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No place for judgement in healthy marriage


et’s open with the assumption that you and your spouse cannot agree about something. It may be about how to parent your children, or about overcoming an annoying habit that is bothering one of you. In fact, it may be about anything that has become an obstacle in the relationship. Most of us are uncomfortable with conflict. Small irritations become entrenched resentments, eroding communication and blocking problem-solving. When a real crisis develops, we don’t have the skills to dig ourselves out. Chances are you end up reacting in one or more of the following ways: • Get mad inside but keep quiet and give the other the “silent treatment.” • Withdraw to a safe distance because you don’t like to argue. • Get angry, criticize, call names, use sarcasm or some other aggressive behavior. • Give in; say “I guess you are right” with a big sigh, be submissive in order to avoid conflict. • Deny or pretend that “everything is okay” and no conflict exists here.

These are all common, but usually very ineffective methods of coping with conflict. For most of us, it is in those tough moments — in a personal conflict or in an argument — when it’s clear how our communication habits can prevent us from having the remarkable relationship we really want. Thou Shall Not Judge I do believe you married the right person, when you stood up in front of all those people and declared your vows on your wedding day. It’s

just that once you’re married, all the differences begin to surface. Married couples just don’t have the skills to deal with these differences — conflict is badly handled differences. What’s important to realize is that most negative marital interchanges are about judgments. As soon as you judge your partner, they stop listening and you stop getting what you need. Judging implies that something is wrong with them, that they are not good enough. It’s easy to fall into the habit of judging the people closest to us, especially our partner. However, continuing down the slippery slope of judgment makes us: • Unable to be open to our partner’s point of view and • Unlikely to get what we need. The Power of Knowing Your Needs Most couples view negotiation as a trip to the torture chamber. That’s because their efforts are usually fruitless, and they come away from the experience battered and bruised. Who wants to negotiate when you have nothing but disappointment and pain to look forward to? So, how can you truly negotiate something important in your relationship with ease and grace? First, you need to let go of what I call adversary images of the other person — a fixed idea about them that comes from a judgment

or diagnosis of them. This judgment — “my partner is selfish, an ass, stupid, etc.” — is a fixed notion of them, and it creates distance and separation between the two of you. Conscious negotiation helps us focus on mutual, instead of thinking and speaking in terms of dehumanizing labels or other habitual patterns of communication which are easily heard as demanding and antagonistic. It is far better to take a soft approach and state the problem from what you need, “Hey honey, would you be willing to take out the trash?” then from the position that your partner is wrong or bad, “God, you always forget to take the trash out and it really pisses me off!” Compromise vs. Collaboration Will your plans take both of your needs into consideration? Will you keep at it until you’re both satisfied? Understanding the difference between compromise and collaboration will play a big part in you and your partner’s willingness and ability to stick with the negotiation process. Compromise says “it is me against you.” It begins by identifying what you both want. Then seeing who’s willing to give up parts of what they want until you both can live with what’s left. This is based in the belief that there isn’t enough to go around, so you have to settle for whatever you can get. Collaboration speaks abundance. It begins by identifying what you both need and what is missing. Then, as you negotiate — keeping your attention focused on everyone’s values — strategies will emerge that make it possible

for both of you to be satisfied, without any compromise needed. How this Works What couples “want” is actually a strategy for being understood at a deep level. When we tune into our partner’s needs, we connect meaningfully with their concerns and engage in mutually beneficial dialogue. In this type of negotiation, mutual trust and genuine respect increase and you both feel included and consulted. If you try this at home, you’ll be surprised how often the “judging voice” in your mind pops up when viewing your spouse’s behavior. You will begin to be aware of mutual verbal “attacks” in the marriage. Once you become aware of the judging voice and the attacks, you can proceed to eliminate them and have a healthier marriage. You start to observe without judging. Then you start listening to what your partner really is saying, and grasp what their actual needs are. Mutual understanding and connection develops; the marriage gets better. It turns out that we choose mates who are different than ourselves. This causes problems after the initial infatuation wears off. But it’s actually better. In the beginning of a relationship, love and attraction are about similarities, but moves to differences as the relationship matures. It is understanding these differences that makes a relationship strong. Ana Loiselle (, 505.872.8743) is a licensed relationship coach, speaker and author.



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