August 01, 2011

The Art of Compromise: Keys to Successful Marital Negotiation

With all of the difficulties Washington is having with the debt ceiling problem, I worry that the word "compromise" is getting a bad reputation, as in to compromise is to sell out or to give in with one's principles. 

My concern is that this negative attitude doesn't pollute discussions between marriage partners. I don't know about politics but nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to marriage.  Compromise is a fundamental skill in successful marriages but, unfortunately, they don't teach it in school.

Today we are going to talk about both the psychological obstacles which must be overcome in order to be able to reconcile differences as well as the keys to negotiating effective compromises.

What is a compromise ?

A compromise, by definition is a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, by reciprocal modification of demands. To compromise is to make a deal where one person gives up part of his or her demand in order to reach a mutual agreement concerning a shared goal or value. In order to compromise, a personal belief or conviction can't be the highest value. The welfare of the partnership must be.

Obstacles to Compromising:

  • Personal Self Doubt is a major problem. Many folks are insecure about their own power and influence and thus are made anxious when they don't feel in control of a situation. Letting go of a position or lessening a demand may be experienced as too risky. 
  • Likewise, a Lack of Trust of the other person makes it difficult to "give in" or agree on anything for fear one will be taken advantage of.
  • Lack of Shared Values or Goals   Sometime folks simply will not share common values or goals. What they want or what they think is good and true are simply too divergent or different.
  • A Sense of Entitlement or Superiority (or Inferiority) Some folks just think they know better or that the other person is just wrong. Only equals can really negotiate and compromise.
  • Certainty of Belief  (Lack of humility) It is important to realize and accept that no one side is either all right or all wrong. It is also important to acknowledge that one might be wrong despite how passionately one feels and that one must be willing to explore other positions.  

Keys to Successful Compromising

In general, expressions which enhance a person's sense of self-esteem, power and control as well as those which engender a sense of trust, express a true equality and humility will enhance the negotiation process and lead to a successful outcome.    

7 Tips:

  1. Begin from a calm place.  Emotions distort and narrow one's perspective. Be as neutral as possible in thinking about the options available in a situation.
  2. Think ahead and think it through.  Imagine the impact and implications of your position in detail and down the road. No one can guess all of the unintended consequences of a change but you still need to try.
  3. Be Empathic. Imagine the impact and implications of your position not only on yourself but for the other party as well. (Remember you ARE equals.)
  4. Remember your Shared Values and the Larger Goals. Married folks need to get beyond individual needs for control or sameness and remember their shared  vows and commitments as well as the loving experiences which brought them together at the beginning.
  5. Be Respectful. Use I-Statements when you negotiate.
  6. Address all concerns on both sides. Don't leave anything out or overlook things you may regard as unimportant.
  7. Make a deal by making trade-offs.  No one gets everything they would like in a deal. Prioritize and  let go of what is not crucial.

And one more thing...  Be Honest. Don't Capitulate or give-in out of fatigue or fear. Sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of effort to work out a lasting agreement. 

The Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC prepared these remarks for Bridge Street 8 1 2011.

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