Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cooperating or Competing to Get Your Needs Met?

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Psychologists and economists have set up experiments in which two folks are challenged to play a game in which they share money. If they compete for the money, one will win more than the other. If they cooperate, they will share equally in the rewards.

The important issue is that when they compete, they lose money in the effort to win, but when they cooperate, they keep all of the money. Which do they choose? You guessed it. They compete because they want the bigger reward, not the most money to be distributed between them.

These experiments have huge implications for our world, but they make me think about how couples negotiate their differences. When you commit to a relationship, you believe you will be better off than if you remained single. You believe you are entering a cooperative relationship where you and your partner are making an equal effort to build each other up.

Yet all couples recognize early in their marriage that they have different views, feelings, and desires. In a healthy relationship, these differences must be negotiated so that each partner has an equal influence on the relationship. The type of relationship you have reflects equally on each partner’s views, feelings, and desires.

Do you compromise your desires for your partner or do you try to maximize what you want? Many folks would rather avoid tension than negotiate for their desires to be met. They often say they don’t have strong views, feelings or desires. However, they also become dissatisfied with the relationship over time because their needs go unmet.

Others would rather have their way than experience intimacy. These folks still marry, but are uncaring in their negotiation strategy. They often pair with a passive negotiator. The controlling spouse enjoys a short-term win, but over the long run, the relationship is not satisfying for their partner.

Controlling and passive approaches establish a win/lose model for the relationship. Neither approach will lead to a satisfying relationship. If you get your way, then your partner will ultimately be dissatisfied. If you give in, then you will fail to negotiate for what you want in the relationship.

Partnership requires giving as much as you receive and winning your partner’s trust that his or her views, feelings and desires will be responded to. If you find yourself feeling short-ended examine how you negotiate for your views, feelings, and desires to be attended to.

Do you communicate clearly? Do you communicate directly? Are there consequences for your partner not considering your input? You should be challenging your partner to care, not trying to muscle your way in the relationship. If your partner fails to care, then this should ultimately lead to increased distance in the relationship.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Together or Separate: Why I See Couples Together for Marriage Counseling

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Many marriage counselors tell the couple that comes to them with marital problems that they each have issues that must be addressed individually in order for their relationship to improve. What does this mean?

It may mean that one partner’s mood or personality is judged to be so disturbed that marriage counseling is unlikely to be an effective strategy for change. Or it may simply mean that the therapist is more comfortable doing individual therapy than working with couples. I typically see couples together. Why?

After doing marriage counseling for more than 30 years, I believe that most couples seeking help for their marriage are bringing in a broken relationship, not two broken individuals. The broken relationship is reflected in how the couple relate to each other. Initially, I focus on how the couple interacts, not why they interact as they do.

Most couples will point to their partner’s faults during our initial sessions in the mistaken notion that I will be able to change their partner. They quickly learn that a blaming stance only creates a defensive posture from their partner. Only when couples examine their contribution to their relationship difficulties are they able to begin to rebuild a new, more intimate relationship.

Think for a moment, where did you learn to negotiate an intimate relationship? You probably had the same training for this important task that you did for parenting and a sexual relationship. You were expected to pick it up naturally without any direct instruction. You learned by observation of those close to you, yet those lessons are often a lesson in how not to behave, not how to attract your partner to cooperate in building the closeness that you each desire.

When couples learn that an intimate relationship can be built through changing their interaction, their defensive posture slowly fades while they take small steps to reach out to one another. But old patterns die slowly and couples often neglect to maintain changes in how they relate to each other, especially when under stress.

Take a minute to consider one thing you could do differently to change how you and your partner interact. Apply this today and see how it affects your interaction with your partner. You’ll be surprised how small changes can produce big results!