No Losers

By Greg Smalley
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Focus on the Family

When conflict arises in a thriving marriage, both partners win when they remember that, ultimately, they're on the same team.

“A compromise is a deal in which two people get what neither of them wanted.”

Anonymous (quoted by Gary Smalley in The DNA of Relationships)

Dr. Bob Paul, one of the leading therapists at Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored, recalls having a particularly heated conflict with his teenage son Chris. Chris eventually relented, but as he walked away his dad could see that he felt crushed.

“Hey, Chris,” Bob called after him, sensing that this was an unacceptable situation. “Who do you think ‘won’ that argument?”

“Mostly you, I guess,” said the deflated boy.

Bob walked up and put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Remember when you and your friend Chuckie played Little League baseball?” he asked. “Was there ever a time when you won and Chuckie lost?”

“No,” said Chris.

“How about when Chuckie won and you lost?”

“Of course not!”

“How come?”

“Dad!” said Chris in exasperation, “Chuckie and I were on the same team!”

Bob had made his point. And today he tells couples that this same principle bears a very special application to marriage. In a thriving marriage, both partners win. Healthy husbands and wives understand that spousal conflict is inevitable, but they aren’t discouraged by this. Instead, they remember that, no matter what happens, they’re always on the same team. They turn conflict to their advantage by working together toward a win-win solution. They do this by letting go of the idea of getting their own way. They re-define “winning” as “finding and implementing a solution that both people can feel good about.” They refuse to settle for anything less.

How does it work? Our friends at Hope Restored tell us that the goal can be achieved in seven simple steps. First, establish a no-losers policy. Say to your spouse, “I will not accept any solution unless you love it.” Second, heart-talk the issue through until each partner thoroughly understands the other’s feelings. Third, pray about it and invite God to participate in the process. Fourth, brainstorm all possible win-win solutions. Next, pick one and try it. Finally, check back in a week or two and re-evaluate. Don’t be afraid to re-work the plan if necessary.

In the midst of all this, never forget: success lies in the way you handle conflict. It doesn’t really matter how you resolve the problem as long as both of you come out winners.

Date Night

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Seven Steps to Win-Win.

On this occasion, make up your minds beforehand that you won’t decide how to spend the remainder of the evening until after dinner. Each of you should come prepared with several ideas: a movie you want to see, a club you’d like to visit, a concert you’d like to attend, a local museum you’ve been thinking about touring, a scenic drive you’d like to take, a park or a lake where you can go for an evening walk. Write out your respective choices on paper – a “his” list and a “hers” list – and lay them on the table. When you’ve finished your meal and the server has cleared away the plates, linger long enough to work through your lists together. Come up with an option that both of you love (remember, your ultimate choice may not be on either list!). Use Hope Restored’s Seven Steps to Win-Win to achieve your objective:

  • Establish a no-losers policy. Decide up front that neither one of you will settle for an option that the other one doesn’t love.
  • Heart-talk the question. Listen carefully to one another and try to understand each other’s feelings.
  • Pray about it together.
  • Use “blue-sky thinking” – nothing’s off-limits – to brainstorm your options. Feel free to add new possibilities to the list.
  • Select a win-win solution.
  • Go for it!

Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

  • Complete the process by working through the seventh step: how did your win-win solution turn out? Were you both happy with your choice?
  • What was your favorite part of the evening?
  • What is the one thing you learned tonight that you didn’t know about me before?
  • How can we work together in the weeks and months ahead to turn conflicts, arguments, or difficult decisions into a source of new strength and understanding in our marriage?

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

On your way home, spend time planning your next date. Utilize Hope Restored’s “no-losers” approach. Think about additional ways you can maximize the benefits of win-win conflict resolution in the days to come. After you get home, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

© 2015 Focus on the Family.

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About the Author

Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the Vice President of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the …

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