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How to Negotiate Your Way to a Better Marriage


Marriage can be a big challenge. The union of two people with their own distinct personalities and world views can mean the potential for disagreement is huge. If selfishness crops up, or if finger-pointing begins, resentment and emotional turmoil can result.

Some couples handle marriage through trial and error. Some can even make this approach work⁠. Even so, marital differences can be better managed with negotiation strategies. It may sound surprising at first, but a negotiation seminar can be a useful way to get couples resolving their differences to achieve win-win outcomes. Can married couples negotiate their way to marital bliss?

Treat Negotiation as a Continuous Process

In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, the Obamas revealed that their marriage is a series of negotiations. The former president and first lady revealed that, over the years of their marriage, they have had to walk a tight balance. The couple admits a lot of give-and-take is involved. They cite supporting each other as a key factor in achieving their individual professional and familial ambitions.

Many couples make the mistake of seeing marital negotiations as a one-time event. In family-based negotiation seminars, experts emphasize that most issues couples negotiate on will likely be linked together.

For instance, when you negotiate on which apartment to live in, the outcome may affect other factors. These could be which couch you should buy or how many cars you can have. You might even find yourselves later negotiating which jobs to take based on the apartment choice. One consideration is how the apartment you choose might affect your commute times.

The higher the stakes and the more complex the situation, the more a couple’s individual core values are involved. Every solution can set off a series of new complications. It’s wise to accept that there will rarely be a perfect solution for most problems. The best thing a couple can do is to continually work together to seek mutually beneficial solutions.

Recognize That Some Things Are Non-Negotiable

In marriages, there are usually a lot of expectations between couples. Both partners often feel their other half should be making some sacrifices to ensure the couple’s happiness.

While compromise can be sought in different scenarios, there are some core values marital partners may not be willing to negotiate on. These include:

    • Integrity
    • Emotions
    • Spiritual practices
    • Core values
  • Trust

Negotiation seminar experts advise that the negotiable parts of marriage normally relate to decisions and behaviors. Couples should consider a Shapiro Negotiations consultation if they would like to learn strategies and tactics for how to reach their desired solutions. For example, it’s acceptable to ask your spouse to avoid spending too much time at their place of worship at the expense of other commitments. However, it’s not acceptable to ask your spouse to drop their religious belief altogether.

Strive for Joint Agreements

When marital partners brainstorm solutions, some options may only be appealing for one partner. To keep both partners happy, try to first adopt solutions that are acceptable to both partners. Finding mutually beneficial solutions is usually a better option than trying to concede on sacrifices too soon.

Some marriages end up with one partner being more dominant than the other. When these partners brainstorm ideas together, the dominant partner usually makes the final decision. The submissive partner may just go along with things.

True joint agreements happen when both partners feel their needs are being met and both approve of the solution. Marriage seminar leaders advise the dominant partner to be mindful of their position. The less-dominant partner may seem happy to concede. However, continuous submission can breed resentment.

It’s important to keep the channels of communication open. Being honest reduces the room for misunderstandings and agreements made under false pretenses.

Where there are lingering disagreements, hold off on taking action. Holding off action gives time for both partners to consider the pros and cons. Taking a step back can allow room for new alternatives and new perspectives.

Reciprocity Is More Important Than Compromise

Marriage, like most social unions, is a give-and-take partnership. If one partner is making all the major compromises, the relationship can end in resentment.

It’s healthy for a couple to make sacrifices for each other. Sacrifices that go both ways make for healthier relationships. Reciprocity breeds a feeling of being appreciated and equal partnership. Your partner may view their sacrifices as worthwhile if you’re also making equal sacrifices.

Make Safe Ultimatums

Occasionally, negotiations can reach an impasse and delay solutions. In this situation, marriage seminars encourage using clever compromises to move talks along. One way of solving impasses is by playing “the ultimatum game.”

In the ultimatum game, one partner is selected to choose the reward. The other partner can then choose how the reward is distributed. Having a safe ultimatum can quickly resolve issues while considering both partners’ feelings.

The ultimatum game respects both partners’ needs and gives each partner a say in decision-making.

An example is when remodeling the kitchen. One partner could choose the style while the other picks the appliances. For vacation plans, one partner could choose the destination while the other picks the activities. It’s important to switch around who is selecting and who is distributing the reward at each turn.