You bring to your marital relationship the things you want or prefer to happen that allow you to flourish in life. Much of marital advice, in contrast, is based on a view that we bring our needs to our relationship. This idea is captured very well in this quote.
Your have a right to ask for the things you need in a relationship. In fact you have a responsibility to yourself and your partner to be clear about your needs (emphasis added). (www.theartofmanliness.com)
One of the most common ideas about how intimate relationships should work is that partners fulfill each other’s “needs”. The idea of “needs-that-must-be-fulfilled” promotes a self-centered approach to relationships. This view, widely accepted in our current culture, is an expression of the more general idea that we are all motivated primarily (or only) by self-interest.
A better way to begin a relationship is to know that you and your spouse are capable of being concerned about one another. The schematic at the top left of the post represents the way in which you can be interested in yourself and your spouse simultaneously in marriage.
This schematic demonstrates the idea that you can each simultaneously see yourself as an individual with individual wants and desires and see your spouse as having individual wants and desires. If either person sees him/herself only (primarily) as an individual (self-centered), the marital interaction will be distorted. At the same, if either spouse is only (primarily) concerned and interested in the other (dependency), the marital interaction will be distorted.
Maintaining this simultaneous perspective in your marriage is basic to being willing and able to negotiate with each other the things that are important to both of you in order to flourish in life. The schematic below on the right depicts the process of negotiation of individual wants and desires from the perspective of you both.
- Negotiating in marriage is first and foremost based on the ability to be interested in your spouse’s wants and desires in the same way that you are interested in your own desires.
- Each of you describes your wants and desires and can provide a reason for why you prefer this or that (i.e. explore and understand the why’s of each other’s preferences)
- Neither of you wants the other to do something that is too unattractive or violates some strongly held principle
- Try out different ideas that reflect both your preferences so you can find a win-win solution
- Or, if you choose one partner’s preference over the other’s, it is because you have decided it together thereby enhancing the relationship even if one partner does not get what he/she wants.
- See how Jesse and Sara negotiated where she was to park the car
The ability to negotiate collaboratively in this manner assumes the following:
- You have the capacity (including the courage) to identify and describe what you want
- You can self-reflectively understand and describe the reasons and motives for you wants and preferences
- You have the capacity to be empathic, i.e. you can understand that you spouse has wants and desires in the same way that you do
- You can understand and value your spouse’s wants, even if they are different from your own
To have a want or preference is an expression of oneself, an expression of what you believe is important to living well. As an expression of self, your wants and preferences must be acknowledge as standing on their own. At the same time, they are not demands that must be catered to (they are not “needs”). Wants and preferences are no more than an expression of self but they are no less than the expression of self.