The Art of Negotiation in Marriage
When Jody and I first married, he was the neater person out of the two of us. He had just graduated from West Point, the United States Military Academy, and they don’t abide a mess. They had significantly indoctrinated cleanliness into his young mind. At the Academy, everything, and I do mean everything, is orderly. It took some time before many of the unnecessary cleaning habits faded, and I’d like to say I was patient. No. We disagreed a lot on the cleanliness of our apartment the first year or two of our marriage. It required us to learn the art of compromise and negotiation.
Jody wanted to enforce something called “AM STANDARDS” which in a nutshell meant I could not put trash in our trashcans until after lunch 😊! It was ridiculous, funny and a real argument. No joke. We were forever out of trash can liners as the trash can was always being emptied! After months of conflict, we compromised- we decided we could use the kitchen trash can before lunch, but only that one, not the bathroom or bedroom trashcans. 😂
Another area was the strict rule of “making the bed.” Jody could not leave the bed unmade for even a minute. He would go in to early PT before flight school and if I would get up to use the restroom before he left the house, he would quickly make our bed. At 4:30am mind you. UGH! Often, I would return to bed only to find it made up- tight enough to bounce a quarter off it. Perfect bed, no wrinkles and the death stare from my beloved spouse if I dare approach the crisply made bed. I learned to wake up early or to stay in bed until he left the apartment. 😉
As my girlfriends would complain about their “messy husbands” I would think- “huh, not fair! Mine is killing me with cleanliness!” 😊
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by strength of the ox.
When I read the above verse in Proverbs, I immediately think of the first few years of marriage. It is a tough time filled with transitions and compromises that need to be made. Jody and I were single, living exactly how we desired. Then after we wed, we both had a shock. In this verse, I’m the oxen, it is not flattering, but I can take it! Jody lived in a perfectly clean barracks room for years, then I came along and actually wanted to live in our home. We have both grown and our roles have flipped. I am the neat one and he’s the oxen. And sometimes when I’m picking up his clothes off the bedroom floor, I miss those early days of marriage, just a little. 🙃
Living with Jody has taught me the art of negotiating. Not steam rolling or crying and wheedling my way to victory. But true compromise. That is one of the many life skills that are learned in marriage that will make you a better- sister, daughter, neighbor, friend and all-around better citizen. Those are the “abundant crops” the above Proverbs is also talking about, I think. Keep reading as I explain the basics of negotiation:
PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR SPOUSE’S SHOES:
In order to negotiate, you must truly listen to the words your spouse is speaking and the way in which they express their heart. That may mean, you need to stash your emotions temporarily in the closet while you listen. To make sure you have done this well- summarize what your spouse said. Please be careful not to summarize only the words but try to capture the emotions too. Then ask your spouse-“how did I do?” If you missed something, show them that you honor their point of view and restate their position again. Then ask again “did I correctly state your point of view?” When you have both had a turn restating, you are going to feel better about the conflict- I promise. There is something about truly being heard that is life giving. During this negotiation you have affirmed your spouse and their opinion – win-win! IF at any point the negotiation goes south and an argument breaks out, table the discussion for the next day. Cool heads are needed for negotiating any subject.
BELIEVE TWO ARE BETTER THAN ONE:
The next step is to problem solve with reckless abandon! Shout out any and all possible solutions to the problem of the day. All potential solutions need to be given your full attention and affirmation. Don’t critique the solutions, just create a list of any and all options. This important step in the process is where Jody and I have learned to live. I love how his brain works and, in this process, we complement each other naturally and solidify that we are on the same side! It may take up to 2 weeks to decide which solution is the best to the problem at hand, next vacation destination or the next car to buy, but when we get to the final agreed upon decision, we are both feeling good about ourselves! No one wins or loses- both of us feel loved, heard and affirmed and important to the decision-making process. Sure, it may take longer, but the extra steps are worth our time because our marriage is strengthened and not damaged by the process!
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Colossians 3:12-13 ESV
This way of handling conflicts through negotiation is applicable to many other areas outside of marriage. But before you start using this new skill with friends- practice it at home! I promise you will not be disappointed!
Stay washed in the word, my friends! And keep reading.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV