Research by Dr. John Gottman has shown that relationships are much more successful when men allow themselves to be influenced by their partner. It’s important for women to accept influence too, but the research has shown that the majority of women already do this.

Being open to influence requires a man to let go of avoidant strategies like distancing, attacking, and defensiveness. This doesn’t mean adopting an inferior position, but rather allowing his partner’s needs to be of primary importance in his life.

Accepting influence is also about moving from a position of “me” to “we,” which requires a shift toward more maturity and complexity, beyond seeing the world as a binary, win-lose, right-wrong, zero sum game.

Stan Tatkin, Ph.D. describes this movement from a one-person system to a two-person system as “secure functioning.” Such a shift demands and facilitates maturation by caring for one’s relationship in the long term through considering another’s mind and emotions.

Yield to win

I’d like to introduce you to Susan and Michael. Michael is a highly accomplished entrepreneur who has started several companies and sold them at a significant profit. He is quick witted and decisive, and gives off an air of confidence and intelligence.

Here in my office, outside his public persona of success, he demonstrates that he can be fragile when his wife brings up her concerns about the distance in their relationship. She expresses her need for more connection, both emotionally and physically.

During this session, Susan asserts herself with Michael by looking directly at him declaring, “I love you Michael, but I feel so alone sometimes even when you’re right next to me.”

Michael’s first impulse is to become defensive, as he turns to me and says, “See! I’m never enough for her.”

Rather than saving him from the pain in this moment, I allow the pressure to build. I have confidence that he can respond with more skill than he is demonstrating, and that it’s his defensiveness and fear of being more collaborative that stop him from moving his relationship forward.

Part of his defensive position comes from framing his relationship as a win-lose proposition, something that has worked well for him in the context of business, but this attitude is genuinely harming his relationship.

He doesn’t realize that by yielding to his wife’s concerns, allowing them to influence his next move, through appropriate action, words, gaze or touch, he can create a win-win experience that will feel good to both of them. This will also allow him to feel competent, something that is very important for Michael in all areas of his life.

Redirecting Michael back to Susan, I give him an encouraging smile and ask, “Michael, what’s your next move?”

He is hesitant, which is surprising for a man who is seen as a powerhouse by so many. He slowly reaches out to Susan, takes her hands in his, looks in her eyes, and says “You’re right, I know how distracted I can get, and I know that’s not fair to you, to either of us actually. I also want more with you, but I don’t know what to do. I’m not good at not knowing how to do something.”

With that, Susan lights up, moves closer, and kisses him. She whispers to him with delight, “This is what I’m looking for!”

It was a breakthrough moment in their marriage.

When we first began working together, Michael wasn’t willing to be influenced by Susan. He heard her complaints as demands and criticisms, which he saw as a threat to his sense of self. Now he’s able to listen to her with interest and curiosity.

He allows himself to be impacted by her state, her thoughts, her emotions, and her needs, and he understands that it’s in his best interests to create a relationship that is satisfying for both of them. This is a win-win.

He has begun to experience how accepting influence actually results in getting more of what he wants from his partner. It becomes self-reinforcing as he feels the rewards of success not just in work, but in his marriage, too.

On a neurological level, Michael is learning to use more of his prefrontal cortex, that amazing structure of the brain that helps us to imagine and weigh future consequences while dampening the primitive impulse to attack or be defensive.

When men are able to allow themselves to be influenced by their partner, they take a significant step in moving their relationship forward towards greater happiness and satisfaction while becoming more mature and secure in the process.

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More in Emotionally Intelligent Couples
Husbands Can Only Be Influential if They Accept Influence
Jeff Pincus

Jeff is a nationally sought-after couples therapist and relationship expert. He is Core Faculty for the PACT Institute and co-founder of Dharma of Love with his wife, Rachel. He works exclusively with couples in his private practice in Boulder, Colorado.

  • The Mills

    One of Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages is quality time. Apparently, Susan’s primary Love Language is just that. What Susan wants is uninterrupted & focused attention. However, it is often said that a woman who wants a successful man is going to have to deal with the fact that her man is going to be busy. I’m sure Susan & Michael would love to spend more time together, but sometimes life gets in the way.

    This is something that my fiancee and I argue about as a couple relatively frequently, because we both have demanding careers and I am currently pursuing an advanced degree.

    You talk about creating a win-win situation, but how do I create a win-win situation, when a win for me, is being selfish with my time and dedicating it towards my studies?

    That is the exact opposite of what she needs. What do I do?

    I fear there is no win-win situation here

    • Jeff Pincus, LCSW

      Good Question!

      Like you said, it might be “quality time” which infers that the time together has a particular quality of connection and attentiveness. You can create this even if the sheer amount of time you have is limited. It’s what you do with the time when you are together that matters. Work on being less distracted by the pressing tasks at hand, and when you’re with your fiancee, really be with her. Direct your attention away from the noise in your mind, and towards her face, body, words, speech, etc. What is most realistic for your situation is quality over quantity. Just make sure the quality is high, and in this way you two can maintain your connection.

      • Duncan Thomson

        I think that answer denies the reality that “The Mills” was stating. Improving the quality of time is great, but if your partner insists on MORE time, and you don’t have that to give, then there’s not going to be a “win-win”. I think a more honest answer would be that, in the words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want.” Your partner may have to accept that she can’t get the quantity of time she want. Or you may have to accept that you may have to sacrifice that advanced degree, or something else that takes up your time. “Accept Influence” does not mean “Agree with your partner’s priorities”. Or does it?

        • Jeff Pincus, LCSW

          Hi Duncan,

          Nice reminder of the truth that in life, we don’t necessarily get everything we want. This is something that most of us should have learned as children, although the learning and acceptance of this reality is something that is life-long. Each choice does have a consequence for us to deal with.

          It is an important task for couples to understand what each of their priorities are, how they overlap or are in conflict, and what their deal breakers are. Without doing that consciously, they may assume that they are on the same page, only to suffer though ongoing conflicts that haven’t been addressed in an open and honest fashion.

          “Accepting influence” doesn’t mean that the couple has to share an undifferentiated, “one-mindedness” about everything, but it does imply that each is willing to consider the other and create experiences that feel mutually satisfying enough of the time. Couples also have to look out for the dangers that arise when one partner’s endeavor comes at a cost to the other or the relationship itself. That situation is not sustainable.

          I hope that’s helpful!

          • Amber Lottes

            I may be simplifying this and forgive me if that is the case. I feel If two people truly have each other’s best interest at heart, finding some common ground shouldn’t have to be impossible. I’d be questioning intent to some degree if unrealistic demands were being made. I believe under most circumstances, people feel satisfied to see their partner making an effort for them. If that partner fails to notice these efforts and demands more, then my inclination is that quality time management is not the real issue.

  • sgallen

    This is something I’ve always struggled with– I feel like any demands made upon my time by my wife are an inconvenience. Often, there are a million things I’d rather do than deal with her emotions. If marriage isn’t fun and exciting, then what’s the point?