Whereas we hear a lot about the value of couples learning better communication skills, learning how to give and take is essential for both people to feel relatively satisfied in their relationship. According to the authors of the study The Normal Bar, the happiest couples learn to compromise. They write: “This seems to be the core secret for relationship happiness: frequent compromises over time, and balance in giving and getting, conceding and winning.”
What is the meaning of the word compromise? It’s a settlement by which each side makes concessions. And while this doesn’t sound romantic, if you decide you want to save your marriage, you have to learn to negotiate – which the essence of compromise. Negotiation is about diplomacy and is a tool that will help you and your partner get on the same side and to become intimately connected.
According to psychologist Harriet Lerner, a good fight can clear the air. She writes: “and it’s nice to know we can survive conflict and even learn from it. Many couples, however, get trapped in endless rounds of fighting and blaming that they don’t know how to get out of. When fights go unchecked and unrepaired, they can eventually erode love and respect which are the bedrock of any successful relationship.”
According to author Marcia Naomi Berger, many couples believe the myth that if a marriage is healthy all issues get resolved. She writes: “Simply put, it is not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it is the manner in which the couple responds. Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving.”
After all, every very relationship has its ups and downs, and conflict goes with the territory. Yet you might avoid conflict because it may have signified the end of your parents’ marriage or lead to bitter disputes. Marriage counselor, Michele Weiner Davis explains that avoiding conflict backfires in intimate relationships. She posits that bottling up negative thoughts and feelings doesn’t give your partner a chance to change their behavior. On the other hand, Weiner cautions that one of the secrets of a good marriage or romantic relationship is learning to choose battles wisely and to distinguish between petty issues and important ones.
In other words, you need to give your partner the benefit of the doubt and compromise. According to research from several psychologists, including relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute, couples can learn ways to have more productive disagreements that are more akin to discussions rather than arguments. The following guidelines were adapted from Gottman’s research and my own clinical observations.6 ways to compromise and manage conflict with your partner:
- Create time and a relaxed atmosphere to interact with your partner on a regular basis. Ask for what you need in an assertive (non-aggressive) way and be willing to see your partner’s side of the story.
- Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude. Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on issues than are unclear. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Take a risk and deal with hurt feelings – especially if it’s an important issue rather than stonewalling or shutting down.
- Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements that tend to come across as blameful – such as “I felt hurt when purchased the car without discussing it with me.”
- Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you time to calm down and collect your thoughts.
- Show attunement with your partner with non-verbal eye contact, body posture, and gestures that demonstrate your intention to listen and compromise.
- Establish an open-ended dialogue: Don’t make threats. Avoid saying things you’ll regret later. Be assertive yet open in your attempts to negotiate for what you want from your partner. You both deserve to get some (not all) of your needs met. Be sure to validate your partner’s perspective and come up with solutions that are win-win – or both of you are winners.
Couples can strengthen their connection if they embrace the notion that conflict is an inevitable part of a committed, romantic relationship. When one or both partners shuts down or becomes critical, issues often get swept under the rug and are never resolved – leaving the partner who feels hurt – or both people – even more resentful.
However, you can learn to compromise or manage conflict in a healthy way. It’s essential that you discuss concerns that arise with your partner in a timely fashion and become better at repair skills.
Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry