By Tina Tessina
Those of you who have read my articles know that I am always talking about the importance of good communication, urging better communication, and giving skills for being better understood. Communication is one of the most important aspects of relationships; positive and negative. However, talk is not necessarily communication; and there are lots of non-verbal ways to communicate.
Most of my clients waste a lot of time and energy, and develop resentment by making big announcements about things “If you don’t start picking up your clothes, I’m going to send them to Good Will” “If you won’t help me, I’ll do it myself” “If I ever catch you cheating, I’ll leave” or the classic, “We need to go to counseling.”
I am all for good communication, but if you’ve tried to communicate, and it’s not working, it’s time to adopt the Nike slogan and “Just Do It.”
My beloved Richard loves to tell this story of his parents: His mom said to his Dad “Wouldn’t it be nice to remove this wall and make the livingroom bigger?” His Dad just sort of grunted assent. When he came back to the house from working on the farm the next day, she had taken a sledgehammer and smashed a big hole in the wall, which meant they had to finish the job.
Richard likes to laugh about that, because it shows what a dynamo his mother was, and that she’d get done whatever needed doing. He also says he’s careful what he says “yes” to, because he knows I’m going to follow up on it.
Whining, complaining, nagging and making snide comments are not the same as asking for what you want. Yelling, pouting, temper tantrums and hissy fits are also not effective communication. If you think your partner won’t or can’t work with you, these techniques are useless, and usually make the problem worse. Fighting about something over and over is an excellent indication that you’re not effectively communicating.
There’s an effective technique/skill that will work in these situations: Ask directly for what you want; then, if you’re not getting any cooperation, you can bypass all the struggle, hassle and arguing: Stop talking about it and just solve the problem.
This is probably the most powerful encouragement for your partner to join in and agree to negotiate, because he or she does not get to be part of the solution, and loses the power to stop or stall you. This is not done in a spirit of “OK, you won’t negotiate, so I’ll show you,” but in a spirit of “I understand that you don’t want discuss this, so I’ll have to solve it for myself, as best I can. When you are ready to cooperate and negotiate, I’ll be available.” I have written about this before, as a technique called “solve it for yourself.” The emphasis here is on don’t keep talking about it; just solve it for yourself.
There are several benefits to this approach:
• It is liberating to assert yourself on your own behalf and to realize you don’t have to have your partner’s participation to be satisfied, yet you also don’t have to shut him or her out, or be unkind.
• You no longer have the problem you were concerned about.
• You can still have a good, loving, relationship, because you have shut your partner out (the option to negotiate is always open) and you aren’t feeling frustrated, angry and deprived.
• It takes the pressure off your partner, and increases the likelihood that he or she will relax and be less defensive and more interested.
• It prevents you from being helpless and frustrated, so you are more able to welcome your partner’s cooperation when he or she offers it.
The key to solving the problem instead of repeatedly talking about it is a belief that there is a satisfactory solution. Caring about your partner’s wants and needs (as well as your own) is central to cooperation, but you cannot effectively meet your partner’s needs without his or her help. When your partner refuses to help solve the problem, you have no choice but to focus on doing it alone until you get cooperation. As long as you offer every opportunity to cooperate and you extend an invitation to your partner to join you whenever he or she wishes, you are free to focus your attention on solving the problem for yourself. If you try to please your partner at your own expense, there is no chance for both of you to be satisfied. Once you’ve tried to cooperate without getting support, the best solution is a course of action that puts you in control of your well-being and separates you from the effect of your partner’s resistance.
The following steps ensure you can be sure you’ve given your partner ample opportunity to cooperate, and you’re not overreacting.
Guidelines For Solving It Yourself
1. Be sure you’ve made a thorough attempt to negotiate. Don’t go to Solving it for Yourself until you’ve made an honest effort to engage your partner in negotiation-not just fighting.
2. Tell your partner what you are doing. State clearly that you have attempted to negotiate the problem, that your assessment is that your partner doesn’t want to work on it, that you would prefer to work on it together, but that you’ve decided what you are going to do about it on your own. You might want to say you’re sad to have to do this, and you’re protecting what’s good about the relationship. It’s very important to be able to do this calmly and definitely.
3. Invite your partner to negotiate at any time. Say that you are going to follow your own solution, but that you are open to discussing it at any time. This is your open invitation to negotiate, which keeps it from becoming become a power play.
4. Communicate your good will. Let your partner know that you value him or her and the partnership, and you don’t like having to make unilateral decisions, but you feel you have no choice, because your partner won’t work on it with you.
5. Be sure your solution solves the problem for you, even if you think your partner may not like it. If the solution works for both of you, the problem is solved, and needs no further discussion. if your partner is not satisfied with your solution, he or she has already been invited to negotiate, and being left out is a powerful incentive. To get a different perspective, imagine what you would do about the problem if your partner weren’t part of it. What would you do if your best friend were involved? Considering a relationship problem from the vantage point of a single person often points out places where you’re being needlessly dependent.
Hopefully, you will seldom need to solve a problem without your partner’s cooperation, but knowing you can solve the problem for yourself and still leave the door open to your partner’s participation means you can remain calm and gentle in the face of a partner’s reluctance to cooperate. You don’t have to wait for a reluctant partner to do it with you, as long as you let your partner know what you’re doing in advance.
This will certainly be better for your relationship than feeling frustrated, angry and taken advantage of. These skills create an atmosphere of cooperation between people, and lead to negotiation that satisfies everyone involved.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 40 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 15 books in 17 languages, including Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today; It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, The Real 13th Step , How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together and How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts. She tweets @tinatessina