Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Conflict is a given in any relationship. It's only natural for two people to occasionally, or more than occasionally, disagree on something. So, the question is not: Will we disagree? The question is: How do we resolve our conflict?
Here's an example:
A client I'll call Brian and his wife, Sherry, are having a discussion about some financial decisions they need to make. They both have very strong opinions about this issue. And both feel they're in the right.
"Let me explain what's going to make me feel better," Brian said. And then he went on to explain why he wanted Sherry to agree to doing things his way.
"Well, that doesn't work for me," Sherry said. "Here's how I've always thought about this." And then she went on to explain why her solution was best.
On one hand, they were each explaining their side of the issue. On the other hand, they were explaining their side with one goal in mind: to make sure their partner gave in and they, in turn, got what they wanted.
You can probably guess where this conversation was going to go. Assuming it was going to go anywhere, that is.
What's best for you may not be best for your relationship
Finally, Sherry said, "You know what I see going on here, Brian? You're all about what's best for you. I'm all about what's best for me. But we're supposed to be a couple, right?"
Brian thought for a minute and then answered, "I think I know what you're saying. Maybe we need to step back and take a different approach. Starting with a different question."
"Exactly," Sherry replied. "Instead of each of us asking, 'What's best for me,' we need to both ask, 'What's best for us?'"
What about you and your partner? Do you ever find yourselves so focused on your needs as individuals that you neglect to consider what's best for you as a couple?
Here's how to make that shift:
Ask yourself a hard question: "Why is it so important to have things go my way?" Take a look at what's behind your insistence on, in Brian's words, what's right for you. Is it possible you might have an agenda in mind that could be more about you and less about the two of you? Yes, this is a hard question. But answering it might be a key to better understanding what's making it hard for you to see your partner's point of view.
And then ask another one: "Is my focus on meeting my own agenda driving a wedge in my relationship?" That's right, another question that might be uncomfortable to think about. If you're telling yourself that things will be just fine once your partner finally gives in to what you want, you're on your way to driving that wedge. If so, isn't that another good reason for taking a look at what's motivating your side of the issue?
Ask yourself what you're willing to risk. The bottom line: Getting what's best for you may not be best for your partner. And, by extension, for your relationship. Therefore, winning the argument may also be losing in terms of hurt feelings and resentment. Is it worth it to have it your way?
Remind yourself of what really matters. There's no better way to help open your mind to another way to look at your disagreement with your partner. What's the foundation of your relationship? Most likely, shared values, shared goals, and watching out for each other's interests. That's what being in a relationship is all about. Right?
Step back and shift your perspective. Away from your own best interests. And toward considering what's best for you and your partner as a couple.
Ask instead of telling. "What's best for us?" Getting to this point in the conversation is as easy as asking this simple question. Who's willing to ask it? Hopefully, one of you is prepared to blink first. Why not push your pride aside and take the lead?
A guarantee: a new question will begin a new discussion. Focusing on what's best for you is all about taking a side and getting what you want. A conversation about us-as a couple-has the goal of protecting, and building upon, your relationship. When your conversation is all about what's best for your relationship, the need to establish and defend your own personal wants just doesn't seem so important. Why? Because what's going to strengthen your relationship, and make your home an even better place to be, is so much more important. And the conflict? What conflict? You're working together as a couple.
You, your partner, and what's best for each of you. On the surface, this might sound like a contradiction-but consider this: To get to what's best for each of you, start with what's best for you as a couple. After all, you're a team. Right?
What helps you and your partner resolve disagreements together? Share your experience and advice by adding a comment below.