Being in love is a wonderful experience – the sun is shining and the birds are singing. At the start of the relationship, you overlook anything which might be considered a negative in your partner’s behavior – those silly quirks are actually endearing. You agree on almost everything… and acquiesce on what you don’t.
Then eventually the honeymoon phase wanes and you can wake up to a virtual stranger whom you discover has opinions and values quite different than your own. Two choices seem to present themselves: “fight or flight.” But there’s actually a third option: handle the disagreements skillfully.
First, sit down and make a list of all the items that are vitally important to you and what your “ideal” life looks like. Have your partner do the same. Keep in mind that there was an underlying foundation that brought you together in the first place. Building on that structure is your goal.
As you look at your lists, hopefully there will be many areas of agreement with few areas of contention – feel content about the areas that match. However, if there are more areas that do not align and you both seem to be going round in circles, don’t feel bad about seeking help. Involving a third party may help you to communicate more effectively. Someone who is trained and can help you to hear and also help you to be heard can work wonders. If you believe you can come to an agreement on the areas of difference, but are having difficulties staying calm and expressing yourselves clearly, then this kind of mediation may be the way to go.
If you are unfamiliar with the process, mediators facilitate communication and negotiation between parties to assist them in reaching mutually-agreeable solutions. Mediators are trained to be impartial when they meet with both sides, together and separately. They use a variety of techniques to facilitate communication and help the parties come to decisions satisfactory to both of them – the classic Win-Win. If you are going to disagree with your partner, why not learn how to do it with the collaborative communication skills that are used in the mediation process? It is precisely because you want to preserve and strengthen the relationship that you would want to use these skills.
Unfortunately, mediators are often utilized at the end of a relationship to divide up the results of years spent together. However, a lot of relationships might have been resurrected, if issues were addressed earlier… before they become the undoing of the partnership. Being proactive may keep the relationship from becoming another statistic.
As we travel down the roads of our lives together, it would be great to maintain the happiness that first brought us together rather than dealing with the spoils of war later. If friction or distancing is occurring try and set aside time for just the two of you to start to work on the areas where there are differences of opinion. Try to get some clarity on the situation without blaming each other, and figure out the underlying issues that may be contributing to the disagreements or disappointments. If you are unable to do this, a mediator may really help you to communicate your feelings and ideas. Keep in mind that mediators do not offer counseling or legal advice but what they will do is help you keep the conversation focused on your ideas for possible solutions. They will not try to impose their own thoughts on what you should do but will try and help both parties remain calm and focused on the issues. Listening is an especially critical skill. Until you really feel heard on why something is important to you, you won’t be ready to work on finding areas of common ground, which is where the real problem-solving starts to take place.
Image Credit: Jane Hudson Stoller