February 17, 2012

Romance the Other 365 Days a (Leap) Year

We're pleased to welcome Sophia Gilmer, NAFCM's new intern who will be sharing a continuing series of conflict resolution tips blog posts.

Romantic relationships are long term mutually satisfying extensive collaborations in which negotiations are constant and, as in all relationships, often occur without you realizing it. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In proposes a conscientious method of principled negotiation. (See how these principles can reduce relationship conflicts below.) 

Sophia Gilmer

1. Separate People from the Problem.
 Disputes often lie in the distinctions between what they and you are thinking. The differences may not be based on objective reality but simply a matter of perception. Empathetically try to understand your partner, withhold judgment, and remember that you care about this person and this relationship.
 Before you attempt to walk a mile in their shoes, look down to see if you are wearing stilettos while mountain climbing by asking yourself questions. What am I arguing about? Is this important? This isn’t a matter of life or death so, why am I so upset? Is what I’m saying really reflective of how I feel about this person? Am I over-reacting? Before you can walk a mile in another’s shoes, check to see if the shoes you are wearing fit the occasion.
2. Focus on Interests Rather than Positions.
 Often in an argument, we take a position and dig in. The problem is the other person has done the exact same thing. Stop focusing on positions and find the common interests. In a romantic relationship, the pervading interest is the preservation and growth of the relationship that is often bogged down by the details of everyday life. It’s difficult to keep the romance alive amidst colicky babies, recycling, burnt dinner, laundry, and work. Nine-to-five has become a mythical legend along with Santa and the Tooth Fairy. The truth is someone has to get the toys and put them under the tree and wake up at 3AM to put money under the pillow. Deciding who does that is a negotiation but the common interest is the happiness of the child. Instead of declaring, “It’s your turn” and rolling over, begin the conversation with how adorable that toothless grin is and how surprised the child will be in the morning. This conversation is more likely to lead to you both wanting to be the one who causes that.
3. Generate Possibilities for Mutual Gains.
 There’s a reason we have two ears and only one mouth: we should listen twice as often as we speak. When brainstorming solutions listen, really listen, to what the other person is saying. Once you hear their concerns, you are better able to address them with a solution based on mutual gain. There are many solutions to any given problem. It’s a relationship, not algebra! You may both be saying the same thing just differently but you won’t know that unless you listen.
4. Act on Solution-Based Principles and Objective Criteria.
 In your relationship dance, who leads? If you’ve never asked that, it’s probably you. When the power dynamic favors one partner over the other, it is necessary to utilize objective standards for settling disputes. Play and fight fairly and you can protect the relationship even while arguing. Do you really want to manipulate your partner into something when a persuasive conversation on the merits of your idea will suffice? 
And for Good Measure: Remember the Puppy Principle.
 When you leave work, work has not necessarily left you and before you can take off your coat, you are bombarded by the household’s obligations and expectations. Try this: for the first ten minutes after your loved one walks through the door, approach them with love, excitement and enthusiasm (think puppy). Don’t bark demands or utter a complaint. Smile with your whole heart that you are together again (like after the first few dates) and allow a moment for both of you to bask in the joy of appreciation.

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