Reality Check: Negotiating Differences in a Relationship

The seventh and final caring habit in Dr. Glasser’s list of caring habits is “always negotiating disagreements,” which I refer to as negotiating differences.
It might seem odd to think of negotiations when we’re talking about personal relationships. Negotiating sounds like something you do when you’re buying a house or dickering at a yard sale. We might negotiate a work schedule with a co-worker, or negotiate a dispute with a community member. But negotiate with a loved one? That sounds cold.
However, it’s not surprising that we would have differences within a close relationship. We’re not all the same. We won’t always agree on everything, no matter how beloved or close we are. Our differences don’t have to be a problem between us. How we handle them is the key.
We often associate negotiations with winning—getting the best deal for ourselves while the other person gets the short end of the stick. But what does winning look like when our disagreement is with someone we truly care about? In that case, a “win” would be that we’ve achieved a result where both people are happy and even more warmly connected.
When Dr. Glasser discusses applying choice theory to marriage, he refers to a “solving circle.” He presents the perspective that there are three entities in the marriage—one spouse, the other spouse, and the marriage itself. The marriage is a separate entity.
Rather than working toward a win for me (loss for you) or a win for you (loss for me), the most helpful outcome of a negotiation is a win for that third entity—the marriage.
This idea need not be limited to marriage relationships. Think of the relationship itself as a separate entity. Recognize that an outcome that sounds ideal for one person or the other may not be good for the relationship itself.
When you bring the health and well-being of the relationship to the negotiating table, negotiations change. Starting with a mindset of, “We both want to keep the relationship healthy” will keep both of you on track and away from blaming, criticizing, nagging and other destructive habits that don’t help the relationship. Those habits may feel good in the short term; you may even get “your” way temporarily, but they don’t help the relationship.
What is helpful is to start by clarifying what the disagreement is about. For example, “We have a disagreement over money.” Or it may be over how one spends time, who to see, where to live; there are all kinds of opportunities for disagreement. Even if you have a thousand disagreements, stick to one at a time. In fact, your first useful negotiated agreement may be achieved when both of you are clear and agree on what your disagreement is about!
Relationships change as time goes on. Circumstances change. People get older, (possibly even wiser, though that’s not guaranteed.) As situations change, there will be opportunities for disagreements.
Whether or not you choose to look at the relationship as a separate entity, any negotiation works better when we start with good will and good feeling toward the other person. If we enter the process knowing that what we want is what’s good for the relationship, then we are setting up the environment for a positive outcome.
What do you think of negotiation as a strategy for working out differences in a personal relationship?

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