Whether it’s where to live, whether or not to have a(nother) kid, what color to paint the living room, or whether or not to get a pet, it can be a painful, gridlocked, and discouraging experience when your spouse shoots down your idea, says “no” to what you really want, advocates for their own conflicting preference without fully hearing yours, or simply doesn’t share in your excitement.
Perhaps it turns into an exhausting power struggle where you invalidate each other’s feelings and get entrenched in your own positions – until one of you finally (and resentfully) gives in. Or you get stuck in an impasse and throw up your hands in despair.
It can also feel confusing and bring up questions about your relationship: Does this mean we aren’t compatible? Will I ever get what I want? Am I sacrificing too much? Would I be happier with somebody else or on my own? Am I losing myself?
If you can relate to the conflict of wanting different things, try these 3 key tips:
Avoid responding with a hard “no.”
When one of you suggests something and the other responds with “no,” it’s disappointing, disconnecting, and discouraging.
This dead-end-response can also be a power move (i.e. the one doing it unfairly takes all the power), and it’s not sustainable when it comes to the long-term happiness of your union. In fact, if one of you feels like you are losing yourself or feels controlled or dominated, you will likely step back from the relationship, physically or emotionally, just to ensure you stay connected to yourself.
Instead, try saying: “That doesn’t exactly work for me, but how about…”
Continue going back and forth, hearing and appreciating each other’s ideas. Offer new creative solutions and ideas until you land on one that works for you both. Be willing and generous teammates who are working towards both of your needs being met.
Let each other dream.
As a kid, did you ever fantasize about amazing adventures you wanted to take? If so, you probably lit up just talking about it. Or have you ever had a conversation with a friend where, after processing your idea aloud, you realized it’s not what you want after all?
Many of our dreams and desires are simply fun or helpful to talk about, rather than actually implement. It can be deeply bonding and supportive when you give each other the space to explore possibilities.
On the contrary, when we don’t feel the freedom to share, our dreams get stuck inside of us and become disguised as repressed and unfulfilled — rather than as ideas we were simply meant to explore in our minds, not in the actual world.
In other words, when it feels like you disagree on what you want, make sure you’ve first given each other permission to freely process whatever you’re thinking and feeling. To do this, when your partner shares an idea you don’t necessarily share, respond by asking openhearted questions, like “what is it about X that inspires you?” Invite them to share even more, not less, and give them validation and empathy.
Be vulnerable, not critical.
When someone wants something different from us, it’s easy to try to convince them of our idea by making their idea seem impractical, immoral, or illogical. Underneath your judgments, however, is something deeper going on inside of you.
Rather than telling your spouse their idea is bad or wrong, get vulnerable about your own feelings. For example, you could say: “I can see why you’d want that. It makes perfect sense. It just brings up dread/fear/anxiety/etc. for me because…”
Share your heart. Express your personal feelings. This keeps our defenses down and our hearts open — where we can have the real conversation around what it’s all about.
If you’re currently navigating a delicate issue, and you’ve reached a standstill with two seemingly opposed desires, focus on how you are communicating about it. When you hear each other in new ways, you reconnect as teammates and discover a shared solution that better honors you both.