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The Art of Compromise

One of the essential elements of the Gottman Theory is the importance of finding a new way to talk about old problems. Their research shows that nearly 70% of all problems in any relationship are perpetual. That’s right — the argument you had the first year of marriage will probably be the one you’re having the 25th, 45th, or even the 75th year.

I don’t know about you, but that has definitely been the case with Eric and I. For us, it’s finances. We’ve had an ongoing ‘discussion’ on how to manage our finances since we first got married — and I doubt we’ll ever come to a real conclusion. But that’s okay: the goal doesn’t need to be finding a perfect conclusion. Rather, the goal is always finding a temporary compromise. One of the tools I love using with couples when it comes to compromise is the Gottman “compromise bagel.”  The idea here is that on the inner oval, you list your absolute core needs — the non-negotiables. In the outer oval, you list the things you want — but that are flexible on the how, where, when, etc.

The thing I love about this tool is that we focus on the core need in any argument. It gets to the heart of the issue right away: What is the very bare bones that you absolutely cannot let go of? That has zero wiggle room? Share those core needs. This first step helps you and your partner understand each other on a deeper level, because when you understand each others’ deepest needs you’re that much more able to connect and help each other. By hearing the heart of the matter from your beloved, you’re able to begin to find things that you agree on — and understand what’s underneath this argument. What’s the root of the problem?

Inevitably, the couples I work with are almost always able to find some kind of workable, temporary plan. Sometimes, it even results in a permanent solution — like it did when Eric finally understood that my core need is flexibility and freedom, which means I feel much better if I have a little pocket money. Seeing that need made the solution clear and simple, and our ‘discussions’ about finances are now much easier.