|Me and my hubby on our wedding day|
In December (2018), my husband and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. We have made it through grad school, law school, infertility, premature twins, my sick and then dying mother, and many other struggles in between. Making a marriage work is… work. I would be lying if I told you it has all been bliss. It has not. In fact, a few months into our marriage we just about called it quits. Looking back now, I can see why we struggled to make our marriage work. We are both very strong willed and stubborn people which led to some ridiculous fights in our quest to be the one in the right. We did some couples counselling and got ourselves back on track. Which for the record, we have had to do a few times in our marriage when things have started to go sideways.
There are many things that prevent an okay marriage being from being an excellent marriage, the one I am going to talk about here is dealing with conflict. Specifically, learning to accept influence from your partner.
We all have conflict in our relationships, there is just no escaping it. As a couple’s counsellor, I was more concerned when couples told me they “never fight” then when a couple came in saying that they don’t like how they fight. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having disagreements and even arguments in a relationship. Conflict should not be a dirty word. The trick is to manage the conflict within your relationship in a way that you both walk out of it feeling respected and heard. Notice that I did not say that you should walk out of it feeling like you have convinced your partner that you are right and they are wrong!
One of the biggest mistakes most people make in their interpersonal relationships is trying to ‘win’ disagreements and arguments by trying to convince people to agree with them instead of giving a bit to get a bit. As they say in the martial art Aikido, sometimes you need to yield to win. The strangest thing, often when you concede even a bit, you often end up getting more of what you want –otherwise as the saying goes, you win the battle, but lose the war. Pick your battles with your partner wisely. Ask yourself, is this a $1 issue or a $20 issue? Based on your answer proceed accordingly.
The strangest thing, often when you concede even a bit, you often end up getting more of what you want –otherwise as the saying goes, you win the battle, but lose the war.
Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman says that letting your partner influence you is one of the 7 principles to making marriage work. Dr Gottman’s research shows that power sharing and accepting influence are vital components in managing conflict and strengthening your relationship.
When we take the time to try to understand the other person’s perspective and let them feel heard they are more likely to do the same. Not only does this cut back on the conflict, but it also provides couples with the opportunity to work together and problem solve as a team. Win/win. How we listen (or actually don’t listen) is often how conflicts escalate. When we are ‘listening’ to people (partner, colleague, family or friends), most of us tend to be thinking about how we are going to respond and what counterpoints we are going to make instead of listening to truly understand what the other person is saying. How can you possibly understand what a person is saying and why they have that perspective if you are too busy thinking about your own perspective?
When there is a conflict in the relationship and one of the partners does not feel heard or respected this can lead to a break down in communication. When partners accept influence from each other they are setting the groundwork for a more collaborative and rewarding relationship.
Next time you find yourself in a conflict with your partner, try to resist the urge to ‘win’ and instead try to hear what your partner has to say and accept their influence. You will be amazed at how it will not only minimize the conflict but also strengthen your relationship.
Here are my top 5 reasons why it is important to accept influence from your partner to make your relationship work:
- When you take the time to truly listen to your partner and understand their perspective you will learn more about what is important to them.
- When you stop trying to be right and try instead to understand your partner you expand your views, learn more about one another and strengthen your friendship.
- Relationships should be built on equality and partnership. In order to be true partners, you will need to take turns leading and following, this means taking turns influencing and being influenced.
- There is nothing wrong with having conflict in a relationship. Conflict only becomes problematic when it is disrespectful and people prioritize being right over seeking to really understand the issue.
- Accepting influence from your partner validates their feelings and beliefs. The result of feeling validated is an increased ability to be vulnerable in the relationship. Vulnerability = closer connection.
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Until next week,