People who take their partner’s influence into their decision-making process will experience less negativity and escalation in their conflict. How do we know?

First, Proverbs tells us that, pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. Second, research (Gottman, Christensen, and Jacobs) on couples and relationships bears this out. And, ask any psychologist or counselor, and they will tell you the same. My personal experience with couples leads me to this conclusion. Let’s take a look at why.

Debbie wants to go to her parents’ home in Seattle for Christmas, which is a norm for her and her husband, Dave.

Debbie: “What time do you want me to make flights to Seattle for Christmas?”

Dave: “We aren’t going.”

Debbie: “What? Of course we are going, we go every year.”

Dave: “Not this year. We aren’t going to keep going into debt to go on a Christmas holiday.”

Debbie: “We aren’t in debt. We are going!”

Dave: “That’s right, we aren’t in debt. But if we go, we have to use a credit card. We aren’t going.”

And on and on it goes…Why? They are not accepting influence from each other. Instead, they just keep “batting it back and forth.” They are not listening to what is important to the other person, and they are not stating what they feel about the trip or the money issue. Neither person is caring for their partner’s opinions and feelings. When couples ARE accepting influence, it means:

 Spouses let their partner influence their decision making by taking

their opinions and feelings into account.

 Many times, finding common ground is difficult for couples. John Gottman in his extensive research with couples found that men play a critical role. When they accept influence from their spouse, the outcomes of conflict conversations can be very different. He says it becomes a “double play combination” in emotionally intelligent relationships. One play is the softened or gentle start to the conversation by the female. A man’s emotional responsiveness to his wife during non-conflict times leads to her starting in a softened way. And when men accept influence from their wives, the conflicts tend not to escalate or go negative. Gottman has a lot to say about accepting influence; what it looks like, what happens when couples don’t accept influence, and where the escalation of negativity leads.

 Accepting influence looks like: 

  • Actively seeking a common ground for agreement (It does NOT mean compliance)
  • Standing on what you cannot yield
  • But yielding on other aspects of a problem
  • Give and take
  • Reasonableness
  • Compromise
  • Can we get to “YES”?

Couples who don’t accept influence:

  • Make it hard to avoid power struggles when they discuss problems and may block them from coming to compromise or reaching agreements.
  • Style of discussing conflict usually creates a win/lose scenario to solving problems where one partner resentfully gives in, rather than the two of them working toward a win/win solution.

Escalation of negativity:

  • Is part of a process of REJECTING a partner’s influence (ie, people escalate beyond their partner’s complaints as a way to shut them down).
  • Becomes a way to shut down a partner and a conversation.

 Additional research on acceptance shows important issues related to happiness in relationships are the perception of fairness and emotional responsiveness to one another. Acceptance AND change are important. The most serious problem in a relationship occurs when people don’t feel ACCEPTED for who they are. (Christensen and Jacobson)

What if Debbie and Dave had accepted influence from each other?

They would have been more interested in their partner’s opinion, expressed the feelings and the importance of their issues, and tried to come to some sort of compromise. It would have been respectful of each other’s needs and wants and what the issues really meant to each of them. And they would both certainly feel more cared for by their spouse.

Debbie: “What time do you want me to make flights to Seattle for Christmas?”

Dave: “I don’t think we should go.”

Debbie: “What? Of course we should go, we go every year. This is very important to me. My parents are getting older, and the kids love to go.”

Dave: “I know this is important to you. But we have gotten out of debt, and we don’t have the money in savings, so we would go into debt to go. It really worries me to get back into a bad financial position especially after we worked so hard to get out.”

Debbie: “That makes sense. I don’t want us to go into debt either. Can we look at some options for cutting back or working some overtime or paying it off over two months?”

Dave: “Well, I’m open to finding a way we can make it work so we can go. I know it’s important for you and the kids especially. Let’s see if we can find a way.”

Couples can learn to accept that relational problems are inevitable and learn to deal with them in appropriate ways. Connected Couples keep trying to make things better all the time, learning to live with these problems and manage their world in order to minimize those problems. There are no perfect relationships. We learn to accept our partners like they are. And we appreciate what they do for us, how they complement us and we accept their limitations. Let’s try to GET TO YES!