Two spouses are really struggling with a decision related to their financial planning, and each person has a strong opinion that keeps them locked in conflict without any movement towards resolution. What happens next?
Whether the precipitating event causing conflict is related to finances, parenting, extended family, career moves, sexual intimacy or spiritual beliefs, the key towards resolution is to have each spouse listen and understand the other’s perspective. The ability to compromise begins when both spouses can perceive true empathy for their spouse’s viewpoint. When an opposing viewpoint is held by the person we choose as life partner, it is critical to let down your guard and begin negotiating.
Negotiations result in one of three outcomes: Spouse One’s recommendation is fully adhered to, Spouse Two’s recommendation is fully adhered to, or some combination of both party’s recommendations are agreed to. Quite frankly, the third option may not always be the best solution. At times, the art of compromise requires respecting and implementing the other party’s perspective.
Couples therapy involves both having compassion for the spouse’s perspective and determining when joint decisions require each person yielding some of the control or outcome. When the negotiation process gets adversarial, the role of the therapist is to help the voice of each spouse be heard, not necessarily to wear a referee’s uniform (truth be told, I have mentioned to a few couples that I was ready to pull out my referee’s whistle to reduce the tension in the room). Eye contact and reflective listening are critical skills used in making joint decisions. The therapist also reminds the couple the reason for being there: both parties love another and finding the method to resolving differences is a key towards “life-long happiness.”