Ted just got a nice promotion – but it’s posing a major problem with his wife, Paula. He’s been promoted to vice president and is looking forward to becoming a part of the executive team. Most of those men and women play golf together on a regular basis, and Ted understands the importance of these informal activities. Ted wants to take up golf, and – being the achiever that he is – wants to be good at the game.
But Paula’s critical of his buying a new set of golf clubs and devoting so much time to learning the sport. She feels that there are other priorities for which that time and money should be earmarked, such as going away for a long weekend.
Ted has a hard time seeing how spending the same amount for a first class hotel and an expensive dinner could be equated with his taking up golf – an activity he hopes to enjoy for years to come. Mostly he’s deeply disappointed by his wife’s lack of support.
Paula doesn’t understand the many reasons why this investment of time and money is such a priority to Ted. She has her opinion about what was important, and feels that she had every right to express it. She does have that right, of course, but by exercising it through criticisms of Ted she’s driven a wedge between them. This is a crucial transition time for Ted, who’s feeling somewhat insecure as he’s starting this new phase of his career. In his mind, golf represents a way to fit in with his new peer group.
The rift between Ted and Paula has led to a series of arguments. It’s becoming extremely difficult for them to empathize about what’s important to each of them, and they’re drifting apart. Neither wants to have another heated argument, nor does they want to give up something that they believes are important to their future.
Resentment is building because each side feels that their partner doesn’t understand their needs and is making it impossible for them to be met. This couples is losing faith that they’ll able to meet each other’s needs. Disengagement and despair are taking over.
As negative emotions predominate, Ted and Paula are driven by their fight, flight, or freeze impulses. But these reactions limit their ability to find a solution that will lead to a mutually satisfying solution. To be happy in their marriage, this couple will need to figure out how to have most of their needs met most of the time. They need to learn how to have an ongoing dialogue in which they’re able to show a true interest in identifying what their partner other wants. It will be impossible for them to find a win-win solution if they continue to focus more on meeting their own needs rather than their spouses.
When discussions deteriorate into arguments, constructive conversation stops. As soon as someone senses that their position is under attack, they become defensive and protect themselves.
People must feel that their partner respects what they’re saying and cares about their interests. Couples must learn to talk to each other about what they each need in order to make the marriage work in a mutually satisfying way.
Constructive conversations involve establishing a win-win goal at the onset. By agreeing to work out a mutually satisfactory solution at the beginning of the discussion, you’ll establish the importance of discovering how to satisfy each other’s needs so that in the end both of you will feel that the solution is fair.
It’s crucial that you remain calm and people retain a soft tone of voice. The only way to stay calm is to believe that you and your spouse will be able to get most of what you each want by the end of the discussion.
If you don’t feel you have a high probability of getting what you want in a conversation, then you’ll start to worry, get angry, or give up. Don’t go there. Instead, work on conjuring up mental pictures of what a win-win solution could look like. For example, Ted and Paula pictured taking turns regarding who gets to do what on the weekends – one weekend doing their own thing and the next spending time together.
Finally, focus on what’s made your partner happy in the past. Ted recalled how happy Paula was when they’d gotten away on some weekend adventures. And Paula reminded herself how great Ted feels when his work life is going well.