How many of us are worried about being controlled in a relationship, fearful that we have no say in what goes on? I am sure that there are many of us, which could have resulted because of past relationships or even our childhood. Therefore principle four could be a tough one for you, but nevertheless extremely important to resolving relationship problems.
Principle 4: Let Your Partner Influence You. The focus of this principle is not on having no say and letting your partner make all the decisions. Instead, it is about actively sharing power and decision-making, even during times of anger and negativity. It involves seeking common ground and striving for mutually satisfying outcomes, rather than insisting on always getting our own way, when dealing with relationship problems.
Just as I was typing this, an example presented itself. Let me share. We live in a neighborhood where people post on Facebook household items that they are getting rid of and my husband is always on the lookout and has found some wonderful things. Well, he just came out of his office and said “I am just going to get this really great cutting board that someone is getting rid of.” Before I said anything I paused and thought about the five other cutting boards we have in our cupboard and ask “why are you getting a cutting board when we already have so many? Leave it for someone that may really want it.” He stopped, listened, turned back around, and went back to work.
Do I rule the relationship? No, but just as I listen to my husband he also listens to me and we both try and take what each other is saying into consideration. He has had some wonderful points of view, things I have never considered and for that I am grateful. Therefore, letting your partner influence you is an important part of any relationship.
John Gottman, Ph.D. in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, states that there are two types of relationship problems: perpetual problems and solvable problems. Apparently, 69% of relationship problems are perpetual and cannot always be resolved. Perpetual problems are defined as reoccurring and difficult to solve. These can kill a relationship if the couple is not able to cope with the situation. Some couples may find that they are in gridlock, having the conversation over and over again, becoming increasingly hurt, frustrated and distrustful of their partner.
Solvable problems may sound easier to resolve, but they can cause a great deal of pain in a relationship. Nevertheless, the next principle we will discuss is Principle 5: Solve your Solvable Problems. Resolving these problems in a relationship takes practice because it is a new skill and comes in four easy steps.
Step 1: Soften your start-up, meaning how you start the conversation. You can tell in the first three minutes of a conversation how it is going to end. Normally if you start to criticize or have contempt, it is not going to end well. A soft start-up has four parts: (1) Take some responsibility for what is happening – “I share some responsibility for this…..” (2) Next state how you feel “I feel”……(3) about the situation and…..(4) here is what I need. Do not express what you don’t want, focus on the positive.
Step 2: Learn to make and receive repair attempts. Remember, try not to make the situation worse. Offer small ways to make and accept any repair attempts from your partner.
Step 3: Soothe yourself and each other. This could be taking a break, doing a mindfulness practice together, or going for a walk. Find out ways that your partner soothes themselves and incorporates it into your lives.
Step 4: Compromise – yes compromise. There is a great exercise that you can do. Draw two circles to look like a bagel, with the inside being issues you will not compromise on and the outside being ones that you will. Then ask questions such as (1) what do we agree on? (2) what are our important feelings here? (3) what common goals do we have?