How to Live Happily with Someone who is Cautious

How to Live Happily with Someone who is Cautious

Having been married for 40 years to someone who is extremely cautious, I can share with you some things that I have learned.  I’m still learning… because I am wired just the opposite of my wife when it comes to being cautious.  My number two and three strengths are Risk Taking and Quick-to-Act!  That has made some interesting dynamics.  I’m sure that my wife can share with you the challenges of living with someone who easily takes risk at the drop of the hat.  But that will have to wait for another day.

I find it fascinating that we tend to marry a spouse that have the opposite strengths of ourselves.  In conducting relational intelligence workshops for thousands of people, I can tell you that more than ninety percent of people marry spouses that have strengths that are the opposite of themselves.  Those who are reserved marry those who are sociable.  Those who are methodical marry those who are quick-to-act.  It is almost like we intuitively attracted to a spouse that has strengths we don’t possess.  Perhaps this explains the reasons God gave Adam and helpmate in Eve.  We don’t possess all strengths ourselves and we benefit from the strengths of others not like us.  But it can be challenging to live with someone with strengths that are not natural to ourselves or consciously valued.  (Don’t worry if your spouse is not different than you.  It is ok.  But you will have other issues as you may lack strengths that would give you more balance).

The most hated task for my wife is going shopping for an automobile.  I look forward to the challenge of getting the best deal on the best car available.  Plus, I enjoy driving all the new cars!  My wife would rather go to the dentist and have all her teeth pulled!  She hates the entire process – the feeling you out part, the back and forth of negotiating the price, the pressure to decide “today” before the price goes up or the model you like is gone, etc.  Her hatred of this periodic event is linked to her strength of being cautious.

Those who are cautious like to slow decision making down.  They want to be careful not to make a mistake or a decision that will wrong.  They want to wait until they are sure they have all the right information.  Cautious people want to think about things and wait for different scenarios to play out before taking action.  They are extremely patient about moving ahead.  All this can be very frustrating to someone who is quick-to-act.  It can appear to be a powerplay at blocking any decision.  For me it feels like my wife is standing in the way of me winning the prize.  The prize is right there, and she won’t let me grasp it.  It can be tortuous.

I love my wife and I am pretty sure she isn’t trying to drive me crazy.  She simply wants to minimize risks and steer clear of making mistakes.  She is able to spot potential problems a mile away.  She examines every detail and points them out to me.  Sometimes I feel like she is naysayer, but that is not her motivation.  She wants to make sure that we don’t create any unnecessary problems.  Sometimes I find it hard not to go there – attach a negative motivation to her behavior.

I’ve learned to appreciate her cautionary approach.  Recently we had the opportunity to attend a timeshare vacation for 4 days if we were to attend a two-hour sales pitch.  Additionally, we were offered three hundred dollars on a credit card for the coming.  My wife gave me a hard time about accepting the invitation.  She tried with all her effort to stop me – and failed.  After 30 minutes of arm twisting by the salesperson and me twisting of my wife’s arm, she finally agreed.  Note that she signed the agreement under duress.    For my wife, there is only one thing worse than shopping for an automobile and that is going to a timeshare presentation!

We had a great time over the 4 days enjoying the resort, but we had to sit through the high pressure attempt at selling us a timeshare that wasn’t a “timeshare”.  We had rehearsed saying “no” before going to the meeting.  But when we sat through the presentation, it made sense to me and I wanted to consider the offer.  They continued to sweeten the deal as my wife dug in her heels and pointed out all the problems with the deal.  Finally, they offered us a taste and see package that wasn’t too expensive and didn’t require a long-term commitment.  Even that deal was objected to, but we signed.  It was a quiet ride home.  It was clear that I devalued her cautious strength in this situation, and it resulted in conflict for us.  The worst part of the deal was that at each place we used our vacation package we had to endure another sales pitch and say no.

After we had signed the deal we came home and did an investigation into the company that sold us the “vacation package of a lifetime” and discovered that it had a 1 star rating out of 5.  My wife’s cautious approach could have saved us some aggravation we later endured.  As a person who is quick-to-act, this is hard to admit.  At the same time, I could share with you sometimes that we missed out on some great opportunities because we were cautious.

Sometimes being cautious can seep into suspicion.  One can run the risk of amping up skepticism before one really should.  When my wife is acting cautious, I know she does it because she is trying to help us avoid costly mistakes.  This is good and I am learning to appreciate her motivation.  I have also learned to give her more time to “check the wheels” to assure that they eventually turn smoothly.  For us, I know that quick decisions almost always violate her desire to be cautious.  For this reason, I try to avoid decisions that require immediate responses.  The best scenarios for us to get on the same page is for her to have time in advance to consider the decision that needs to be made.

If you are a cautious person you may be tempted to be too cautious which could turn into suspicious.  Here is how Corestrengths defines the overdone strength of Cautious which is Suspicious, “Being so cautious that you start off with doubt, mistrust, and skepticism.  When you believe there is more to the story than meets the eye, you look beneath the surface to expose hidden agendas. You know that people can be manipulative; you just can’t be too careful when they are not being open and honest.  Better safe than sorry. You may avoid people or situations when you believe there is potential risk or danger. You warn other people about what could go wrong. While your intent is positive, people may find that these warnings take the joy from otherwise pleasant experiences. They could see you as afraid, overprotective, or suspicious.”  Because I am quick-to-act and don’t like missing out on wins that need quick action, cautious behavior looks like suspicious and fear to me.  I can easily dismiss this kind of behavior because of my perspective.

For those of you who are married to someone with a strong cautious strength, I offer you some suggestions that I have learned:

  1. Understand the motivation behind the cautious behavior. By recognizing that the behavior is not meant to block a win, but to help keep us from making a bad decision, has helped me give space to an approach not highly valued by me.
  2. Avoid situations that require immediate decisions. Give as much time as possible to process and research decisions without pressure.
  3. Think in advance about decisions you are processing so your spouse has time to think things through. This isn’t to manipulate, but to give time to process and to discuss together.  Ask for input and the dangers they might see.  Value the information that is shared.

For those of you that are strong in the Cautious strength be aware that you could be seen as afraid, overprotective, or suspicious.  If you want your voice to be accurately heard, you can present your warnings as simple what-if-questions.  Rather than making matter of fact statements, present your concerns in questions to be considered or investigated.  Your strength is an asset to your marriage but be careful to not let it keep you or others from enjoying life.  Sometimes you will not have the time you want to think through decisions.  Life sometimes requires making decisions with the available information before you.  Also recognize that your spouse may have strengths being squashed by you being too cautious.  By squashing their strengths, you may be crushing their own contribution.  This could cause resentment overtime.

These same truths apply not only to marriages, but to teams where individuals possess the strength of cautious.  Communicating your strengths in such a way that values the strengths of the rest of the team will enable you to gain the benefit of all the strengths present.  I am reminded of the truth that states that a team of average people will always outperform a brilliant individual.  This is because of the different strengths that we bring to the table together in the decision-making process.  Welcome the strengths of our spouse and also those of your team, even if they are opposite of yours.

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.