A win-win result should be the goal of every relationship deal in a healthy partnership. And negotiation, says Sheila O’Connor, is the key.’
“Sometimes I think my husband is so selfish,” says Caroline, “Just the other day, he bought himself a new set of golf clubs without consulting me. We need things for the home and the baby. It’s my money too. Why doesn’t he think to discuss it with me first?”
Have you ever been annoyed at your partner and wished he or she could act differently? If so, you should consider using negotiation skills in your relationship. When you do this, both of you can win.
Why, then, aren’t we all doing this? The truth is the term negotiation sounds cold and businesslike, and it’s not what one expects to have in a loving relationship.
“The problem with negotiation is that it has a negative association to it. We see negotiation all day long at work, and there’s a you-against-me connotation to it,” says Riki Robbins Jones, PhD, a relationships workshop leader and author of Negotiating Love. “Business negotiation as a way of interacting during the day doesn’t work at home, but loving negotiation certainly does. We need to change from getting the best of each other (at work) to wanting the best for each other (at home). The difference between the two is trust.”
When a relationship has a trust in it, it creates a safe space for both partners to say what they want without the other person hurting or abusing them, emotionally or physically.
When you do that, you’re coming from a place of love. Jones says that at any one time, there are only two places you can be in any relationship: in the love place or in the fear place, and it’s normal to swing between the two.
“When you’re angry or upset, you’re in the fear place, but if you know how to get from the fear place to the love place, there’s every chance the relationship will remain a safe and healing one,” says Jones. “Again, trust is the bridge between these two places.”
The trouble with being in the fear mode is that, in an argument, it can end up being unproductive and blaming. What starts out as “How could you spend $500 on a set of golf clubs?” escalates into something hurtful and damaging: “Your whole family is all the same—always spending money!” A row follows, nothing is resolved, and both parties go away wounded.
If, on the other hand, you approach your disagreements from the love mode, you’ll use a lot more “I …” statements, which won’t put your partner on the defensive: “I am really hurt that you didn’t tell me you wanted to buy new golf clubs. We really need things for the house and baby. I thought we could’ve gone shopping together.”
The point of these examples: if one person is in the fear mode, they will attack, and if the other is attacked or afraid, they will fight back.
Better to avoid this scenario altogether. Never try to negotiate love when you are angry, because in this state you can’t be reasonable.
Sweeping your anger under the rug happens because people believe couples with good relationships don’t have disagreements. It builds resentment, so you get angrier, eventually blowing up.
Then there’s toxic rage as a way of dealing with anger. This can be dangerous, since it may lead to violence. Toxic rage is designed to hurt the other party, whether it is through emotional name-calling, put-down, or physical violence. Whatever, it is always destructive.
Because of this, one of the first things you must do as a couple when deciding to negotiate love is to discuss how you will treat each other when you are in attack mode. You need to decide what is off-limits and how you will act without sanctions. The best way is to physically leave the scene until everyone calms down, then negotiate the problem.
At the same time as being able to deal with anger, don’t forget that it is a valuable and normal emotion. Nevertheless, you need to express it in a healthy way, such as using “I …” statements, and not blaming “You …” statements (“I am furious you spent that money on golf clubs without consulting me.”) Anger is your way of letting the other know the limit of your tolerance.
“If anger isn’t expressed, it will come out in the bedroom,” advises Jones. “Anger creates a wall, and shows up in the intimacy of your emotional energy. Don’t be afraid to express it in a healthy way before you get to negotiating love.”
But what should you do if you’ve already lost your temper—or your partner has—and hurtful things have already been uttered? This is where forgiveness is important if the relationship is to survive. That doesn’t mean you look down on your partner from on high and decide to forgive him or her because you are a wonderful person—that’s not forgiveness. Instead it means, “I forgive you because I have done or might have done the same thing or a similar thing myself. I’m not so perfect that I have to condemn you for something you did.” Then you let it go.
That doesn’t mean you don’t care. It simply means you acknowledge that the other person hurt you and that you are choosing to not spend the rest of your life going over it. Forgiveness lets you love each other again. “It may not be easy,” advises Jones, “but the only way you’re going to trust is to forgive your partner when something bad happens. Then allow him or her to make amends and go on, otherwise you won’t have a relationship anymore.”
So just how do you negotiate love so your relationship stays healthy and thrives?
Try three steps: (1) the preparation beforehand (2) the conversation itself, and (3) the agreement afterward.
You can’t say how you feel unless you know, and you can’t ask for what you want unless you know what you want. At the same time, don’t try to deal with a lot of issues at once or you’ll end up frustrated. Talk about it issue-by-issue for around 15-30 minutes. If you see the issue differently from your partner, then that’s an issue in itself and something you need to discuss.
When you have the actual negotiation conversation itself, use these key phrases:
“I feel …”// “How do you feel?” “
I need ...”// “What do you need?”
“I can’t give in on …”// “What can’t you give in on?”
Then, when you’re suggesting solutions, say, “What about … ?” and brainstorm alternatives.
Once you’ve decided on one or more answers say, “Then we agree on …” If you get stuck and can’t agree, then add the additional step of saying “I’ll think about it.” Remember, too, agreements will need to change, and you may have to renegotiate.
Be aware that if your partner seems reluctant to get into negotiation in the first place, it could be they feel they don’t have the necessary skills. Men, for example, can sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about their feelings or about sex or money.
Your spouse may fear speaking openly because he or she is worried you might not like what they have to say. They might be afraid to tell you something because they anticipate a negative reaction. If you feel your partner doesn’t want to communicate, indicate that you’re prepared to listen. (“Whenever you’re ready, I’m here.”) Then listen with both your ears and heart. Listen for the underlying feelings.
And when it comes to making anything happen, remember, it takes two people to negotiate.
Loving negotiations are not always easy, but they are the key to resolving differences. And they’re ultimately what keeps our relationships alive and nurturing.