Tension-->Collaboration: Week Five of Therapy

I came into therapy this week feeling a bit more punchy than usual. Now that I'm not in the doom and gloom of the break-up, or in the teary/WTF-is-going-on? stage, my needs are changing. I didn't really know what I wanted to talk about, but we started out discussing the book I've been reading, The Good Marriage. (Really I recommend this to everyone in a serious relationship or who wants to be in one someday.)

In the book, Judith Wallerstein examines the stories of 50 couples in which both partners say they are happy in the relationship. She outlines four types of marriages--romantic, rescue, companionate, and traditional--as well as the necessary tasks that couples undertake over the course of their relationship. She asked if there was one that stuck out to me.

We began discussing one of the early tasks, separating from the family of origin. I explained how in my case I was fortunate to have a mom well-versed in parenting adult children as I'm the youngest of three. She's supportive but not invasive. SCL on the other hand is...well, not as fortunate. His mom means well, but she still thinks she knows best. And of course, no one is good enough for her baby boy. Barf. Needless to say, I haven't had a fair shot. That isn't to say that I've been blameless in the situation, and I fully intend on making amends with his mother as soon as I have the opportunity. But C also reminded me that I can't expect anything from her in return. She may accept my words, she may not, and ultimately I decided I needed to do this for the sake of our relationship. If she continues to be a bother, SCL will need to step in.

This conversation flowed into an airing of quasi-grievances such as having to adjust once again to a life tied to a poor grad student for the next 4 or more years. I was really looking forward to not having to deal with all of that, and here I am again, dealing with it. SCL wants a different apartment with more space, but because he doesn't make much money and I'm not willing to suck it up and pay a lot more out of pocket, that limits where we can live. I'm worried that we'll have to more too far out and getting into DC will be a pain. There's a lot of anxiety in knowing we'll have to compromise on this, and I must be careful not to neglect the things that I need, rather than being silent and playing the martyr later.

The same kind of issue came up as I discussed the importance of marriage and even though it is still quite early in our getting back together, I would like to discuss a timeline for making a formal commitment to each other to solidify the one we are already making by ourselves. This is important to both of us, and well, I'd like to have an idea of when it might happen. I talked about how he had hated the idea of a diamond ring, but admitted last week that was more about finding an excuse not to get engaged than it was about the damn diamond ring.

I realized (well, C helped me realized) that I was approaching these conversations in an adversarial way. I had my wants, he had his wants, there was clashing and arguing. She said, "Try to think about how you'd discuss this with a best friend. Think in terms of collaboration rather than about opposing sides because this is about what's best for your relationship, not either of you individually." Brilliant. And here I was thinking I had this communication thing down. I've got a lot to learn. It honestly had never occurred to me to approach these issues in this way, but it makes complete sense. We both care deeply about these issues, and in a loving relationship, we should honestly care about what the other person wants, thinks, and feels.

I'm going to reflect more on this and try to apply some of this in our conversations this week. Not only will it relieve some of the inevitable tension that occurs when there's disagreement, but it will also help us discern what is actually best for both of us.

What are your best negotiation strategies?


  1. That books sounds great. My husband and I are reading Embracing the Beloved. It's about using relationship as a spiritual path. It's really great but sounds a little less practical. I totally agree with the separating from the family of origin thing. I am okay with communication. I think the thing that has helped me the most is learning to validate my husband's feelings. It doesn't mean I agree with everything he is saying, but I do validate the way he is feeling.

  2. I like to do positive negative positive. Like I love when you wash the dishes, but if you could work on taking out the trash before its gets yuck would be awesome, THANK YOU so much for helping out though I REALLY appreciate it =D BUT the BF thinks thats condescending lol SO if you find a method let me know =D I also have a question you say you moved in together with the promise you would get engaged shortly after, and now you want to jump into that same kind of promise....Dont you think that thats what created the pressure to begin with? Would you still live together if that wasnt in the near future? Anyway thats just me being nosey feel free not to answer =D p.s. I REALLY need to look into that book and a therapist!

  3. Nicole, you've inspired my next post.

  4. just catching up on posts - definitely need to pick up that book. and love her idea of talking to him like he's your best friend. bear is mine but we do get wrapped up in relationship compromise and forget to remember we are best friends too. my old boss once said "I married my best friend and we built a marriage on a world of compromise." have i shared that before? i say that one all the time but i forget to incorporate. thanks C, haha!