Negotiate the Marriage You've Always Wanted
“We’re so in love nothing bad can happen to our relationship,” many people think before marrying. Negotiation sounds unromantic, more suitable for business or politics. So they don’t talk about what’s important and how they will address differences.
Then they get married. Real life happens. Unconscious expectations surface. When they are not met, the relationship can get stressed to the point where spouses think about ending it, and some do.
It’s important to notice differences early on. The same qualities that you initially found attractive in your spouse may later cause conflict.
She may have liked his generosity while dating. But after marriage she resents him for “overspending” and accumulating credit card debt. This couple could benefit from negotiating constructively, so that both will get their needs met and feel good about being together.
View Each Other as Equals
Negotiation in a healthy relationship involves two people who relate as equals. Here are a few examples of topics to discuss proactively, before they might become a source of conflict:
How will we organize our finances?
How will we relate to in-laws? How often will we see them? With whom will we spend various holidays? What kinds of boundaries might we want to establish?
What kind of parents do we want to be? What values do we want to instill, including religious identity? How will we relate to step-children?
How will we spend our leisure time, together and separately?
Will the wife keep her “maiden” surname, take her husband’s, or do something else?
Where do we want to live?
Shall we agree to have a weekly Marriage Meeting  to keep our relationship on track in all the important ways?
Collaborate to Meet Both Partners' Needs
In a successful relationship, partners have the goal of creating a solution together that fosters a harmonious relationship that satisfies the needs of both partners.
Some people are afraid to express their true feelings about an issue because they fear that doing so will disappoint their partner or make him or her uncomfortable. But if you hold back, it won’t be good for your relationship.
Rosie is madly in love with Gabe, who has proposed marriage. He wants her to quit her job and move to a distant city with him, where he’s been offered a job. Yes, she says, although it flashes through her mind that she’ll miss being near her close family and friends; and she’ll have to quit a job she likes that pays well. She says nothing about her doubts because she fears upsetting him.
Give Gift of Honest Self-Expression
Actually, by expressing her reservations, Rosie would be giving Gabe a gift. She would be allowing him to respond to her sensitively. He can’t read her mind. If she doesn’t share her thoughts and feelings, how can she expect him to consider them?
If Rosie silently goes along with his wishes by moving and is then unhappy, she is likely to feel victimized and resentful, and the relationship will suffer.
What if Rosie were to say to Gabe, “I’m not sure I’m ready to move. I like having my friends and family nearby and I love my job?” If a happy marriage is more important to Gabe than moving to a faraway city with a resentful wife, he might well be willing to either stay put for the time being or to consider alternatives that both would find acceptable.
Perhaps Rosie would be willing to move on a trial basis for a year with the understanding that if she or he wants to move back in a year then they will. If he has a job and she does not, perhaps they can agree on how they will handle finances if she is unemployed. Maybe they’ll agree in advance of moving that she’ll fly back to see friends and family for a week or so at least once every few months.
When both people are compatible and respectful, honest about how they feel and what they want, and communicate effectively, they are likely to reach an agreement that satisfies both of them—sometimes called a “win-win” solution. Emotionally healthy partners want each other to be happy.
So tell each other what matter’s to you. Do not expect a spouse to read your mind. By using the positive communication skills described in detail in Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, you will foster trust and intimacy. Listen to your partner until he or she has finished speaking and you understand what is being said. Then it’s your turn to speak. Be willing to come up with several ways to resolve an issue, and to then agree to implement one that fits for both of you.
Rabbi Manis Friedman’s view of how negotiation happens in an ideal marriage stresses the need for empathy: The wife likes to sleep with the window open. The husband likes to sleep with the window closed. Here is how they argue: She insists that the window stay closed. He insists that it stay open. Each has empathy for and wants the other to be happy.
Okay, this is a really high level of empathy. For most of us, a good negotiation includes being able to identify with our partner’s point of view, at least to some degree. It does not mean winning an argument. It is about having a back and forth, give and take discussion. It shows the value of compromising and creating mutually agreeable, intimacy enhancing solutions.
- For step-by-step details for how to hold successful marriage meetings, see Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted by Marcia Naomi Berger (New World Library, 2014).
- Names and identifying details are changed to protect privacy of individuals mentioned in this article.
Couple talking photo available from Shutterstock
___________________________________________________________________________________Thanks to Linda Bloom, Jennifer Dant, Rishe Deitsch, Tatini Goler, Julane Jazzique, Phyllis Levy, and Dorie Rosenberg for commenting on "The Biggest Threat to a Marriage," featured in the November issue of Marriage Maven's News & Views. Anonymous comments are welcome too.