We all have heard time and time again that in any relationship compromise is essential and paramount to having a healthy and nurturing relationship. In intimate relationships in particular the art of compromise can seem elusive and nearly impossible. Compromise for some people represents ‘losing’ or ‘going along to get along.’ In couple’s therapy I discuss with couples the importance of developing a fine tuned skill in their relationship where they begin to zero in on defining what’s at the heart of their fights. I see couples’ in therapy that fight over content for years on end, I teach people that the content of their fight is never the core issue finding the representation of their content and issues moves you closer to synergy, which is one step above compromise. Compromise means I give a little you give a little; synergy, however, means my shared experiences, values, purpose, mission lends itself to yours and when we find that core commonality we can then develop an approach together that feels fair to both of us. In order to begin learning how to synergize you and your partner must:
Define Each Others’ Core Need. You cannot begin to synergize until you begin to feel understood and safe, which means you feel safe that you will not be giving up on the core sense of who you are and what you need. For Instance I had a couple who fought constantly about their teenage daughter wearing make up. The father would be adamant about their daughter not wearing any make up until she was eighteen years old. The Mother was set against the daughter experimenting with age appropriate make up. These two opposing views caused weekly battles and arguments in the household often times putting their teenage daughter in the middle in extremely inappropriate ways. After taking the two through defining their core needs here they begun to recognize that they both had very valid core needs in this ‘fight.’ Dad wanted to preserve his daughter’s childhood and did not want to rush her through her ‘innocence’ and appreciation for child like wonder. Dad also wanted to make sure that their daughter would not be mistaken by older boys as an older girl making her more susceptible to their advances and peer pressure for sex and sexual objectification. Mother wanted to make sure that their daughter learned how to care for herself as a young woman. Mother who came from a childhood experience where her own mother was rigid and strict she did not know how to dress her self and express in feminine ways that was true to her own feminine development. They both had very valid view points and core needs.
Identifying Common Ground and Common Goals. It is important to begin to start recognizing where each of our core needs over-lap. Synergy happens when you can begin to identify that you both are wanting the same things at the nucleus but the approaches are different. In Couples’ therapy this is the session in which client begins to start penning their similarities vs. their differences. In the couple I described above. They began to start seeing that they both wanted their daughter to develop a healthy sense of self, the father needed his daughter to learn confidence and the ability to stand on her own authentic self and rebuff peer pressure. The mother recognized that she wanted her daughter to learn confidence through self care through learning that she could care for her own self and learn also that her femininity occurs in spectrum and on a continuum and could be harnessed and expressed within her control and vision. The couple agreed that they both wanted a daughter that was 1. Confident 2. Outspoken 3. Did not need outside validation to feel worthy 4. Had a strong sense of self.
Establish An Approach. After you both have articulated your core needs and identified your common ground and goals you can then begin to discuss how the approach to this common ground and goal may be established. Remember that the approach is the last step and the approach becomes problem solving after there is understanding. We are more likely to permanently solve a problem if we first understand the conflict and the core needs that are unmet that continues to cost the issue. Problem Solving is the most effortless step in couples’ therapy when intimacy and understanding has been built in a meaningful way. In the example above the couple agreed that they would have more discussions together with their daughter about how to negotiate unwanted advances by boys, more discussions about learning self confidence through full expression coupled with ‘tasteful’ make-up classes and lessons from mom. The Couple decided that their Thirteen year old daughter would be allowed to wear mascara, blush and natural color lip gloss to school on ‘dress down’ Fridays at school and at special events. The couple agreed that as their daughter got older they would continue to negotiate the ‘rules’ for their daughter’s make up application together.
There are questions to use to guide this conversation to better get you to synergy, for example:
Help me understand why this is so important to you?
What do you think are some of your core feelings, beliefs and values around this issue?
Can we discuss our common core beliefs, feelings and values?
What do we agree on here?
What do we have in common on this issue?
How can I help you meet your core needs?
Help me understand your flexible areas?
Remember synergy is a skill and requires constant practice. Use the general rule that seeking understanding first is key before you will be understood. Our partner’s have their own ways that they see the world that is guided by their need to solve a problem in a particular way keep this in mind as you move through conversations with your mate!