No Cooperation? Solve It Yourself!
What do you do after you have tried everything and your partner, friend, child or colleague still won’t negotiate? In previous articles, like “Asking for What you Want,” “Couples Can Cooperate for Success” and “Gentle Persistence” (available here) we’ve explored a lot of communication skills and techniques. But what if your partner doesn’t seem to care or acknowledge that you have a significant problem, or to be willing to help solve it? Like many people, you may believe you have only two options if your counterpart won’t agree to negotiate:
1) Either you can attempt to change the other person’s attitude through force or coercion; that is, you can push, nag, badger, pressure, whine, complain, reason, yell, resist, pout or get violent. Or,
2) you can give up, you can walk out, sacrifice, submit, comply, withdraw, withhold or accept your partner’s decision.
But there is a third option: You can choose to apply the steps of this guide to solve the problem by taking care of yourself. And when you have found a unilateral solution that solves the problem for you, you can re-approach your partner, stating your possible solution, and offering to renegotiate. This technique I call solving the problem for yourself.
If you are faced with a partner who won’t or can’t work with you, solving the problem for yourself bypasses all the struggle, hassle and arguing, and goes straight to the central issue: solving the problem. This is probably the most powerful encouragement for your partner to join in and agree to negotiate, because he or she "loses a vote" and does not get to be part of the solution unless he or she works with you. This is not done in a spirit of “OK, you won’t negotiate, so I’ll show you,” but in a spirit of “I understand that you don’t want discuss this, so I’ll have to solve it for myself, as best I can. When you are ready to cooperate and negotiate, I’ll be available.”
There are several benefits to this approach:
• It is liberating to assert yourself on your own behalf and to realize you don’t have to have your partner’s participation to be satisfied, yet you also don’t have to shut him or her out, or be unkind.
• You no longer have the problem you were concerned about.
• You can still have a good, loving, relationship, because you have shut your partner out (the option to negotiate is always open) and you aren’t feeling frustrated, angry and deprived.
• It takes the pressure off your partner, and increases the likelihood that he or she will relax and be less defensive and more interested.
• It prevents you from being helpless and frustrated, so you are more able to welcome your partner’s cooperation when he or she offers it.
The key to solving the problem for yourself is a belief that there is a satisfactory solution. Caring about your partner’s wants and needs (as well as your own) is central to cooperation, but you cannot effectively meet your partner’s needs without his or her help. When your partner refuses to help solve the problem, you have no choice but to focus on your own need until you get cooperation. As long as you offer every opportunity to cooperate and you extend an invitation to your partner to join you whenever he or she wishes, you are free to focus your attention on solving the problem for yourself. If you try to please your partner at your own expense, there is no chance for both of you to be satisfied. Once you’ve tried to cooperate without getting support, the best solution is a course of action that puts you in control of your well-being and separates you from the effect of your partner’s resistance.
The following steps ensure you can be sure you’ve given your partner ample opportunity to cooperate, and you’re not overreacting.
Guidelines For Solving It Yourself
1. Be sure you’ve made a thorough attempt to negotiate. Don’t go to Solving it for Yourself until you’ve made an honest effort to engage your partner in negotiationnot just fighting.
2. Tell your partner what you are doing. State clearly that you have attempted to negotiate the problem, that your assessment is that your partner doesn’t want to work on it, that you would prefer to work on it together, but that you’ve decided what you are going to do about it on your own. You might want to say you’re sad to have to do this, and you’re protecting what’s good about the relationship.
3. Invite your partner to negotiate at any time. Say that you are going to follow your own solution, but that you are open to discussing it at any time. This is your open invitation to negotiate, which keeps it from becoming become a power play.
4. Communicate your good will. Let your partner know that you value him or her and the partnership, and you don’t like having to make unilateral decisions, but you feel you have no choice, because your partner won’t work on it with you.
5. Be sure your solution solves the problem for you, even if you think your partner may not like it. If the solution works for both of you, the problem is solved, and needs no further discussion. if your partner is not satisfied with your solution, he or she has already been invited to negotiate, and being left out is a powerful incentive. To get a different perspective, imagine what you would do about the problem if your partner weren’t part of it. What would you do if your best friend were involved? Considering a relationship problem from the vantage point of a single person often points out places where you’re being needlessly dependent.
Hopefully, you will seldom need to solve a problem without your partner’s cooperation, but knowing you can solve the problem for yourself and still leave the door open to your partner’s participation means you can remain calm and gentle in the face of a partner’s reluctance to cooperate.
This will certainly be better for your relationship than feeling frustrated, angry and taken advantage of. These skills create an atmosphere of cooperation between people, and lead to negotiation that satisfies everyone involved.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. “Dr. Romance,” is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering SelfConfidence, Self, Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) Her newest books, from Adams Press in 2008: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage and Commuter Marriage. She publishes “Happiness Tips from Tina”, an email newsletter, and the “Dr. Romance Blog” and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. Online, she is “Dr. Romance” with columns at Divorce360.com, CougarCandyStore.com, and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news. Follow her on www.twitter.com/tinatessina, and www.facebook.com/tinatessina
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