Category Archives: Arguments

How To Negotiate The Small Stuff in Marriage

Sure, you can toss a coin, or play “Rock-Paper-Scissors,” or pick-a-card-from-the-deck-&-closest-to-Ace decides.

And maybe there are times in a marriage or long relationship where making a decision about something small using these playful things is fun, and makes sense.

But over the long haul, each of the zillion tiny decisions you make together, day in and day out over the years, is doing one of two things: bringing you and your partner closer together or pushing you farther apart.

You get closer together to the extent you learn something about yourself or your partner that you did not know before, and you share this, and you find the process of deciding things is respectful, informative, even exciting.

You grow farther apart to the extent you stay small, dig yourself into a rut, confirm a negative stereotype about yourself or your partner, and find yourself being bruised by a one-sided decision-making process.

Is there a better way?

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 3.30.33 PMAndy and April want to go out to the movies together.

She’s keen to see Train Wreck, and he’s excited about Mission Impossible.

How will they decide?

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 3.33.46 PM

Brian and Belle fancy eating out together.

She’s been craving Thai. He’s more wanting a burger.

How will they decide?

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 3.39.06 PMCarol and Cindy are redecorating their living room. Carol thinks a high-color accent wall would be fun.

Cindy’s into calming ivory tones on the neutral spectrum.

How will they decide?

Couples face small-stuff decisions like this day in and day out for decades.

I mean – I’m just getting started here, right!

  • Is turning left or right the fastest route to where we’re heading?
  • The chicken or the fish?
  • Lights on or off?
  • The jazz or the classical music over dinner?
  • Walk the pup now or after doing the dishes?

Back in singles-ville you probably didn’t even notice you were making 1001 small decisions every day because no one brought you a counter point.

You knew what movie, meal, or room color you wanted and got on with it.

You knew how to get where you were going, what airplane meal to “enjoy”, what lighting and music and dog-walking preferences you had, and you got on with them.

Ah – bliss!

Here are three simple strategies (and attendant questions) for resolving these decisions in your relationship before they become deal-breakers.

Strategy 1 ~ Eyes on the prize!

Remember – we’re talking small stuff here.

In the big scheme of things, what matters most is the relationship. Keeping your eyes on the prize of a loving, happy, mutually giving and receiving relationship, ask yourself this question:

Question 1 ~

Can I freely, joyfully and lovingly accept my partner’s influence here and go with his or her choice with absolutely NO resentment? Would it give me pleasure to meet my partner’s needs in this way?

If the answer is an unconditional YES, choose that.

If the answer is more nuanced, not to worry. I get that. Here are some of the reasons these “small stuff” issues begin to look bigger.  See if any of these thoughts came to your mind as you considered question #1 above:

  • I always give in
  • It’s his / her turn to go with my preference
  • This really matters to me
  • I actively dislike my partner’s preference
  • I enjoy getting clear about how important our preferences are to one another, I don’t want to cave in just yet.

OK – proceed to ~

Strategy 2 ~ Get Curious

Being in a relationship is a great way to learn more about what matters to you, and why.  And of course, what matters to your partner, and why. It’s also a great way to clarify your values and to notice which values are most important.

Question 2 ~

Ask yourself how strongly you really feel about the options before you and then grade your preference with an A, B or C with the following criteria.

A = “Must have”. In truth there are very few “A”s and the ones we rank as A tend to have to do with core values, Bucket-List type things and one-off opportunities.

It might be you are in a city well known for it’s fabulous Thai restaurant so your desire to eat Thai food that night, whilst you are in this city with this particular opportunity, might be an A for you.

Or maybe you’ve longed to have a soft, gentle neutral living space with high ceilings and just the right touch of light, and your new homes needs to be painted so it feels so much like “now is the time” so you decide to make your desire an A.

Know that you can’t make every desire an A – it’s not fair!

Know that you need to be able to make an exquisitely compelling case to your partner for why your choice is an A to you.

B = “Strong preference.” So, it’s not an A but you really have been excited about Mission Impossible and – if you remember correctly – you went to a chick-flick last week and need an action-movie-fix.  So, it’s not a core value, or Bucket List thing, but if the decision was yours to make, it would be Mission Impossible over Train Wreck for sure.

C = “No Real Preference. As you think about the choices in front of you and really check in with yourself, you find you are genuinely open to all of them. Or maybe you are just too tired to form an opinion.

This evaluation often takes very little time and you will get better with practice.

Once you know what is true for you, go to ~

Strategy 3 ~ Negotiate using Your A, B, Cs.

Question 3 ~ Invite a mutual sharing of which letter grade you and your partner have given to your stated preferences.

An A will trump a B or C.

A B will trump a C.

Two A’s will cause each of you to have a conversation about core values which becomes an interesting game-changer.

Maybe you will both realize that these A preferences are so important you need to find a way to allow both people to achieve their A choice together – doing things sequentially for example.

Maybe one of you comes to recognize, as you listen to your partner’s rationale for why something is an A for them, that in comparison yours is really a B+. You can back down.

Two B’s will invite a conversation too of course, wherein you each get to be clear and specific as to what you each want, and why.

As you do this, remember Strategies #1 and #2: keep your eyes on the prize of your relationship prevailing over the long haul, and remain curious about one another.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That’s it!

Mark and I came up with this idea somewhere along the years and have been using it successfully for those 101 daily decisions that end up in the “small stuff” category.

Oh – hang on, we’ve got a BIG decision to negotiate. Think I’d rather go off and toss that coin . . .


How To Negotiate The BIG Stuff in Marriage


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

The 7 Deadliest Fights – Part 2

Last week and this I’m exploring the 7 deadliest fights.

Not those knock-down-drag-out-referee-over-the-body fights.

But those we launch with words, looks and silences on those we love.

I actually believe fights can be good. They are a sign of robustness and courage and can clear the air. I’m almost worried when I meet “nice” folks who tell me with pride they’ve “Never had a cross word…”

But, there are fights, and then there are FIGHTS.

These 2 weeks are dedicated to helping you bring things down a notch or two.

So here they are ~ The 7 Deadliest Fight Strategies

  1. Attacking
  2. Belittling
  3. Criticizing
  4. Contemptuousness
  5. Defensiveness
  6. Escaping
  7. Escalating

(Today I’m writing about 5 – 7. Last week was 1 – 4. Too long for one week.)

Deadly Fight #5 – DEFENSIVENESS

Screen shot 2015-04-28 at 3.56.19 PM

One of the most subtle and common of the deadly fight strategies, it is the rare person who has not responded to an attack with excuses, explanations, justifications or a counter attack in the form of blame. “The other chap started things, of course I’ll defend myself!”  you righteously think.

Maybe it sounds like ~

  • “But I didn’t mean to!”
  • “That was so not my fault!”
  • “No, no, no. Let me explain.”
  • “Well obviously I had to do this because…”
  • “You know, if you would have done this first we’d not be in this mess.”

What you’re doing is pushing away what the other person needs you to hear. It might well be that this person is coming on strongly and is angry so you find yourself feeling the need to defend yourself. But not listening to what this upset person has to say will not solve the problem. The more close to the bone the complaints, the more likely you are to reach for those innocent sounding explanations and excuses.

The problem with this is ~

No one is listening! If you’re not listening to what this other person is trying to tell you, for sure they will be in no mood to listen to you. All your excuses, explanations, justifications and blaming will not only fall on deaf ears, it will fuel the flames.


Get curious. If you’re in the habit of responding to criticism or “feedback” with excuses, explanations, justifications or a counter attack in the form of blame – switch to asking questions.

Stop. Breathe. Listen. If you feel defensiveness bubbling up, the deeper truth is that if you could only stop long enough to listen, maybe you’d agree just a little… but instead of exposing that vulnerability, you launch a (clearly justifiable!) defensive mission. If the other person is shouting by all means let them know you’d love to listen when they can calm down. Then, if they can talk to you without shouting, really listen. Ask questions. Get curious. Your goal is to fully understand what is upsetting them. This is important:

Seeking to understand is not the same as agreeing with their point of view or admitting any fault.

Understanding is simply that – understanding. You are the anthropologist seeking – in a non-judgmental way – to see things from the other culture’s point of view. You want to briefly inhabit their worldview so you genuinely see what they see. There is no salve as calming as feeling heard.

I know this can seem like nothing. Or not enough. But once you try it, I think you’ll find its a hugely helpful way of being in the face of someone’s anger. Often indeed, simply listening deeply, non-defensively and with genuine curiosity will allow both of you to flush out what the other person needs to express. And that can be enough.

Deadly Fight #6 – ESCAPING

Screen shot 2015-04-28 at 4.04.27 PM

You escape – either physically or emotionally – without letting your partner know you need a time out. You just walk out, drive away, slam a door, hole up, or get lost in the TV, internet, or music.

Maybe it looks like ~

  • A door slamming.
  • A car engine revving.
  • The TV on full blast.
  • A person lost in distractions, buffeted by headphones.

What you’re doing is running for all you are worth away from the pain. You are possibly flooded with sadness or rage; shame or guilt. You are spent, exhausted and done with the effort of figuring out what anyone needs or wants, yet everything is left hanging and no resolution is in sight.

The problem with this is ~

It’s abandonment! If you do this to a friend, it’s unkind. But if you do this to your committed partner it’s devastating. It triggers deep places within people in primary relationships when a partner makes a unilateral move to withdraw with no warning, no explanation, no reassurance. And, right when the stakes are high, your partner’s anxiety will go through the roof.

He or she is left thinking:

  • “When will s/he come back?”
  • “Will s/he ever come back?”
  • “Will s/he do something stupid?”
  • “What should I do now?”


Ask for a break. If you are in the habit of leaving abruptly, either physically or emotionally, without letting your partner know you need a time out, please – pause before you leave. Right when that “I am not taking this any more” button gets pushed see if you can tell your partner what’s going on for you.

Don’t leave them hanging. Before you take that break tell them “I’m totally overwrought. I need to take 15 minutes. I’ll be back.” Then go. But come back when you said you’d come back. If you know you need an hour, say you need an hour, but come back in an hour. If you feel you want to run away for a longer period of time, it works better to move a bit more slowly. Take a 15-minute break and then come back and negotiate a longer space, like a weekend away. The idea is to not lose sight of the goal – which is to reconnect with your partner and heal the problem. If you just take off without negotiating this space, you run the risk of making the issues so much worse because now you’ve got whatever the initial issue was, plus abandonment. And believe me – the latter is a hard repair.

Deadly Fight #7 – ESCALATING

Screen shot 2015-04-28 at 4.13.44 PMYou know you’re way too far gone when your partner has de-escalated their part of the fight, is trying to listen to you, is making soothing noises, is asking you to calm down, and is clearly telling you they want to stop. But you are so overwrought, angry, righteous and caught up in emoting that you don’t notice the cues. You just keep on punching the air like a blind fighter alone in the ring.

Maybe it sounds like ~

  • ”No I’m not willing to calm down and take a break”
  • “Don’t change the subject on me now…”
  • “No I don’t want to sit next to you and talk calmly!”
  • “We need to figure this out right now!”

What you’re doing is throwing a “Fire & Brimstone Anger Party” for one. No one else wants to come. You’re horrid company. You make no sense, and you look like you have no intention of stopping any time soon.

The problem with this ~

You are pouring gas on your own internal fire. You are, effectively, fighting with yourself. Your partner is not the issue anymore. You are not listening to anyone, most especially yourself.


Get some firefighting skills. If you know there are times when you loose the plot and escalate conflict, it’s time to get some pre-emptive, flame dousing skills. Here are three tips to get you on your way. The fourth, if these are not helping you, would be to let yourself go talk with a good therapist.

  1. Think of this out-of-control behavior as a Part of you, not the all of you. Say to yourself “I have a Part who escalates fights in certain situations.” (See here for more on the idea that we have distinct inner Parts)
  2. If you can see that you are not only your anger, then immediately new possibilities open up. You may notice other Parts of you who get judgmental and critical of this fearsome, escalating angry Part, but you might also find it within you to be curious about it. What does that Part of you need right then? Quite possibly something about the fight has triggered deep emotional pain, and this aspect of you – this Part of you – tries to protect you from emotional pain by escalating the external mayhem to distract you from the internal maelstrom. This behavior probably made sense at some point in your life and this Part does not understand that it’s not such a great approach today.
  3. Tell your partner about this Part and make a firefighting plan together. If you fight and your partner notices this super angry Part is on a path of escalation, what do you want to do? Some partners come up with a protocol which keeps the non-escalating partner away from receiving the brunt of the escalation without shaming or abandoning the partner who has been overtaken by this pained Part.
  4. Or, seek good therapy. It is so wonderful to de-trigger these Parts of ourselves who hold on to old pain and trauma.


In truth, the tips above about thinking of a potentially problematic behavior as a Part of you – not the all of you – help with all of these tough fighting scenarios. If you attack your partner verbally it”s not the all of you attacking, but you sure have a Part in attack mode.

Or maybe a Part who is

  • Belittling
  • Criticizing
  • Contemptuous
  • Defensive
  • Escaping
  • Escalating

If you want to thrive in your relationships, remembering that different Parts of you show up in different contexts is very liberating. Go back here and here to explore this some more and to let the implication of thinking of ourselves as having Parts sink in a little deeper.


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation