Charlotte Howard, a therapist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, TX, talks about approaching problems together as a team when you’re in relationship and the difference between compromising and negotiation.
Approach Problems as a Team
Approaching the problem as a team is incredibly important. It’s like the problem is the third party. There’s you, your partner, and the problem. You guys are on the same team and you’re looking at this problem together, even if you disagree.
Maybe your partner wants your kids to go to private school; you want them to go to public school. Instead of pitting things against each other—public versus private—you come together and say, “We aren’t sure where to send our kids to school and we have a different perspective on it. How are we going to resolve this?” You’re saying this together, looking at the problem. “Here’s my two cents” and “Here’s my two cents” but together we are working this out.
A lot of people will fight against each other when they’re trying to make an important decision that they disagree on. What you really want is for the two people to stand as a team and then look at the problem that they’re both trying to solve as one unit. If it’s public versus private school, they can brainstorm together.
They might ask, “What are the positives of private school and what are the negatives?” Same with public school. Then, they can talk through this problem and join together around whether they agree, feeling as though they are on the same page, coming to a resolution. Sometimes, you’ve laid it all out, you’ve worked as a team, and at the end of the day, you land on different sides on what the final outcome should be. What then?
Who Cares about it the Most in the Couple?
In those situations, for two people who really love each other, you might choose to base your final decision on who cares about it the most. So, there’s this back and forth, “Yeah you want this, I want that, but you feel like you’re going die if we don’t do it this way, so it’s yours—fine.” That builds closeness in the relationship. That comes back when it’s you on the other side who feels more strongly about it and your partner remembers, “Well, my partner took care of me in that moment when I felt like I was going to die if I didn’t get my way.” Being able to navigate and judge who is more invested in something and letting that person have what they really need is a vital relationship skill.
Learning How to Negotiate in Couples Counseling
Recently, there has been some interest in the idea of negotiating instead of compromise. And this can be fun. Compromise can sometimes lead to no one getting their way. One person wants to go to one restaurant; the other wants to go to the other restaurant. So the compromise is, “We’ll go to this third restaurant that neither of us are really excited about.” Over time that gets kind of boring and a little bit lifeless because you don’t get to do the full expression of what you want!
A better approach might be to just go to one restaurant one night and go to the other restaurant the other night. Of course, that doesn’t work in the private versus public school debate, unless you want them switching schools all the time. Who knows? Probably not good for the kids. But it does work in a lot of situations.
For instance, one partner wants the dishes clean and the other partner wants more sex. Okay, so instead of one person nagging, “Why do you never do the dishes?” and the other person nagging, “Why do we never have sex?” you can be more like, “Hey, if you do the dishes, I’ll meet you in bed naked.” Then both people are happy because the person doing dishes doesn’t feel like, “Ugh! My partner wants me to do the dishes and I hate doing the dishes,” but instead they’re thinking, “Yay! I’m about to have sex!” And the person in bed feels the space and energy to be turned on because the partner just did the dishes, which is what they really wanted.
It can work! I really love the idea of negotiating instead of compromising on things.
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