In my Bringing Baby Home training 15 years ago, I learned, as a new mother, about the importance of accepting influence as one of Dr. John Gottman’s Four Steps of Constructive Problem Solving. That said, I discovered personally and professionally that Gottman’s advice to “find out your partner’s subjective reality and validate it” may be easier said than done.
WHAT GETS IN THE WAY
- Insecurities, internalized beliefs, or thinking traps such as personalizing or an “all-or-nothing” mindset can make it hard to stay present without getting defensive or arguing your own point of view.
- Fear of giving up power can keep partners locked in power struggles.
- Resentment and burnout from unequal division of work. For example, according to a recent Motherly survey, many women in cisgendered heterosexual relationships reported feeling the majority of household responsibilities. To them, the “invisible load” still fell squarely on their shoulders. Trouble expressing what you need or difficulty giving up control or perfectionism can contribute to this resentment and burnout.
Thankfully, as I shared in my article on Making Effective Repairs, mindfulness and self-compassion are important skills that help increase curiosity and make it easier to hold multiple perspectives. Activating the state of safe enough, connected ventral vagal, these practices can help you deepen into empathy for yourself and others. It makes hearing and communicating your understanding of your partner’s feelings and needs much easier.
WHAT IS INVOLVED IN ACCEPTING INFLUENCE:
Accepting influence actually helps partners get out of power struggles. It doesn’t mean you go along with everything your partner says, but rather are open to seeing things from their perspective. This actually leads to a win/win or shared power.
The Gottmans emphasize that accepting influence, for men in heterosexual relationships, requires being an active partner and father. “Don’t wait for your partner to tell you what to do; look around and see what needs to be done and do it” (BBH Training Manual). This is an essential part of making the shift from “Me to We,” which helps all areas of the relationship including intimacy.
In fact, as couples therapist Jeff Pincus writes, “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.”
ACCEPTING INFLUENCE IN ACTION
In my own relationship, I have witnessed the mutual benefits of accepting influence at home and in our careers.
My husband’s willingness to give up alcohol alongside me a few years ago has brought us closer together. Despite a global pandemic and the added stress on both of us, we moved through our fears and frustrations as a team. Rather than numb or get into power struggles, we maintained a daily commitment to laugh and talk through our problems.
Especially during pandemic parenting challenges—when my husband’s fear and rigidity were triggered by our son’s struggles academically—he yielded to my knowledge from working with youth and the reading and training I had done that emphasized connection. Together we held firm but loving boundaries. We reflected back our son’s positive qualities and potential. We worked with his teachers and ensured he knew our love was unconditional. Altogether, it helped get him back on track.
I’ve also seen the benefits in both our careers from accepting influence. His leadership and empathy for the diverse lived experiences of his staff was enhanced by conversations we’ve had about my inner and outer work on my awakening journey and work with trauma survivors.
Feeling his support and validation has given me the courage to speak up for what I believe in and pursue my career dreams.
Accepting influence takes hard work. Still, as we prepare to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, we would definitely say it’s worth it.