marriage win-win

Why Do Couples Resist a Win-Win Goal?

A win-win outcome both in business and in marriage is the ideal. No one would argue that point. Some feel that trying to achieve that ideal in marriage is immoral, impossible, or impractical. They feel that there’s something about a romantic relationship between a man and a woman that rules out win-win resolutions to conflict.

The problem usually begins with confusion over the value of the sacrifice strategy-one partner is willing to lose so that the other partner can win. It’s a time-honored way to prove that you care, and it’s the way most romantic relationships begin. It gives your account in a prospective mate’s Love Bank an initial boost.

It’s a lot like the way a business introduces a new product. It’s sold at a greatly reduced price, or is even given away, to give prospective customers a taste of what the business can do for them. In a dating relationship, partners want an opportunity to get to know each other, so they will often sacrifice their own interests to motivate each other to spend time together. When I would call Joyce for a date, she would agree to go even before I told her what we’d be doing.

But it’s at this point that business and romantic relationships usually part. In business, the product that had been initially given away is now priced to provide a profit for the company and value for the customer. In romantic relationships, however, sacrifice continues to be expected. After all, it’s regarded as the romantic ideal.

The Policy of Joint Agreement

To help couples keep their eye on the ball, I challenge them to consider a rule that leads to win-win outcomes. I call it the Policy of Joint Agreement: Never do anything without an en- thusiastic agreement between you and your spouse. Enthusiastic agreement becomes the goal of negotiation whenever a couple faces a conflict. In other words, they both must win or they keep negotiating.

If you follow the Policy of Joint Agreement (POJA), it will force you to resolve conflicts the right way-the way that takes the interests of both of you into account simultaneously. Not only is this the mutually caring thing to do, but final decisions made this way are usually wiser than any decision you would have made on your own. By joining together to make each decision, you’re able to consider a much broader range of options, and come to conclusions that take more factors into account.

Why “Enthusiastic” Agreement?

In most marriages, a simple agreement can be challenging. So why do I insist on “enthusiastic” agreement? Doesn’t that requirement make difficult decisions seem impossible?

Unless you have enthusiastic agreement, it’s tempting to settle for reluctant agreement, where one spouse goes along with what the other wants just to get along. In that case, rather than winning, the reluctant spouse actually loses.

But reluctant agreement not only leaves one spouse on the short end of the deal, it can also lead to failure to follow through. Have you ever had an agreement with your spouse that was not fulfilled? Your spouse agreed to do something for you and then didn’t do it. Usually such failure to follow through on an agreement is the result of a reluctant agreement. At the time of the agreement, your spouse felt pressured to agree, but when the time came to carry out the task, he or she lacked the motivation to do so. Such behavior is not only very frustrating but also makes agreements essentially meaningless.

Enthusiastic agreement solves that problem. When an agreement is clearly in the interest of both spouses, follow-through is rarely a problem. It’s in both spouses’ best interest to keep their commitments, and their agreements can be trusted.

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Without such an emotional connection, the POJA is the next best thing. It forces us to give advance notice of how we will be affecting each other. While we can’t actually feel our e$ect on each other, it makes us behave as if we did.

“How Do You Feel?”

The Policy of Joint Agreement helps you to become sensitive to each other’s feelings, especially when you don’t feel like doing so. Since you’re required to have each other’s enthusiastic agreement before you do anything, it forces you to ask each other a very important question: How do you feel about what I would like to do (or what I would like you to do for me)?

That simple question and its answer helps you build a crucial understanding of each other. You may not actually feel what your spouse feels, but at least you give your spouse the opportunity to tell you how he or she feels. And then, even when you find yourself in a thoughtless mood, the POJA forces you to be thoughtful.

You are now a team, no longer two independent individuals. As life partners, you should work together to achieve objectives that benefit both of you simultaneously. Why should one of you consider your own interests to be so important that you can run roughshod over the interests of the other? That’s a formula for marital disaster. A team can’t survive if each member is pulling against the other.

The Democracy Strategy

The democracy strategy has none of the disadvantages of the other four strategies we’ve discussed, sacrifice, dictator, dueling dictators, or anarchy. Instead of failing to resolve conflicts, it succeeds. Instead of destroying romantic love, it builds it. It’s the only reasonable way that a husband and wife should make decisions.

But as successful as democracy has been in world politics, it’s di%cult to implement and it’s complicated. The same is true for democracy in marriage. It requires training, creativity, and patience.

In the next chapter, I’ll describe the training you should have that will give you the skills you need to resolve marital conflicts the right way. If you follow this training program, you’ll eventually find yourselves solving some of the most di%cult problems you’ve ever faced in marriage. And those solutions will help make your marriage everything you’d hoped it would be.

Adapted from He Wins, She Wins, by Willard Harley, Jr.

Copyright © 2013 Willard Harley, Jr. Published by Revell, used with permission, all rights reserved.

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