve this aspect of our relationship, it still remains hard! Which is why I love this validation from the Universal House of Justice:
Consultation is no easy skill to learn, requiring as it does the subjugation of all egotism and unruly passions, the cultivation of frankness and freedom of thought as well as courtesy, openness of mind, and wholehearted acquiescence in a majority decision. 1
So, here’s the deal: Baha’i consultation is a lofty, LOFTY goal. Not to mention there isn’t even a majority vote in marriage AND our spouses have the amazing ability to “help us grow” (aka push all our buttons).
But we have to start somewhere.
So let’s begin with answering these two basic questions about why we consult and how to consult effectively in marriage:
1. “Why would I use consultation in my marriage?”
- To solve a problem together (for example: which school to send your children to)
- To plan a course of action (for example: meeting your neighbors and inviting them to a devotional gathering)
- To solve a re-occurring issue (for example: arguing about in-laws, money, sex, housework)
2. “What can I do to ensure the consultation remains calm and effective?”
Learn, meditate on, question, share, and, most importantly, implement these 10 simple guidelines:
1. Your partner’s opinions, feelings and ideas are valid and necessary.
Even if they don’t make sense to you. AND your truth is important to share, even if it feels scary to be vulnerable and you worry it might hurt your spouse’s feelings or make them angry.
The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. 2
2. Once you offer an idea, it’s no longer yours.
It gets thrown into the soup pot to be mixed with other ingredients for a delicious outcome! Oh ya… the pain of detaching from our opinions- ouch!
He who expresses an opinion should not voice it as correct and right but set it forth as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide. 3
3. Keep an open mind to the end result.
Your needs can be met in many creative ways.
In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. 4
4. Agree on ONE clear purpose.
Before you even start the consultation, agree on ONE clear purpose. Refer back to the “Why would I use consultation in my marriage?” above for some ideas. This helps you stay on the path and not get sidetracked by other issues that inevitably pop up. It also helps you re-focus when things get a bit heated.
It should be borne in mind that all consultation is aimed at arriving at a solution to a problem… 5
5.Remember the BIG picture.
You are a creature of God. He is here to help you. He gave you a partner as a helpmate, a loving companion, and an intimate friend. Maintaining unity is the highest goal, not proving yourself right or “winning” (which, I agree, is very tempting).
If they agree upon a subject, even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right… 6
6. See God in your spouse.
Look for those qualities that attracted you to them. Smile. In the midst of the “clash of differing opinions” you can still have joy and love.
Every one of the friends should highly praise the other and each should regard himself as evanescent and as naught in the presence of others. 7
7. When things get too tense, take a break.
Try adding a little humor to the mix: stick out your tongue, make a funny face… crack a silly joke. Ask for a hug. Step out of it for a minute and say “hi” to the person you love. Or stop the consultation for a little bit, taking a physical break to calm your heartrate.
When you notice that a stage has been reached when enmity and threats are about to occur, you should immediately postpone discussion of the subject, until wranglings, disputations, and loud talk vanish, and a propitious time is at hand. 8
8. Ask for help.
Ask for help from God, or Baha’u’llah, or Abdu’l-Baha, or Shoghi Effendi, or any other soul in the next world! Overcoming our egos is hard work. We need all the help we can get. Prayers can be very simple: “O God, help us, we’re doing our best but this is tough.”
They should then rely upon the one true God… for divine confirmations will undoubtedly assist. 7
9. Speak with courtesy and moderation.
I know, this can be very difficult when you are experiencing strong emotion. But, your spouse can hear you way better if you are doing your best to be calm, gentle and loving while still speaking your truth.
If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and good-will. 9
10. Listen to discover.
Listen to discover not to judge or mind-read or think of what you’ll say when they finally stop talking!
…we must be willing to clear away all that we have previously learned, all that would clog our steps on the way to truth… 10
And here’s me being real with you: my husband and I DO NOT follow all these guidelines, perfectly, every time.
And do we sometimes lose control of our egos and have a yelling match? Sure! Happy couples fight sometimes- that’s the reality. Everyone gets too overwhelmed, tired, hungry (that’s me) to reel themselves in at some point. The trick is to make a repair as quickly as possible.
There are million unique ways for each couple to approach consultation so just ask yourself, “What’s the next step we need to take?”, and take that step.
And be assured of a great reward:
The light of truth shineth from the faces of those who engage in consultation. Such consultation causeth the living waters to flow in the meadows of man’s reality, the rays of ancient glory to shine upon him, and the tree of his being to be adorned with wondrous fruit. 8
- The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 97
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 320
- Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 73
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 136
- The Universal House of Justice, To the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada, 19 March 1973
- Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 411
- Abdu’l-Baha, from a Tablet, translated from the Persian
- Abdu’l-Baha, From a Tablet, translated from the Persian
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 346
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 137
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