Consider this scenario: You and your spouse have been planning for a date night for the past few weeks, and have cleared your schedules and hired a babysitter. Then, their boss calls with an urgent request – the same night as your date night. This request will take several hours to complete. You’re devastated, disappointed, and disgruntled. Even though your spouse has no intention of hurting your feelings, duty calls.

In this scenario, what would you do? It’s normal for you to become angry at your spouse for considering canceling the date night that you were anticipating. However, it’s also important to find a common ground and negotiate how to satisfy both needs. In my work as a Bergen County, New Jersey family lawyer, often dealing with tough divorce and child custody cases, as well as a family law mediator in Bergen County, New Jersey, I have witnessed many successful (and unsuccessful) ways spouses approach negotiations. Here are three (3) ways I have witnessed some clients negotiate with their spouses:

Be Understanding

In this case, try not to overreact. (Seems easier said than done, right?) Although you’ve been planning this date night for a while, remember this isn’t the only date the two of you can schedule. Understand that your spouse has other priorities that sometimes need immediate attention. It doesn’t mean they love you or respect you any less. Instead of being emotional about any given situation, center yourself and realize they need your support and patience among anything else. The ability to become understanding when emergencies arise is an important skill when starting the negotiation process.

Find An Alternative Approach

Now that you have developed an understanding mindset and placed your emotions aside, it is now time to begin negotiating. Using the example above, I recommend pitching in to help your spouse with the task his boss assigned. Find ways to minimize the amount of time spent on the project by utilizing your skills to assist. If this is not achievable, then you could order take-out from your favorite restaurant, set a romantic mood at home, and spend time with each other after the project is complete. Another piece of advice would be to reschedule your date night altogether. You probably don’t want to hear the last one, but it could save a lot of time spent debating on what you should do next. Finding an alternate approach shows your spouse that you’re flexible and considerate of their immediate priorities. (This should be reciprocal too.) When negotiating, always consider each other’s feelings, needs, and wants – not just your own.

Seek Assurance

Sometimes, when people have to negotiate, one party seems to “give in” to the other person’s needs with the sole intention of keeping the peace. If you discover that your spouse has done this, I recommend asking questions to assure they’re comfortable with the agreement. You can also read body language or suggest another alternative just to make sure the negotiation is suitable for your spouse.  Through seeking assurance, you cultivate trust and openness – which are key components in a marriage. When this is achieved, the negotiation process becomes highly effective.

In conclusion, negotiation is a skill that needs to be cultivated in order to achieve peace and harmony in your home. If you are in a situation that requires you to make a swift change of plans, refrain from taking in personal and work to find common ground. After all, the change in plan might work out better than your original plan.


This article contains general information and opinions from Sheena Burke Williams and is not intended to be a source of legal advice for any purpose. No reader of this article should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information included in this article without seeking legal advice of counsel. Sheena Burke Williams expressly disclaims all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any content in this article.