How do you make decisions when you disagree?

How do you make decisions when you disagree?

(Based on the work of Pete Pearson and Ellyn Bader)

Common mistakes we make when we disagree

Relationships are a challenge.That is an understatement. They are a challenge because the opportunities to disagree are practically limitless. For a relationship to survive, couples have to develop some really effective methods to make decisions, solve problems, and negotiate better solutions when they disagree. Most of us make several mistakes when it comes to dealing with disagreements:

  1. Caving in too quickly to avoid tensions, or to keep the peace.
  2. Stubbornly pushing too hard for our partner to change their minds
  3. Worrying too much about what our partner wants to avoid focusing on what we want, which leads to lack of clarity and to
  4. Failing to prepare before the negotiation with partner

Every couple needs to figure out how to do this, through trial and error. Couples can learn from their mistakes and figure out a way to solve problems that works better, without blame.

You will learn good communication if you learn to negotiate well. Good negotiation leads to acceptable solutions that work for both and strengthen your relationship.

The trick is to collaborate, which means:

To listen to what your partner wants and feels without denigrating their wishes, and to share what you feel and want to work together to come up with a solution that you can both feel good about. If you are not clear about what you want and why, you will not be able to negotiate for a win-win solution. If you are not curious about what your partner wants and feels, you will not be able to negotiate well either.

Negotiations can be messy and riddled with tension. This is normal.

Managing tricky emotions is part of negotiation. Negotiation is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.

It is clear that in healthy mature relationships you do have to learn to give when it’s inconvenient, at times. Partners are encouraged to consider their partner in their decision making and this might mean setting aside one’s own outcomes at that moment. Sometimes, we put the relationship above our own individual wants and needs.

What do effective negotiations require?

Negotiations require:

  • Self-knowledge
  • A high degree of understanding of your partner’s values, concerns and desires.
  • Respect for yourself and for your partner, openness and persistence.

Effective compromises for complex problems require lots of openness, curiosity, and emotional risk. The more complex the situation, the higher the stakes, the more your core values are involved, the longer it will take.
The more complex the problem, the more trial and error solutions will be necessary.

There is no such thing as a perfect solution. Every solution sets the stage for another problem, so it’s important to try the solutions for a while to see what works and what doesn’t, and tweak the solutions to achieve a better outcome.

Thoughts and attitudes that can interfere with an effective negotiation

  • I don’t deserve it. I’m not worthy.
  • If I get what I want I will be obligated in the future to give when I don’t want to be giving.
  • I never get what I want.
  • My partner doesn’t care about what I want.
  • What I want is more important than what my partner wants.
  • I Won’t let anyone push me around.
  • Have to fight for what you want in life.
  • Whoever wants it the most should get what they want.

Fears that interfere with a good negotiation

  • Fear of reprisal of being assertive
  • Fear of offending partner if assertive
  • Fear of disrupting relationship if assertive
  • Fear that if you ask and don’t get, it triggers old memories of similar experiences
  • Fear that if you really seek to understand your partner’s concerns you will have to agree with what they want

Preparing for a negotiation

Before you start the negotiation, and to prepare for a good negotiation, reflect on the following questions:

  • What do I want?
  • How important is this to me?
  • Why is it important?
  • To get what I want, what will I need to do and what will my partner need to do?
  • If I get most of what I want, what is the positive and negative effect on my partner?
  • How could I make it easier for my partner to say yes?

Brainstorming is the last step

One person goes first and expresses all their concerns while the partner listens without rebutting or defending anything. The response is simply to recap and check for understanding. It may also be necessary to ask questions for clarity.

The brainstorming of solutions is the last step in the process to arrive at a good compromise and begin to test its effectiveness.

After each person has expressed all their concerns and desires, and each of you feels understood, then it is time for brainstorming solutions. You don’t want to brainstorm or problem-solve too early. Try to practice getting comfortable to sit with a disagreement.

In an adult intimate relationship, disagreements are a given. Rather than wishing there were fewer disagreements, brush up on your negotiation skills and see for yourself the difference it can make. 

If you have trouble practicing relationship skills on your own, consider getting help from a qualified relationship expert.

Have a good holiday season!