Updated: Mar 13, 2021
I love the look of you, the lure of you,
The sweet of you, the pure of you,
The eyes, the arms, the mouth of you,
The east, west, north and the south of you.
“All of You,” Cole Porter
If having a relationship were a game, how would you know your team won?
What team? This doesn’t even compute for a lot of people. Not in practice. There may be a “we” when it comes to falling in love, but pretty soon in the real-life conditions of making a life together, it’s two “I’s” eyeballing each other.
I become all too aware of how you’re late all the time, and how you can’t seem to ever put your cell phone down, and how mean you get when you get frustrated.
And you make it pretty clear how aware you are of how neat I like things, and how work always comes first for me, and how I never ever really want to deal with anything.
Winning for most people in most real-life marriages is too much a case of my getting as many of my needs met as I can without pushing things to the point where you make my life a living hell. I mean, come on! That’s exactly where couples have been at for the many years I’ve been working with you all: needs aren’t being met AND they feel their partners are making things a living hell for them.
So speaking of hell, how the hell are you going to win this if you have the wrong definition of winning!?!
So let’s agree. Winning can’t be “We win if we each push to get as many of our own needs met as possible and just hope things work out.” That’s a template for war, not love. For endless battle, not endless love. That’s predatory capitalism squeezed down into the tiny stage of two people in their tiny lives. From the boom of honeymoon to the bust of divorce.
What it has to be is our best answer to the question:
Is there room in this relationship for
two whole people?
Which means, we win when we put our energies into finding room for as much of you as possible and as much of me as possible. The goal is all of me and all of you. The win comes from trying to achieve that goal.
And how exactly do you do that? Certainly our most recent book, Why Couples Fight, will give you all the tools you need. But the concept is pretty easy. I can promise you this, though: you’ll be way better off pursuing the right goal imperfectly than pursuing the bad old goal excellently!
So here’s the concept. Assume that all your old battles were about who could bludgeon the other into submission. Maybe very politely (if “bludgeoning politely” makes sense to you, but I’ve certainly seen people do it), but it’s all about winning a power struggle in any case.
Now here’s what works. An unmet need, a problem comes up. Okay. And so now you ask, “What would be best for both of us?” That’s the magic question.
And you talk to each other in a way to really hear and understand and show you hear and understand what’s important to each other in this issue. That way you find out who the whole person is who’s involved in this issue.
And only then do you start to come up with options. But you only bring up options that you think might be best for both of you. All of both of you.
Let’s say I snore, and you hate that because it keeps you awake. You kick me to shut me up, and I hate that because I don’t like being kicked in my sleep. There are, of course, solutions, but none of them are perfect. What do you do?
Now I chose this example because in many cases it’s a truly tragic situation, in the sense that there is no good solution. No anti-snoring pill that just makes the whole thing go away.
But how you deal with it is what makes all the difference.
If you both focus on what the other person needs, and on understand how and why those needs are important to them, then whatever imperfect solution you do come up with will have been hatched in the spirit of keeping “us”—two whole people—alive and well.
And that’s the very definition of a healthy relationship.