Negotiation in Marriage

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I am a professional woman who works hard and likes to win. When given a task, I stay with it until finished. When given a challenge, I take it. When it comes to negotiating, I believe I am good at persuading, and you might say, I achieve my goal. So far that seems to be working in my professional life, but it isn’t working well in my marriage. What do you suggest for my marriage?

The will to win is one of the things that make America great. The ability to climb the ladder and eventually end up at the top is a goal that is presented to every American school child, and one of the things people in other countries desire to come here for. However, marriage is about a relationship, it’s not about climbing to the top. A competitive attitude is seldom beneficial in a marriage. God intended for the husband and wife to become “one flesh.” Therefore, the two should be complementing and fulfilling each other’s needs, not trying to outmaneuver each other to get to the top, or to get your own way.

Competitive negotiating can take a toll on personal relationships. If you insist on getting your way on important issues, you send a message that you don’t care about the other person’s needs or feelings. And if you become manipulative to get your way, you will damage your husband’s feelings even more. When you are tempted to negotiate with your husband like you negotiate at work, PAUSE. That is an acronym that stands for


•Affirm relationships

•Understand interests

•Search for creative solutions

•Evaluate options objectively and reasonably

Prepare. Instead of heading into battle with the intent to win, consider his feelings and needs. Think about the timing and the setting. Look for a time when he is up to discussing the issue and when both have the energy to follow through to resolution. Make your opening words positive and respectful.

Affirm relationships. When you are out to win, you send the message that the relationship is of little value. Instead, approach your husband with respect and ask for a time and place that would be comfortable for him to discuss the issue. And before heading into a discussion that will require negotiation, reaffirm your love for him by assuring him that you love him and that you respect him. Make the relationship of greater value than winning.

Understand interests. Understand that each of you has different interests, and in some cases his interest level in the things you believe are important may not be as high as yours. Therefore, you will have to explain to him why it is so important to you, rather than manipulating, or winning through deceit, or by out-negotiating him.

Search for creative solutions. Let’s suppose vacations often end in a fight over who goes where and when. Instead of waiting until the vacation to decide whom you are spending time with, work it out ahead of time. If you have twelve days, agree that four days will be spent with his family, four days will be spent with your family, and the other four days each can choose to do what you want. If you want to join him, you may, and if he wants to join you, he may, but you may each decide to do solo activities with other friends, relatives, or etc. Decide the schedule ahead of time and stick to it. No manipulation allowed.

Evaluate options objectively and reasonably. Put the options on the table and truly negotiate until you come to resolution. Again, it’s not about winning, but about resolving. Search for the best solutions that meet the needs of both.

Also, I would suggest that you purchase an excellent book titled, Peacemaking for Families by Ken Sande. It can be purchased for as little as $.01 plus shipping. The acronym PAUSE came from that book.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].

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