No two people are exactly alike in how they think about things so having to negotiate differences with your spouse is very normal. Unfortunately for some couples negotiating differences can be a challenge, which frequently leads to conflicts. To help understand common mistakes married couples make when trying to negotiate differences and for tips on negotiating differences with your spouse, I have interviewed psychotherapist Rosalind Graham, MS, LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in Florida, Tennessee , and Arkansas . I have a passion for working to help strengthen couples and families. I currently serve as a private practitioner working with a broad spectrum of clients in Memphis, TN . Among the issues I treat include depression, grief/loss issues, divorce, marital and family conflicts, and sexual abuse. Additionally, I provide family interventions and counseling for drug addiction . With compassion and understanding, I work with each individual to help them build on their strengths and attain personal growth.”
What are common mistakes married couples make when trying to negotiate differences?
“A few common mistakes married couples make when trying to negotiate their differences include:
1. Couples assume they should ‘always agree’; they think that if they have the same values and beliefs they think they should agree.
2. Couples assume that having differences is negative or wrong; instead of seeing it as an opportunity to have a different perspective (to think differently).
3. Couples assume the objective in negotiation is to reach an agreement; rather than gain a deeper understanding of each other’s contexts, needs, and create greater intimacy.”
What are some tips for negotiating differences?
“Here are 6 tips to help couples negotiate differences:
1. Be honest. Allow your partner to feel free to openly share their thoughts and feelings.
2. Listen to what is said and what is not said. Really listen and understand your partner without judging them.
3. Each partner should first seek to understand the point of view of the other partner, and make sure they GET IT, before trying to share their point of view (this is a sign of love and compassion).
4. Be respectful. It is easy to be nice when you agree, but it takes maturity to accept ideas, beliefs, or behaviors that you disagree about when they are outside your experience.
5. When you don’t understand, ask questions to help get clarification.
6. When you don’t agree, a gree to disagree knowing that it is very normal and beneficial to your relationship to have some differences.”
What type of professional help is available for a married couple that has a difficult time negotiating differences?
“First and foremost, couples should know that it is healthy to have some differences. However, when their differences start to have a negative impact on their relationship, they may need to ask the following questions:
1. How important is this difference? (Is it a deal breaker ?)
2. What does my partner need to know to help him/her understand why this difference is important to me?
3. What can we agree to do to handle this difference in our relationship?
I encourage couples to identify other strong couples they know in their communities such as family, friends, co-workers, and spiritual advisors that are advocates for their relationship. Once identified, they should develop relationship cheerleaders for lack of better labels. The strong couples they identify can serve as their support system to help advocate for their relationship.
However, sometimes biases and personal ties may hinder the comfort level and trust of people that know the couple. Another option is to seek out professionals that specialize in helping couples negotiate these differences to include marriage and family therapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals . These clinicians are the best resource as they are trained to help couples develop and maintain strong relationships. Many couples would benefit from this information and I am happy to share it with you.”
Thank you Rosalind for doing the interview on tips for negotiating differences with your spouse. For more information on Rosalind Graham or her work you can check out her website on www.saveourfamilynow.com .
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