When Baha’i institutions ask me to give a workshop about marriage or couples come for support… can you guess the MOST requested topic?
You guessed it: consultation.
Not that long ago, I wrote about why consultation is so important in marriage and gave 10 ideas for consulting effectively which offered some big-picture practices and principles. For this article, I want to break consultation, which is a lofty and spiritual practice, into a simple, real-world guide – something that feels attainable enough and practical enough that you may want to stick on the fridge and refer to when you need to make a decision together or sort out a challenging problem. While my suggestions are geared towards married couples, they can apply to a variety of settings and scenarios.
And I’ll be honest with you — I personally throw the word ‘consult’ around way more than I actually put it into practice. I mean, how often do we say, ‘I need to consult with my spouse about that’ and then simply state, ‘honey, we’re doing to the Smith’s house on Sunday for dinner, okay?’. I suppose it makes me feel a bit like a better Baha’i just by using that word!
But, kidding aside… consultation can be a HUGE source of help in your marriage. It just needs to be a little more intentional than having a quick chat (if you want the promised results). Baha’u’llah tells us:
…consultation is the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way, and is the bestower of understanding.1
So my goal of this article is to help you feel more confident (and even excited) to use consultation a bit more in your Divine Institution that is your marriage. Of course, this is just one of many ways to conduct Baha’i consultation but, disclaimer aside, I think it’s a pretty effective one.
If you’d like a much deeper look at Baha’i consultation, I highly recommend the book Consultation by John E. Kolstoe. Don’t be deceived by the simple cover, it packs a punch inside.
Alright, let’s get to the 8 simple steps to effective consultation in your marriage:
- Set the scene. Give yourself the gift of time, privacy and undivided attention because you’ll get the best results in the quickest amount of time with less fighting. Set a timer for 30 mins, turn the phone off and shut the door!
- Start with a warm-up. If you’re consulting about something sensitive, it’s so helpful to begin with a reminder that you are friends and helpmates before you dive into the finer details. This could be an appreciation, a virtues acknowledgement or simply re-living a fond memory together. Anything that will give you that BIG picture perspective will do! Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
The first condition is absolute love and harmony…2
- Ask for help: a single prayer, a song or even a Tablet of Ahmad if you’re really needing some assistance! Not only will you have help rushing to your sides but you’ll also have another few moments of reflection to get you in the consulting mood. It’s much easier to remain calm when you imagine all those souls from the ‘Realm of Glory’ assisting you.
The second condition: They must when coming together turn their faces to the Kingdom on High and ask aid from the Realm of Glory.3
- Agree on ONE clear purpose. What is the problem you are trying to solve? What would be a fantastic outcome for your consultation? Stick to it and try not to be lured by tantalizing detours. Grab a big black sharpie and a piece of paper and write it down- this is your ultimate goal.
It should be borne in mind that all consultation is aimed at arriving at a solution to a problem…4
- Gather the facts. Facts are indisputable. For example: the school is 5 blocks away, the in-laws drop by every day, you spend $50 a week on coffee, you haven’t had sex in 7 months.
This might take some investigation and time. But try to do this step before moving on- otherwise you will get caught up in ‘he said/she said’.
They must in every matter search out the truth…5
- Take turns talking. Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views.6
Talkers: limit your sharing to one idea and pause to let the listener make sure they understand you, speak with courtesy and moderation and share your truth while remembering it’s not THE truth.
Listeners: make sure you understand your partner by repeating back what you heard and asking, ‘Did I get it right?’ This will feel weird and robot-like at first but will be very helpful, I promise.
- Look out for these consultation-stoppers: defensiveness, criticism, flooding (feeling so angry you can’t problem solve) and mind-reading. What to do instead? Great question!
- Defensiveness: Instead remind yourself that you do not have to agree with what your spouse is sharing. It doesn’t even need to make sense to you. Their experience is not THE truth, it’s just their truth. It doesn’t mean anything about you.
- Criticism: Instead ask yourself, ‘Do I have a request to make?’
- Flooding: Instead take a break. At least 30 mins. Once you are in a flooding state, all creative problem solving has shut down and you are in flight, fight or flee mode. Take a walk, watch some TV or yell into a pillow.
- Mind-Reading: Instead focus on listening with curiosity. Listen like it’s the first time you’ve heard it- even if you’ve been married for 30 years. You’ll probably be very surprised to know what they REALLY think.
- Arrive at a decision and plan for action. This is the most important step. The goal is an outcome which both of you feel 100% happy with, even if that means one of you will defer to the other.
There are, therefore, times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other.7
Write down who is responsible for what and be as detailed as possible: mark ‘to-dos’ on the calendar or set reminders on your phone.
And for an extra bonus: schedule a follow-up. So you can reflect to see if the plan is working and what to adjust. This will help with accountability too.
And now let’s not only celebrate that you clicked on an article about consultation but that you made it to the end!!! Extra points if you print it out (or at least write down the 8 steps) and put it somewhere that you have the most discussions.
- Compilation by the Research Department of the Baha’i World Centre, Peace, p. 5 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87 [↩]
- Ibid. p. 88 [↩]
- The Universal House of Justice, To the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada, 19 March 1973 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 88 [↩]
- Ibid., p. 88 [↩]
- The Universal House of Justice quoted in Lights of Guidance, #751 [↩]