Takeaway for Comm PostAn important part of interaction between you and your spouse is interpersonal communication, i.e., the way in which you are able to effectively communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings primarily through verbal communication.

Your ability to verbally communicate with your spouse can enhance significantly the kind of relationship that will exist between the two of you.  The goal of this post is to assist you in being able to regularly express your thoughts, ideas, and feelings with respect and support for each other.

Above all, communication is not a debate between partners about whose preconceived notions about what is going on between the two of you.  Communication in a personal relationship is about a husband and a wife collaborating with each other by sharing perceptions, feeling, ideas and thoughts so that they can come to an understanding of what is happening between them, what is their joint reality.

Collaborative CommunicationID-10045230

How to Communicate Collaboratively

The first thing you will have to do in conversation with your partner is to unilaterally disarm, i.e., do not start a conversation thinking you are right about something.  This does not mean compromise or capitulation; you have a right to all your thoughts and feelings

  1. When you have something on your mind, give your partner a “heads up” about the topic, giving him/her time to think about his/her own thoughts.
  2. Set a time when you both can have a conversation about the topic.
  3. Start out with the idea that your partner may have something to say that is worth listening to and be willing to give serious consideration to.
  4. Remember, a conversation is not a battleground where you must prove you are right.

How to Talk to Your Spouse

You start a conversation knowing your own thoughts and feelings about a topic.  Remember, you want an opportunity to discuss these thoughts and feelings; so does your partner.  Here are some tips:

  1. In your conversation, stick to your thoughts and feelings. Don’t get sidetracked by accusing, criticizing, or blaming your partner.
  2. Be prepared to talk about what you want in a clear and direct fashion. Be cautious about lapsing into “I need” as a way of privileging what you want over your partners’ wants.  For example, say “I want more affection” rather than “I need you to be more affectionate with me”.
  3. What you want in your relationship may reflect old issues from your personal history. Be sure to continually “vet” your wants and wishes.
  4. Be willing to “own” up to where these wants come from…be willing to talk about painful personal histories, unfulfilled childhood needs, the way you protect yourself from these old, painful childhood experiences.
  5. Be sure to treat your partner with the respect and decency with which you treat any other person.

How to Listen to Your Spouse

Listen to your spouse with an unconditional interest in understanding what he/she is trying to say.  This is the way to get to know your spouse and what it is important to him/her.  Here are a few thoughts about listening:

  1. Listening is about your spouse who really wants to be heard. It really isn’t about you.
  2. Be sure to focus on what your spouse is saying, not your reaction to it. If you find yourself reacting, take a time out, to refocus on your spouse.
  3. It will be helpful to indicate that you are listening to him/her. You can try reflecting back what you are hearing him/her say so your partner can correct you if you are not understanding what is being said.  For example, you can say “I hear you say (what you heard), is that right?”
  4. By listening intently to your partner you may learn something new about her/him and about the ideas and feelings she/he has. You can gain a new perspective about your partner.


ID-10095377 (1)Defining Your Own Relationship Reality

Through this kind of conversation in which you both are able to say what you want and listen with interest to each other, you will discover a deeper understanding of what you both are experiencing with each other.  This kind of understanding can help to eliminate misconceptions, misinterpretations, and miscommunications that can occur in a relationship. What you end up with is a clearer picture of yourselves and of the reality of your relationship.

Communication Involves Both Content Messages and Relationship Messages: Reading Between-the-Lines

Content messages refer to the obvious aspects of your communication.  It refers to the specific issues around which the interaction is occurring, who is going to get the kids to school today, are we going to have sex tonight, who is going to do the dishes this week, am I getting the affection that I want.  The relationship message refers to what is occurring interpersonally between you as you talk about the various content areas.  A relationship message says something about the connection between you and your spouse.  Conflicts can occur because one of you misunderstands the relationship message and fails to clarify the difference between this and the content message.

Here are some examples of statements in which a relationship message is misunderstood:


(Misunderstood Relationship Message)

Husband from other room, “You’re calling me?” “Don’t bother me.” Go into other room and ask for what you want.
Husband says “You paid $100 for that?” “I can’t believe you did that? Ask, “Are you concerned about what I spent?”
Wife says to husband, “And that’s all you did?” “You really should have done more.” Ask “Would you like me to explain why I did what I did?”


Misunderstanding relationship messages typically occurs because you and your spouse are responding personally to the way in which the content message is said, e.g. the tone of voice, the context of the message, or emphasis on particular words.  You will be able to recognize when you are likely misunderstanding the relationship message because of your own personal reaction, i.e. getting irritated, angry, upset, etc.  In the three instances in the table, the way to clarify the message is to respond to the content of the message not your experience of the relationship message.  If you seek to clarify the content of the message, you will be able to talk about any ambiguity about the relationship message.

It is also the case that sometimes you will use a relationship message to convey some covert feeling that you are harboring about the relationship.  In the examples above, “And that’s all you did?” can be said with a tone that implies a critique of what was done.  It is up to you both to be aware of any hidden relationship messages you are trying to (mis)communicate.  If you respond to a perceived negative relationship message in a non-reactive way, you open the way to be able to talk about what you perceive as a negative relationship message.

Communication is Inevitable

That communication is inevitable refers to the idea that in interaction with other people you are always communicating in one way or another even when you think you are not.  When you don’t respond to a question your wife/husband asks, you are communicating something.   What occurs in this situation, is your spouse will likely interpret your silence as a relationship message, which may create a disconnect between the two of you.  It is best to understand that you cannot not communicate.

Communication and Gender

We return again to ideas about gender that can get in the way of creating and maintaining an equal relationship.  In order to get beyond gender stereotypes in communication, we need to say what they are.  Here are a few stereotypic ideas about how men and women communicate:

  • Communication matters more to women than me
  • Women talk more than men
  • Women have better verbal skills than men
  • Men talk in order to get things done; women talk to make connection with other
  • Men talk about things, women talk about people, relationships, and feelings
  • Men use language in order to provide information, preserve their independence and compete to maintain status; women use language to enhance cooperation, reflecting their preference for equality and harmony
  • Women tend to soften their statements by using tag phrases (e.g. “don’t you think”, “if you don’t mind”); men are more direct

These old ideas about how men and women communicative became dogma, i.e., unquestioned articles of faith, with the publication of John Gray’s “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” and Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand”.  Tannen is a well-respected linguist who publicly defends these communication differences between men and women despite the fact they are widely disputed by 30 some years of research on language, communication and the sexes.

However, most of us do not read scientific journals; we read popular books like Gray’s and Tannen’s.  Even when a retraction is made about a gender stereotype published in the popular press (e.g. the statement that women say 20,000 words a day while men say about 7,000 in The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, MD) the false belief continues because they become part of the stereotyped narrative about women and men, usually with a negative view of women.

A close study of Tannen’s work done by Alice Freed, Professor Emmerita of Linguistics at Montclair State University shows that she (Tannen) is actually an apologist for men.  She excuses their insensitivities in her examples as part of their “need for independence”.  She emphasizes the importance of women adjusting to men’s need for status and independence.

In Tannen’s book “You Just Don’t Understand” we can read about Josh, who invites an old high-school friend who is visiting from another town to spend a weekend with him and his wife, Linda.  The visit is to begin immediately upon Linda’s return from a week’s business trip but Josh doesn’t first discuss the invitation with her.  Tannen describes Linda as being upset by his failure to do so, her feelings being hurt.  According to Tannen, Linda’s hurt feelings would disappear if only she understood that for Josh to ask permission would imply that he is not independent, not free to act on his own.  He would feel controlled by Linda’s wish to be consulted

This is a glaring example of a person of authority, a linguist, buying into the old gender stereotype that women must defer to men in order not to threaten their egos. 

Crosschecking with your partner is not “seeking permission”.  It is being willing to negotiate with your spouse what works for both of you.  If Josh feels “controlled”, he needs to take an inventory of that experience. By the way, Tannen also relies on the old notion that “hurt feelings” are what is important to Linda.  What is important to Linda, is that Josh was unwilling to negotiate with her about what he wanted.  Tannen is using her status as an academic to promote stereotypic ideas based on anecdotal material, i.e. stories like the one described above.  She uses these anecdotal stories as a basis for sweeping generalizations about men and women.

To have an equal and sustainable marriage depends on your willingness and ability to confront such old gender ideas and to establish yourselves as individuals not as a category.

Here are the takeaways from this post:

  • You can become competent in communicating collaboratively
  • Approach conversations with your spouse by unilaterally disarming
  • Be prepared to talk about your thoughts, feelings, and ideas; stay away from getting focused on your partner
  • Be prepared to listen to your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas with interest
  • If you react to or misinterpret relationship messages, there will be trouble
  • Clarify content message to clarify relationship message misunderstandings
  • Be on guard against old gender stereotypes about communication between men and women.
  • You are both individual people, not a category


Deborah Cameron, “What language barrier? The Guardian (

Bobbi Carothers and Harry Reis, “Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth” University of Rochester (

Communication Between Couples:  How to Communicate in a Relationship.  PSYCHALIVE (

Freed, Alice F.  (1992).  “We Understand Perfectly: A Critique of Tannen’s View of Cross-sex Communication”. In Hall, Kira, Mary Bucholtz and Birch Moonwomon (Eds.) Locating power: Proceedings of the second Berkeley women and language conference (vol.1). Berkeley: Berkeley Women and Language Group. 144-152.



Simultanous Perspective in MarriageYou 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). (

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.SCHEMATIC NEGOTIATING COLLAB

  • 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.





MY VIEW MARRIAGEHow you interact with your spouse will determine the felt quality of your relationship.  That is, how you go about achieving the things you both want in life is more important to the felt quality of your relationship than having the specific things you want.

Marital Interaction is about the process going on interpersonally between you and your spouse as you talk about the everyday events, happenings, and activities in your life together.  For example, a wife approaches her husband to ask him to go to the movies with her one evening.  Interaction or process refers to how she approaches him (insecurely, demandingly, asserting a preference, etc.) and how he responds to the request (dismissively, with hostility, saying he prefers another night, etc.).

Here is the “short version” of how to achieve a good marital interaction or process:

  • You will bring all your “insecurities” into your marriage.
  • Your “insecurities” show up as defensiveness and overreactions to each other.
  • It is up to each of you to know and manage these insecurities through self-awareness and self-reflection.
  • Marriage will be affected by “doing gender”, i.e. carrying out socially prescribed roles of husband and wife because they are associated with feeling “masculine” and “feminine”.
  • How you manage these gender prescriptions will significantly affect whether or not and how you accomplish the “things” in life that you want.
  • Successful marital interaction between self-aware, self-reflective people is based on negotiating collaborative the ins and outs of the relationship.
  • Negotiating collaborative in marriage is an art that can be learned.MARITAL INTERACTION NEGOTIATION

The “long version” of my views is described in the posts in this blog, “a millennial marriage”.   I focus on the interpersonal interactions, which are the day-to-day encounters between you and your spouse.  I look at these interactions from both the perspective of you and your spouse as individuals and from the perspective of you as a pair.

Individually you both have to be aware of your own personal motives when you are interacting with each other.  This will require some effort on both your parts.  In addition, you will have to pay attention to how old ideas about gender can shape your interactions, often without your being aware of this influence.

My approach to marital interaction in marriage is different from what I often see in blogs offering marital advice.  Here are a few of my thoughts about these approaches.

  • Too often they are based the idea that there are inherent, biological differences between men and women (e.g. men are from Mars, women are from Venus).
    • This is too general an approach, we are each individuals, not categories of people.
    • This approach often assumes that we each have biologically-based “needs” which your partner must provide (e.g. men “need” sex).
    • You can’t negotiate needs, you can only bargain over them, i.e. do a “tit for tat”.
    • These ideas keep the status quo.
  • Marital advice that is religiously based often relies on establishing the husband as the head of the household and leader, to whom his wife must defer.
  • Marital interaction is primarily seen as a quid-pro-quo,  i.e., you provide what I “need” and I will in turn give you what you “need.” Historically in marital therapy that has come down to exchanging sex (male biological need) for conversation (female biological need for connection)

What all these approaches try to do is “prescribe” how you two should interact with each other according to some theorized principle.

The basic principles of my approach that are described in this blog are:

  • You wish to be together because of a strong felt love and affiliation toward each other.
  • You are both individual people with your own views on how to flourish in life.
  • You can learn to negotiate (rather than have prescribed) the activities, events, wishes, wants, etc. in your relationship in a collaborative manner.
  • It takes willingness to be self-aware and self-reflective to learn how to do this.
  • You will want to examine your old ideas about gender roles in marriage.







BALANCE FAM WORKHere are ten strategies used by real dual-earner couples in their effort to maintain family and work balance.  These strategies are not rules, rather they are guides couples use in meeting their various responsibilities in carrying out their life plans together.

Valuing Family.   Successful couples stress the importance of keeping family as their highest priority.   They proactively create opportunities for family time such as “pizza night” on Friday or bedtime stories every night.  It is not uncommon for these couples to limit work hours, sacrifice career advancement, make career changes, or accept less-prestigious positions to keep family as the number one priority.

…H*: Every night, one or both of us read with our son for about 20 min.

…W*: David was going to go to medical school…..creating 8-plus years of being an absentee father…..we said no….we needed to pursue something

Striving for Partnership.   Striving for equality in their marital relationship is critical to the success of these couples.

…H My job is both earning and caring, and so is hers.

…W: If I win and she loses, then we both lose.

…W: We continue to talk about career…where do we want to be?

Deriving Meaning from Work.   Successful couples experience enjoyment and purpose from their careers and jobs.

…W: We both really like our jobs…they’re stressful at times, but we…feel good about what we are doing.

…W: I get a great deal of satisfaction from my job.

Maintaining Work Boundaries.  Successful couples make a commitment to maintain control over work, not allowing careers to dictate the pace of their lives.ID-100259529

…W: We both like our jobs, but, when it’s quitting time, we’re out of there.

…W: When you’re at home, you’re at home; and when you’re at work, you’re at work.

…H: We’ve always said, “No,” to jobs that required long hours…weekends, lots of overtime.                

Focusing and Producing at Work.  Being productive at work is important to successful couples.  Setting limits on their careers, has not adversely affected their productivity.

…H We’re both pulling our weight at [our] jobs.  [No one] has ever felt that we’re slacking off or we’re getting off easy because we’ve got kids.

…W: I don’t mess around.  When I’m there, I’m working.

Prioritizing Family Fun.  Successful couples use play and family fun as a way of relaxing, enjoying life, staying emotionally connected, and creating balance in their lives.

…H: I think a lot of our family bonding revolves around these excursions, going on lots of hikes or bike trips…sometimes fishing, concerts…the three of us.

…W Once in a while, we’ll just try and do stuff off the cuff; one night we had a camp night in our living room with the fireplace.

Taking Pride in Dual Earning.  These couples believe dual earning is positive for all members of their family and do not accept negative societal message about their family arrangement.

…W:Of course [children] fulfill you, but they can only fulfill a certain part of you.

…H: One of the nicest gifts that Patty has every given me is to go to work and to bring home a good income.

Living Simply.  These couples consciously simplify their lives.

…W: He doesn’t go out to eat.  We don’t need cable.  We don’t need to sit in front of the TV anyway.

…W: We don’t use credit cards.  We can’t have fancy cars where the payments just eat you up.

Making Decisions Proactively.  Being proactive in decision making is most important.  Successful couples are vigilant in not allowing the pace of their lives control them.

…W: If you define success as what you do at work, then that is all you will do….if you define success as having a happy family and a happy marriage and [being] happy at work, then you make all those things happen.

…H: We talk a lot during the day…[about] anything from getting the oil changed in the Volvo to who is bringing plates over to mom’s house. There’s not much I don’t know about.

Valuing Time.  Successful couples try to remain aware of the value of time.

…W: I think you are almost forced to make better use of the time that you have together by nature of the fact that you work.

…H: We try to do a lot of our [house] work…during the week, so that the weekends are free.

*H=husband; W=wife


Reference: Haddock, S.A., Zimmerman, T.S., Ziemba, S.J., Current, L.R.  (2001). Ten adaptive strategies for family and work balance: Advice from successful families.  Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.  Vol. 27(4), 445-458.

Click on thumbnails for more info, fun, and provocative ideas about balance in family and work.

Balance Fam Work 1 Balance Fam Work 2 balance Fam Work 3



NEEDS VERSUS WANTSOne of the most common ideas about how marriage should work is that partners fulfill each other’s “needs”.  The idea that “needs-that-must-be-fulfilled” is what we bring to our relationships promotes a self-centered approach to relationships.  The concept of need became popular in psychology during the middle of the 20th century as an expression of the more general idea that we are all motivated primarily (or only) by self-interest.  The view that human beings act from self-interest and only from self-interest is not new.  It has been the dominant view in psychology and in much of Western thought in general.

The view that human nature is motivated ultimately by self-interest applied to intimate relationships translates into the idea that we must fulfill our partner’s self-identified individual needs. 

The toxic effects of this position are:

  • Needs are demands that must be fulfilled. A need is something we are entitled to have fulfilled. ID-100277147
  • They can be exchanged (tit for tat, quid pro quo) but not truly negotiated because they are entitlements.
  • To not have a need fulfilled is an injustice that will breed resentment.
  • The value of my partner gets defined by the degree to which he “fulfills” my “needs”, satisfies my self-interest. In other words, he has no intrinsic value or worth to me independent of the degree to which he fulfills my self-identified needs, and vice versa, my value to him is  based on how well I fulfill his needs.
  • There is no end to the list of things I need. All wants, preferences, and desires can be identified as needs.
  • I do not have to be concerned about the impact on my partner of fulfilling my self-identified needs.
  • People who promote this view tend to adopt the idea that men and women have biologically-determined, inherent and enduring different needs (men are from Mars and women are from Venus). In this view, husbands and wives must fulfill each other’s biologically-based gender needs.

If marriage is to work in the 21st century, it cannot be built around the idea that if we fulfill each other’s self-identified, gendered needs we will live happily ever after.

The idea of partners as having things they want, and the related notion of “preference”, in order to flourish in life is a better way to promote good intimate relationships.   A want (or preference) is something that can be negotiated in your relationships; a need demands fulfillment.

To have a want or preference is an expression of oneself; it is an expression of what one believes important to living well, to having a good life.  As an expression of oneself, one’s wants and preferences must be acknowledged as standing on their own.  At the same time, they are not demands that must be catered to.  Wants and preferences are no more than an expression of oneself but they are no less than the expression of oneself. In fact, from my perspective wants (and associated preferences) are the best expression of who I am.  My wants derive from my values, my desire to flourish, my gender, and my experience in life.  And wants and desires can be negotiated.

The way to create a committed relationship in which each of your wants and preferences are respected and honored in your relationship is through collaborative negotiation. Collaboration is the ultimate form of working together; a synergistic process of shared creationCollaborating partners operate as a team to achieve a common purpose, which is larger than anything than either could achieve on his/her own.  Negotiation collaboratively is the ultimate form of jointly weighing how things are to work out between the two of you. True collaborators are always equals and each partner accepts full responsibility for his/her part in the process of negotiation.

Differences between the sexes, to the degree that we actually know what these are, may be important in determining the individual wants of men and women.  As wants or preferences, they can be negotiated, avoiding the risk of having gender differences create the opportunity for an unequal relationship by “privileging” male over female “needs” or vice versa.

Note:  To read more about the theoretical and philosophical bases for the concept  of “need” as a motivational concept in psychology, I recommend two books by Drs. Mike and Lisa Wallach, both profs of mine at Duke University: (1) Psychology’s Sanction for Selfishness: The Error of Egoism in Theory and Therapy and (2) Rethinking Goodness.  Both are brilliant thinkers.

Click on the thumbnails below for more info, fun, and provocative ideas about millennial marriages…

Needs versus wants 1 Needs versus wants 2 Needs versus wants 3



HOW IT WORKS NegotiationNegotiation is figuring out the how, when, where, and with whom each of your  and your spouse’s wants, desires or preferences can be achieved.   Collaboration is how you jointly weigh together the things that are important to you as individuals in your relationship.  True collaborators are always equals and each partner accepts full responsibility for his/her part in the process of negotiation (see post on collaboration).  Negotiating collaboratively, then, is the ultimate form of jointly and equally weighing how things are to work out between the two of you.

You can think of your marital relationship as being organized around the collaborative negotiation of both your “vetted” *wants, desires, preferences.  Your individual wants can include wanting the best for your spouse.  It is the ongoing process of negotiating individual wants that enhances the felt quality of the relationship and allows for changes in what you want over time while maintaining the quality of the relationship.  I believe that the process of negotiating collaboratively is what makes a marriage both sustainable and satisfying.

To negotiate collaboratively in a relationship is to be able to identify what is important to you, to know why it is important to yoID-100172996u, and to be able to “put it on the table”, even if it means you don’t always get what you want.  You also have to be able to listen to what you partner wants and why it is important to him/her.  Imagine a couple with a free evening and a wish to spend it together.  They begin with a number of different ideas, each explaining to the other his/her preferences.  Through this “collaborative negotiation” process, each partner may learn something new about his/her partner and may even learn something new about the various options offered.  Neither person wants to do anything that the other finds too unattractive, so they end up with a plan that reflects both their preferences.  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.

BE A RISK TAKER…..there is individual risk in negotiating collaboratively.  You may not get what you want at a given time.  Not getting what you want is manageable if the relationship is enhanced and someone you love gets what he/she wants.


*To vet our wants and preferences is to check it carefully to make sure it is free of hidden personal agendas

Click on these thumbnails for links to more info, fun, and provocative ideas about contemporary marriage.

Negotiation 1 Negotiation 2Negotiation 3


HOW IT WORKS COLLABORATIONIn committed marriages, what you want, what is important to you shows up in the day-to-day encounters around big and small issues occurring between husbands and wives. It is deciding who is going to go to the grocery store today, talking about how the children are doing at school, deciding if you are going to move so that one of you can take an exciting new job, who will get the children to soccer practice, how to achieve a satisfactory sexual life, will you go to church, do you go to the movies this weekend, etc., etc.

The way to create a committed relationship in which each of your wants and preferences are respected and honored in your relationship is through collaboration, the ultimate form of working together. Collaborating partners operate as a team to achieve a common purpose, which cannot be achieved by either partner on his/her own.

Here are a few basic ideas about what being collaborative means:

Collaborators are Equal.  True collaborators are always equals and each partner accepts full responsibility for his/her part in the process of negotiation.  Collaboration requires the sharing of authority and an acceptance of personal responsibility for the outcome.

Collaboration is not Capitulation.   Collaboration protects individual autonomy.  Most of us have a (possibly non-conscious) fear of being overwhelmed by someone and are reluctant to surrender any part of our autonomy in a relationship. Collaboration involves each partner explaining what he/she wants, why it is important, and how strongly he/she feels about the idea.  Each partner learns new things about what is proposed and new things about his/her partner’s wishes and wants.  Neither wants to do anything that the other regards as too unattractive.  The idea is to end up with a plan that shows that each partner’s wishes are respected, a plan that reflects the process of collaboration.  ID-100233726

Collaboration is not Cooperation.   Collaboration is about the process of working together, while cooperation is about the result of working together.  For example, I can cooperate with you by stepping aside while you do what you want to do.  Collaboration means we talk about what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how important is it to you.  In collaboration, I am involved from the outset.

Collaboration and Gender.  Gender may be one factor that influences our wants and preferences.  Gender attributes may shape wants and preferences, but the fact that something we want might be gender-related can neither preclude nor precede collaboration with each other as equals.

 A committed marriage is a life-long partnership, which links two people around their most fundamental wishes and wants in order to flourish as individuals and as a couple.  This requires great attention to the maintenance of a collaborative environment of negotiation.


Stephen J. Coulson. How to Maintain Your Autonomy in a Collaborative Partnership. (

Click on these thumbnails for links to more info, fun and provocative ideas about contemporary marriage.

Collaboration 3  Collaboration 2  Collaboration 1