Thursday, March 31, 2011

How to Resolve Big Disagreements in a Relationship

I am SO NOT an armchair-relationship-counsellor.

And this is not a new idea, but it is one that really works.

Love the other person's opinion and see what happens next.

A lot of times we disagree with our partner's point of view as a reflex.  Or because agreeing might take us out of our comfort zones.  Or because we are afraid of setting a precedent that would result in never again having an equal voice in the relationship.  Or because we haven't fully thought about it and it is easier to say 'NO'.  And sometimes we disagree because we don't actually know what is best but we are committed to getting our own way no matter what.

Remember how I wrote yesterday about my disagreement with Partner-Guy over feeding our children candy?  Well, I really respect my Partner-Guy.  His opinions matter to me.  And there are so many changes that he has made just because I've asked him to (such as not watching TV until the kids are asleep) that I really don't want to press my luck and make any demands on him that he really considers to be unreasonable.

So last fall I gave in to his idea that a little candy once in a while would be OK.  From Hallowe'en until Holly's birthday on December 31 I decided to do it as he suggested.  I closed my mouth and closed my eyes and closed my ears and I continued to make healthy food and he gave the children candy treats whenever they wanted it.

And by the time New Year's was over I was ready to move out of the house.  I actually told the entire FAMILY that it was going to be candy or me.  I couldn't live with it for one more second.  The whining for candy.  The negotiating for candy.  The hoarding of candy.  The fighting over candy.

Fortunately, Partner-Guy and the girls chose to have me stay.  And when I fully explained how I hard it was for me to see that my children were craving candy all the time and refusing to eat the healthy food I was making for them, they all agreed to lay off the candy.  Partner-Guy still talks about it from time to time but he has stopped bringing it home.  Embracing and living with his idea gave me CLARITY and allowed both of us to figure out what we really wanted.

This is just one of many decisions we have made by embracing one idea and seeing how we felt about it after a few months. 

 In 2009 I went through a phase where I was really discontent with our house and our neighbourhood.  I was determined that everything would be better if we could move to downtown Toronto.  Partner-Guy wasn't so sure.  But he agreed to embrace my idea.  For a couple of months we focused on the idea of selling our house and moving.  I spent evenings looking online for a house to rent.  And by the time winter changed to spring I had figured out that I really liked our house and that I didn't want to move after all.

In 2005, when Anna was not even a year old, we had to decide if I was going to go back to work when she was 16 months old.  I was committed to going back to work, not because I wanted to or because I cared at all about my career, but because I never really expected Partner-Guy to support me financially.  Our relationship at that time was tenuous at best--well, to be honest, we were barely bound by a thread and I expected us to break up within the next 12 months.  Keeping my job was important to me because I didn't know what else to do.

But Partner-Guy could see that it would be extremely detrimental to Anna to be left with another caregiver.  She would not even stay with him long enough for me to see the chiropractor around the corner or go out to get my legs waxed!  He wanted me to give up my job and stay home.

It seemed impossible to me, but I agreed to embrace his plan temporarily and I would make my decision by Anna's first birthday.  I began to live as though I was not planning to return to work.  I stopped looking for a nanny.  I stopped trying to make Anna stay with other caregivers.  I stopped working on my resume and looking for a position closer to home.  Embracing and living with his idea gave me CLARITY and allowed both of us to figure out what we really wanted.  In other words, I never went back to work.

We've been able to come to agreements on an assortment of dilemmas by embracing one decision, living with it and seeing how we felt about it after a few months.  I believe that no decision has to be forever.  And figuring out our values is not always a simple process--sometimes you have to live it to know if it works or not.

Sometimes people say to me "I want to homeschool, but my partner disagrees" or "We'd have a family bed if my partner would agree to it" or "My partner would never agree to having a midwife." I think that to figure out big issues, both partners have to be willing to try the other person's way of doing it. 

Try it.  You just might like it.

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