Is your relationship adversarial or collaborative?

Many people have been well educated in the art of debating - the skill of arguing persuasively to convince others that one point of view is the right one, and that the opposing argument is wrong or flawed. Couples who are having relationship difficulties may have, perhaps mistakenly, taken this skill into their relationship, believing that relationship harmony will be best achieved when one submits to the superior view of the other, after a skillful debate has achieved this outcome. They are often suprised when rather than achieving resolution, this breeds resentment and ongoing conflict, and may perhaps blame themselves or their partner. They may even question the quality of their relationship - after all, feeling like you have to 'win' or 'lose' an argument to get your needs met is not conducive to emotional wellbeing! Debating is useful in many situations; however it may be of limited value in intimate relationships, where different capacities are required - in particular the ability to identify points of commonality within seemingly disparate views, the capacity to appreciate things from the other's perspective, and the willingness to construct solutions that give equal value to what each person needs, even where this means partners may have to exercise flexibility, restraint and even sacrifice of goals they deem are less important than their relationship wellbeing. These will only work in a relationship where core values are articulated and shared - for example, both partners value hard work and quality time as a couple, both understand that at times the ability to have both at once may be impossible, and that trying to keep these in a dynamic balance may require ongoing conversations as their lives change and situations evolve over time. Truly collaborative conversations that grapple with the complexity of competing values and needs are difficult, but necessary in order to keep couples out of stuck, negative cycles that remain unresolved and can erode relationship quality over time. Resolution of these difficult issues may look different for each couple - for example, one couple may decide to work less hours in order to privilege more time together, and agree that they can work hard in that time in a way that does not jeopardise their career prospects or their financial future to an unnacceptable level. Another couple grappling with the same issue may agree to work 12 hour days 4 days a week in order to have a 3 day weekend. The solution is MUCH less important than the process taken to get there - one that acknowledges not only the unique perspective each partner brings to the conversation, but also addresses underlying needs and values in a way that gives these the critical importance they must have in order to achieve resolution.

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