Part of this examination is learning the inevitable differences any two people will have. Research shows that 69% of the time, the conflicts that couples have are “unsolvable.” Meaning that certain points of disagreement will continue to exist no matter what you do.
This happens for the very simple reason that we are all different people, with different experiences, different needs, and different definitions of the same word. That last one sound hard to believe? Try trading answers on a few of these: What does family mean? How about love? Or security?
Now, does this mean you will always be fighting about these issues? No. Not at all. The key to marital satisfaction isn’t agreement, it’s understanding. So those three important questions in the beginning aren’t really for your partner, they’re questions you should ask yourself.
1. Can I put myself in my partner’s place?
A famous marriage therapist, Stan Tatkin, once said that we should change the wedding vow to read: “I take you, to be my pain in the ass.” It’s unromantic, but unavoidable that your partner will annoy you, bug you, and challenge your sense of order or safety. When that happens, it’s easy to start viewing them as an adversary. Can you put aside that (often quite understandable) defensive posture long enough to see their side of the argument? At the heart of it, almost all of us are very reasonable people with very reasonable needs—though we sometimes struggle to act that way.
2. Can I create a place of safety for my partner to feel heard and to be vulnerable?
You may be wondering how you do that. It’s simple—though not always easy. First, ask questions. Ask questions with the intention of gaining understanding of why your partner thinks and feels the way they do. Second, set aside the goal of being understood or swaying their opinion until after they feel heard and understood. When we try to convince, the other person may feel attacked, and respond defensively. Third, find something that you can tell them you understand (and why)—even if you still disagree with it.
3. Am I willing to make the first move?
In my work with distressed relationships, I often see couples where a pattern of poor communication and conflict has created a stalemate of hurt feelings and stubbornness. Both partners sit across from each other demanding that the other move toward compassion and reconciliation first, withholding their own until they see change. This is a recipe for absolutely nothing changing. In my experience, couples can be incredibly stable in this position—some of them residing there for years.
In a partnership, the most powerful move you can make is to be vulnerable first, to be understanding first. To meet your partner’s needs before you know they will meet yours. To do so can let your partner feel heard, valued and respected, and can help them to better meet your needs in turn.
This, of course, comes with a big caveat, that you have to be willing to share and ask for your needs to be met in turn.
All of this advice is simple. That doesn’t make it easy. Often, this type of communication is counter to everything we’ve ever done—or been taught to do. That’s where training can come in quite handy. Check out one of our premarital counseling packages. We can help you begin to shift your differences into a source of closeness and stability.