My cousin shared this story with me on Facebook:
The police were called to respond to a marital standoff in a local parking lot. They discovered that a couple had their cars blocking the entrance and exit of this parking lot. When they tried to talk to them, neither was willing to budge. She refused to back up saying that he was the one in the wrong and he needed to move his car. He, likewise, refused to move his car, asserting that she was really the one responsible.
There they were each refusing to budge because they were sure they were in the right and their partner was in the wrong. Each felt justified in her or his position and refused to move over just enough so that both could go forward. The police tried to talk to each one of them and express reason. However, they were met with the insanity of neither being willing to move even a small amount to end the standoff.
The Twitter feed described the officer’s frustration over the issue. Then, finally, the feed ended with the cops deciding to let them be and hopefully work it out. In short, the police hoped that eventually one of them would see reason, or get hungry enough, or something to move on. They quipped something like, “As far as we know, they are both still there, selfishly insisting that the other needs to move.”
The next day, the Tweet said something like, “They are both gone. Somebody finally moved!”
Marital couples often find themselves in a similar predicament. There is conflict over something in the home or marriage or family. Each of the partners has strong feelings about what is right and what needs to be done. Often, they are quite upset when they learn that the love of their life has a very different opinion. Then, the standoff begins. Each metaphorically parks their car in front of the solution and refuses to budge. Each insists that it is the other one who needs to move. It seems like there can be no other solution but for the other partner to give in and shift perspective.
Is there no way around this predicament? How do you end a standoff in marriage?
As a Gottman-Trained therapist, I love the science-based approach to helping couples in this situation. One of the approaches always helps couples to move out of the standoff and on to working together. Yet, it is one of the most surprising interventions to all of the couples I work with. It has to do with compromise, but not as you know it! In this approach, each partner spends some time looking at their thoughts and feelings about the situation or issue. So, in short, they sit in their car and look at what they think and feel about the situation. Then, they pull out a piece of paper or open up a note in their Smartphone and complete the following:
First, they will write down the areas where they are inflexible and not willing to budge. This list will include their non-negotiables and all areas where they feel like they cannot compromise. Each sits in their own car and makes this list. Then, second, they make another list. The second list is a list of the areas where there is flexibility and a willingness and openness. These are the places and spaces where the partner feels they can be move. This list is where I am willing to shift and move to the side a little. It is where I am willing to go so we can both go forward.
Obviously, we need to get both partners together now. So, they sit down and have a conversation. It is structured and it will go something like this:
Partner A shares respectfully and without blame, criticism, or shaming her list of areas where she is not willing to move. Partner B listens and seeks understanding. He is allowed to reflect, ask questions, and seek more information about her point of view and feelings. He is not allowed to debate, argue, present his point of view, or add anything. He is only to listen and seek understanding.
Then, the couple switches seats and Partner B gets to share and Partner A listens to understand. Then, our couple repeats the same process with the areas where there is flexibility. Each takes a turn sharing with gentleness and kindness his or her perspective and thoughts with the other listening. The goal is to get it all on the table.
Some couples find it helpful to draw a circle and list all the inflexible things in that circle. Then, they would draw a larger circle around the non-negotiable items and list the areas of willingness to move. Then, they can look at it.
When a couple comes to know where there is room to move, it makes the whole process so much easier. All of the couples I work with tell me they love this approach. First, they tell me that they love that compromise does not mean giving up anything for which they have really strong feelings. Most tell me that the old idea of compromise feels like a loser deal to them, no matter how the final deal works out.
Second, couples tell me that once the inflexible area is established, it makes it easier for them to really get to work on where they can move together. Many have told me that this kind of approach often leads to a very quick and easy solution. When each can clearly see, understand, and even explain their partner’s point of view, it moves them quickly to a combined solution.
Often this couple-generated solution is better than anything they would have originally thought of doing! Even more, it is one that now both parties can get themselves fully behind. This type of compromise-communication strategy is brilliant and works so well!
So, let’s end the parking lot standoff! Refuse to get stuck insisting that your partner needs to move. Sit down in your car and get started. Then, come together and open up to some real movement! Let’s get going!