In committed relationships, 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.
Often professionals giving advice about negotiation, assume there is “conflict” or disagreement to negotiate about. Remember “conflict” is when each of you is taking things personally, and, of course, there is no negotiation when this is occurring. Couples have to negotiate not only when there are disagreements about issues, but also about the ever–present issues, like the ones described above. Negotiation is the process by which you and your partner work through the daily issues in your partnership.
The process of negotiation around such everyday life issues involves the following:
- Discovering the wishes or concerns each partner has around a given issue. An example of this is the following situation taken from S. Heitler (http://psychcentral.com/lib/5-communication-pitfalls-and-pointers-for-couples/0006519). A couple kept fighting about parking: He didn’t want his wife to park in the parking garage when running her errands downtown. She liked to park in the garage because it was convenient for her. Through open discussion of their position, they found that the husband was concerned about narrow spaces, which resulted in the car getting scratched or dented by other car doors, resulting in repair costs. What concerned her was finding a convenient parking spot to run errands and get to important engagements like doctors’ appointments on time.
- “Every concern of yours is a concern of mine.” This statement is how you honor each other by honoring what each thinks is important. In this discussion, it is important to be clear about what is your concern and to be sure that you state it. Talking about the specifics of your concerns is important to finding workable solutions to issues.
- Brainstorm about win-win solutions. The best outcome of such discussion is an action plan that is responsive to all the stated concerns. Surprisingly, you might think that compromise might be a good outcome; but compromise is like cooperation, where one person gets what he/she wants and the other person does not. In this example, the following was the win-win solution. The husband offered to drive his wife into town when he is working from home and she said she would drive to upper levels of the garage where cars are not so crowded, and take care to park in the middle of the space to decrease dents from other car’s doors.
- Remember, you will not be negotiating if you are reacting personally. Here are some clues to when in a negotiation you are drifting back into a personal reaction:
- Not listening or interrupting
- Too much information about your concerns, overwhelming the other
- Making assumptions, placing your wishes onto your partner
- Bringing up past history
- Using attacking language and/or talking in absolutes (“always”, “never”)
- Mindreading, expecting your partner to know what you want
- Being defensive
- Needing to be the authority
If you find this kind of reaction occurring, stop the discussion, re-collect yourself, and arrange to continue the discussion at another time.
Communicating in an effective, respectful, and caring manner. Here are a few valuable communication skills:
- Talk about what you want, what your concerns are in a straight forward manner
- Stay in the present situation
- Listen receptively to your partner
- Ask clarifying questions, be genuinely interested in your partner’s view
- Speak in “I” statements
- Use respectful language
- Take enough time for a good discussion
Here are two internet sites that provide broad discussions of negotiation: