As a young girl, growing up with media like Disney movies and the celebrity culture of our country, I had a very idyllic idea of what a romantic relationship is supposed to look like. While I was realistic enough to not expect my future partner to stride up on a white horse, I did have some misguided notions about what a healthy relationship should look like. One belief I picked up was the expectation that well-suited couples didn’t argue with one another. A sign of a good relationship would be one where there was no conflict and everything was beautifully resolved before I even knew there was an issue.
As a grown woman and a therapist, I know better. All couples disagree and those that say they don’t are likely bluffing. As Dr. Gottman discovered, all couples fight, but it’s how they fight that distinguishes whether they will be dubbed “masters” or “disasters” of relationships.
So when a couple walks in my office door for counseling, I always turn to the Sound Relationship House to assess where they are at in their relationship. When we arrive at the Manage Conflict level of the Sound Relationship House and we begin to dialogue about issues, the concept of compromise, and its role in the couple becomes apparent instantly.
You see, Dr. Gottman found that compromise is essential to managing conflict in relationships. If you think about it, the idea makes sense. While two people may each have an idea of how a problem should be solved, at the end of the day they cannot take two separate approaches if their goal is to function as a team. If one person gets all of what they want, and the other doesn’t get their needs met at all, then that’s not teamwork. Plus, in a couple, we ideally want our partner to feel they were heard and understood. If we’re too busy thinking our way is the best way, then we’re not showing a lot of respect and love to our partner, are we?
Which is why compromise is the way to go. If my partner isn’t willing to agree that my way is the way for both of us, I might as well accept getting some of my needs met instead of none.
So this is where I encourage my clients to think about what their needs are in this disagreement. If they walked away from the disagreement feeling satisfied with the outcome, what needs would absolutely have to be met? From here, everyone speaks to what they feel they are inflexible on in the disagreement, sharing the values and thoughts behind why their inflexible areas are so important to them. Knowing those values, we then acknowledge what pieces of the outcome we’d be willing to budge on for the sake of everyone getting a bid for their needs.
What’s wonderful about this activity, besides finding a resolution to conflict, is the opportunity you get to know your partner better. If you can look at these conversations as opportunities to get to know your partner’s love maps – their values, their desires, and their priorities – I have a hunch these conversations will go a lot more smoothly and end with a greater intimacy between partners.
Rather than dreading the next disagreement, I encourage you all to see it as a chance to learn more about your partner, while also giving them something they want in the process. I don’t know about you, but I’m more concerned about walking away from an argument feeling understood than feeling like I won. If I can make my partner feel understood, well, it doesn’t get much better than that.