Your partner should be your collaborator, your ally, your co-conspirator. Yet all too often couples end up treating their relationship like a zero-sum game.
If you see your partner as a competitor rather than a collaborator, discussions about big topics like where to live, whether to have kids, and what kind of life you want to build become battles in which only one person can triumph. If you win, then your partner loses, and vice versa. It’s easy to see how quickly this kind of attitude can suck the fun out of a relationship.
Yet, at the same time, it’s pretty understandable. Most of us aren’t taught the skills we need to approach disagreements collaboratively. That’s why I would like to use today’s post to share some of my tips for shifting from a competitive to a collaborative attitude when working through disagreements with your partner.
- Take the pressure off. Chances are, you don’t need to come to an agreement right now. Remind yourself and your partner that you have time to figure things out. Maybe you can decide together to take a break from the discussion and do something fun, and set a time to return to the topic.
- Get curious about your partner’s mindset. Next time you disagree, instead of trying to make your point, take some time to simply ask your partner why they feel the way they do. I’m not talking about leading questions that are designed to find some flaw in their argument–I’m talking about sincere, thoughtful inquiries made in the spirit of learning more about the person you love. There will be time to share your perspective, too, so don’t feel like you’re losing out by getting curious.
- Think creatively. All too often clients get locked into an “all-or-nothing” mindset. “You win, I lose.” “You get everything you want, I get nothing.” If you step back and look at the situation creatively, you’ll likely notice that there are more options than just “what I want” and “what my partner wants.” Let yourself consider the whole menu.
I hope that these strategies help you next time you find yourself in conflict with your partner. As always, I advise you to ask yourself “What kind of partner do I aspire to be? How can I grow towards that, in this moment?” Aspiring to be a collaborative rather than competitive partner will take a lot of the heat off your disagreements–as well as opening up a world of possibilities beyond “I win, you lose.”