Couplespeak™ Blog

Negotiation In Marriage

As a couples therapist I routinely see couples struggling with decisions which make nobody happy! Natalie wants one thing, Ned wants something else, (or so it seems). They then either slug it out emotionally until one person gets their way, or they “take their marbles and go home” – withdrawing into their respective corners with animosity because they couldn’t come to some kind of reasonable agreement.

Marriage and partnerships are all about negotiation, whether it’s when and where we go on vacation, or how and when we tackle home projects, or which school to send the kids to. The worst thing couples do is to come up with “win-lose” or “either-or” solutions. In negotiation language we call that a dismal failure. The aim instead is to move toward “both-and” or “win-win” solutions, where each partner may give something up, but also gets something important to them. So if Ned wants to spend time in the Fall working on home projects, and Natalie wants a trip, the goal is to see how either they can do both reasonably, or take turns getting their way. The most critical thing is to craft solutions which address key parts of each of their concerns, not polarize around differences.

How good a negotiator are you in your partnership?

Have a mutually good end of summer,
Susan Lager

Royal Wedding Plans — Fairy Tale Marriage?

Well, the big countdown has begun. Every news station and newspaper is buzzing with excitement about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding later this week. TV programs like, “The Royal Wedding – The Women Who Would Be Queen”, and behind the scenes “Cooking For The Royals”, have dominated the networks.. There are surveys polling people about their interest, and likelihood of getting up at 4AM on Friday to watch the actual event. (?????!!!!!!!)

What I’m most interested in is what the MARRIAGE will ultimately look like! Are they prepared for constant boundary violations by the paparazzi and the press? Have they had enough practice managing their differences respectfully, like a royal mixing with a “commoner”? Are they prepared to define for themselves, in the face of all the boring, but expected royal duties, how their time together and apart will be spent? And how about being equipped, when it’s important enough, to challenge Her Highness The Queen, who is already miffed about William’s wedding plans? (Let them eat cake?) Not to mention the ghost of Diana and Charles’ grimly failed marriage, with Camilla always in the wings, and Diana’s tragic, untimely death, born of loneliness and rejection. Then there’s William’s role as child confidante to his mother — loving, but not the best model for future parenting. And Kate’s happy, upwardly mobile family, so foreign to William. And most recently, the prospect of irate royal guards, like the narcissistically injured jabberjaws who went public on Facebook, and complained himself out of a job.

Oh, the list goes on and on. The therapist in me feels really wary, but the romantic fool in me hopes that Love will conquer all…………….

Good night for now – I need to sleep on all this,
Susan Lager

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Weapons of Choice – What’s In Your Marital Arsenal?

Hello Reader,

I meet with clients in my coaching and psychotherapy practice fairly often who talk about the deeply held resentments they carry toward their spouses. Wives, especially, are often increasingly silent, opting instead to voice their anger by acting out in various ways toward the husbands they feel have stopped listening to words. Recently, I met with a woman who chronicled years of stonewalling by her preoccupied, dismissive husband. Until our work began, she had given up trying to talk to him about her needs and concerns, and pointed to the elaborate, designer boots she was wearing, telling me in a conspiratorial tone, that this pair had been purchased in one of her rages toward him. Apparently, she had accumulated closets full of boots, her “weapon of choice”, costing up to $1200. a pair! She had even bought mis-sized boots, just for the “thrill” of spite and revenge against the man whom she felt had so violated their marriage with his disregard, disrespect, and entitlement. She felt that a clear sign of hope, and progress in her work with me on assertiveness and appropriate limit-setting, was the fact that boots were now being returned, no longer being bought! We laughed sadly about how the increased closet space could be seen as such a clear indicator of psychological progress – her ability to re-engage and speak up with her mouth, not her feet.

It made me think about the issue of “silence”, and not only my own arsenal of “weapons”, but also the weapons of choice others use — booze, shopping, smoking, affairs, food, gambling, pornography, drugs, internet, work, etc. Then there’s the issue of who ultimately gets wounded in the process, and what, if anything, is gained at what cost?

So, I invite anyone in a marriage marked by disappointment, frustration, and resentments, (everyone’s marriage at some points?), to think about this: What is your weapon of choice in your marriage?

Susan Lager

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Marriage and Bad Hair Days

Greetings Reader,

Do you remember one of those days when everything that could go wrong, did?  It happens to the best of us, and when it unfolds it feels like a sick dominoes game. My husband had one today, and couldn’t stop talking about all the gory details. Then when he was done, he seemed just ducky, and sat down to watch the news (about other people’s bad day). Clients of mine often do that, and then seem to feel some catharsis when they’ve drawn me in as witness to the misery. However, I’m less likely to make the mistake of offering some chirpy spin on the story as a therapist, than I am as a spouse. In an effort to provide support or show empathy to our husbands or wives, I think we often give unsolicited advice, opinions or solutions. Husbands are usually the biggest culprits here, having been trained by the culture to “fix” things. We all need to LISTEN more, and ATTEND to our partner’s experience! They’ll usually tell us if they need anything else, or they’ll just go on with the story…

Good night and good luck,
Susan Lager

P.S. Check out my recently published articles about couples issues at:

“My Husband Ignores Me! What Can I Do?”

Welcome back Reader,

Have you ever felt like you were talking to thin air when dealing with your partner? You make a benign request like “would you mind fixing the screen door this weekend so we can open up the family room?”

It’s the third request, your mate has promised to do it for weeks in a row, gets caught up in other projects, says “oops!”, and now it’s 90 degrees out and you’re literally and figuratively frying. You repeat patiently, you cajole, you bargain, you beg, you nag, you ask what the problem is, and he reassures you there is none, and with a sheepish smile promises he’ll get to it this weekend. This may seem like making a mountain out of a mole hill, but cumulatively it becomes a kind of cancer in relationships. I’ve seen this scenario play out more than once in couples therapy sessions just this week. It erodes trust related to a sense of dependability, and clearly undermines faith in supposed agreements. (Did you say yes to appease me? Are you annoyed about the request and acting out? Are you mad about something else? Or do you just have a brain tumor?) I’ve found that more often wives hold The List, and husbands “agree”. The Requestor may consider the possibility that their “Honey Do List” has become oppressive. The “Don’t Worry, I’ll Get To It” Spouse may want to rethink the honesty of their promises. It’s always a kinder thing to graciously decline. No one will get killed.

Susan Lager

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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