I have many clients who come to me because of a "relationship problem". They say they need help communicating better. But oftentimes, it means is that they are having difficulties with negotiations.
An ability to negotiate is essential in a marriage but rarely do we get any instruction in how to do that. Typically, when we disagree all our energy goes in to trying to convince the other person of the rightness of our position and the wrongness in theirs. This puts us in an adversarial position with winners and losers, which produces anger and resentment.
It is possible though to have a more effective outcome. To do that, we need to recognize and present our position in a way that indicates we are on the same team.
Here are some tips for doing that.
Start by finding a place of agreement. If you cannot see anything in the other person's position that you agree with, then at least agree on the intent. For example, going on a vacation or saving for a new car. We both want a better life for ourselves, we just disagree on how to get there.
Always speak to your partner in the same way in which you want your partner to speak with you; with respect, softly, and with love.
Be ready to listen to ideas that you do not agree with and motivations that you may not even understand. Never hesitate in these situations to ask the other person both what this means to him/her and its importance to them.
It is legitimate to ask for things that make you feel more comfortable, as long as you own this and do not speak about it in terms of right and wrong. For example, say things like "Please do not leave the newspaper on the couch. It makes me feel better to have things put back in place." rather than, "Can't you ever pick anything up."
Do not use terms that attack the other person's character. Do not call them disrespectful, selfish, stubborn, etc. When you attack someone you set up an antagonistic atmosphere and force them to defend their character. Stick to the specifics of what is bothering you and what you would want from them to make things better.
And lastly, remember that your goal is not to beat the other person, rather it is to find a place of agreement that feels comfortable for both of you. Otherwise, you build resentments that will come out in future disagreements.
I have found that most arguments I have had with my wife were not about what we thought we were fighting over. The real issues beneath these arguments are core relationship issues such as, whether or not we feel loved, cared about, respected or are a priority in each other's lives. With these tips in mind, even when you disagree, be sure to reinforce with your partner that the answer to all the above questions is a resounding yes.
For more information about Gary Schochet, LCSW, click here.
Originally published March 1, 2019