***Note: Though this article may seem unrelated to your health, we find that learning how to communicate your wants and needs with your partner is essential if you want to achieve your health goals. Your partner can be your biggest ally or your biggest barrier to the life and health you want.
When I first moved in with my now wife, I was clueless about the difficulties that would follow for the next six months. Though friends and family warned me of the difficulties of living with another person, I was convinced we could skip that step since we had been dating for five years until that point.
Unfortunately, like most things in my life, I had to learn the hard way.
After a few weeks I was made aware that I was a very poor cleaner, folded clothes improperly, and left too many books piled up on counters without ever putting them away. These things were never an issue to me, so it came as a surprise that these seemingly inconsequential things were a big deal to someone else.
Similarly, there were things that my wife did that irritated me. Being an introvert, I learned that after a long day I needed some time to myself to unwind. My wife, who only worked part-time, had been home most of the day and wanted someone to talk to when I got home. This didn’t always work out so well for either of us.
Anyone who has lived with another person knows that cohabiting necessitates compromise. You will never see eye to eye with another person on everything, which means that, to cohabitate peacefully, you and your partner will have to learn to balance each other’s priorities. This is no simple matter.
If you are a highly agreeable person, your partner will tend to take advantage of you and you will end up resentful. A good example of this would be if you asked your partner to clean up the dishes after dinner, yet the cleaning still always seemed to fall on you.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you are a highly disagreeable person, you will see every request from your partner as a confrontation. When they ask you to pick up your shoes or take out the dog, you will get upset and complain that they are nagging you. The shoes aren’t doing any harm where they are and the dog was just out 2 hours ago.
When this type of dynamic goes on without resolution for too long, both partners become resentful of the other and even the slightest comment can send you both into a heated argument.
How to Stop Fighting With Your Partner and Start Compromising, Instead
While this happens on occasion even to the best of us, this does not have to be a regular occurrence. In fact, there is a framework rooted in behavioral psychology that you can follow to minimize conflict in the household.
Here’s what it looks like:
1. Create a Weekly “Relationship Review”
I learned this technique from Darren Hardy’s book The Compound Effect. The way this works is you pick a designated time each week to review the previous week. Often, Sundays are a good day for this, but do whatever works best for you.
Make sure you clear out at least 30 to 45 minutes where you will be entirely uninterrupted. Remove all distractions, including phones, TV’s, etc. You both need to be completely present for this to work.
2. Start with the Positives
The start of the review begins with one partner, who will start by saying all of the positive things the other partner did throughout the week. For instance, you could say, “I really appreciated you cleaning up your clothes on Wednesday and for going with me to my parent’s house last weekend.” The key here is you have to mean it.
3. Create Agreements on What You Would Like to Change
I always tell my patients that there is a big difference between agreements and expectations. An expectation is created by one person without the input of the other. For instance, if my wife wants me to clean the dishes every night after dinner without me agreeing to it, that is an expectation. Expectations are future disappointments.
What’s much more effective is creating agreements. Agreements are contracts that are co-created by both parties. In order to make an effective agreement, both parties must agree with the proposed change or plan. The agreement must be clearly stated and should also include a consequence if the agreement is not upheld. It is a good practice to have your partner repeat the agreement to acknowledge that you both are on the same page.
I have found it helpful also to discuss how you would like your partner to bring it up to you if you are not following through with your agreements.
For instance, when my wife and I adopted a dog, she wanted me to take her out at night before bed. I did not like doing this, especially because she often brought it up as I was climbing into bed. So during our relationship review, she brought up that it bothered her that I would complain to her when she asked me to take out the dog at night.
After the discussion, we came up with an agreement that I would take the dog out after we finished dinner. At this point in the night, I still had energy and felt more willing to do so. As a part of the consequence, if I did not take the dog out before bed and she woke us up in the middle of the night, I had to be the one to take her out.
4. End Your Turn by Rating the Week
Rate your past week on a scale of one to ten, ten being the best. This gives you a way to track how well you are doing as a couple on a weekly basis.
5. Repeat the Process for the Other Partner
6. Conclude the Meeting
Thank your partner for taking the time out to listen to you. If this is a romantic partner, feel free to give them a hug or kiss!
***Note that the relationship review does not just have to be between you and your partner. This can also be used with family members, coworkers, and friends.
Troubleshooting the Relationship Review and Agreements
While the relationship review provides a great framework for getting on the same page with your partner, it can take some trial and error before it becomes truly effective. Here are some tips to help through that process.
For the Highly Agreeable Partner
One partner is going to be more agreeable than the other. If this is you, this means you are in danger of letting your partner slide when they don’t uphold their end of the agreement. If this is the case, do not bail them out. Feel free to remind them gently of your agreement and let that be that.
If your partner still does not follow through with the agreement, then you need to create a new agreement at your next relationship review. Remember to practice patience here. It may take a few weeks to hammer out all the kinks. Whatever you do, do not compromise on something that is really important to you.
On the other hand, if your partner is following through on their agreement, let them know how much you appreciate them! Positive reinforcement is HUGE when it comes to behavior change.
For the Highly Disagreeable Partner
If you are like me, then following through on agreements can be difficult. Step one is trying your best to see things through your partner’s point of view. Yes, wiping the counter may not seem like a big deal to you, but to your spouse, it is. Honor that.
Secondly, make sure to create agreements that you can actually follow through on. Don’t make an agreement just to appease your partner and then go back on your word a few days later. That’s just going to create resentment.
When making an agreement, find creative ways to make it more likely for you to follow through. If you truly hate doing dishes, is there a different chore you can do for your partner, instead? Or maybe you can make cleaning more enjoyable by putting on some music.
For Both Partners
The key to this process is being open and honest without being confrontational. When the other person is speaking, truly listen. Try not to filter everything they say through your own filter; try to see it through their eyes. The more calm and patient you are, the more calm and patient your partner will be.
And lastly, remember to practice patience! Learning to have a productive conversation without it turning into a full-blown fight can be difficult. Don’t lose hope if during the first few times, things get a little messy. We are looking for progress, not perfection!