Negotiation with your partner can be a synergizing and supportive experience. It can be something that you look forward to in your relationship. When it goes well you learn about yourself and your partner and discover whole new ways of meeting needs for you both.
There are many layers of consciousness, knowledge, and skill that contribute to a successful negotiation (one in which honor and connection lead to a way forward to meet everyone's needs). For now let's focus on three.
1. Everyone's perspective, feelings and needs are valid and will be heard.
When these two things are trusted, you avoid a lot of initial tangles. Build confidence that you will be heard from the beginning by naming the agreement that you both will be heard. This means checking in to see if your partner is up for listening before starting a particular conversation.
Set a 2 minute time limit to hear each other and reflect back what is heard. Usually when someone is talking more than 2 minutes they have moved into lawyering for their needs through criticism or other disconnecting behaviors. If this starts to happen, an argument will ensue and no one will be heard.
Engaging this first negotiation skill, means resisting the temptation to correct your partner's thinking, information, and perception. Just listening and reflecting is all you are doing. You will have a chance to share your information in your turn.
It also means tolerating the discomfort of your partner's upset, which might mean tolerating your own insecurity regarding acceptance and being seen for who you are. But tolerating doesn't just mean gritting your teeth and enduring it. It means you are doing something to sooth yourself; deep breathing, rubbing a smooth stone, saying a mantra to yourself, practicing a visualization. Your self soothing practice is more important than hearing every word your partner says. S/he can repeat what you miss.
2. Learn to hear "no" as an expression of needs
When your partner says no to your request, your immediate response is "What needs come up for you?" You are practicing hearing no as an indirect expression of needs. For partners who are sensitive to you "doing that NVC thing" here are some other ways of asking about your partner's needs:
"What are the essential elements for you in this?"
"Sounds like there might be something important up for you about this?"
"What gets in your way of saying yes?"
"What part of my request doesn't work?"
"What would work better for you?"
3. Learn to say "no" and stay connected to yourself and your partner
Over the years, I have seen many relationships end because one partner couldn't set a boundary and say no with connection. If you can't say no, even when you can manage a verbal no, internally there is likely still the pull to have said yes. That pull is surrounded by guilt, obligation, and resentment. For years, your sense of caring for your partner and fear of saying no will win out over the resentment. Then, one day, resentment and loss of your autonomy hit critical mass and you end the relationship. Ending the relationship you might say things like: "I've lost who I am", "I just don't want to compromise anymore", "Our whole life revolved around you", "We just aren't right for each other", "You are always pressuring me into things", "I am overwhelmed and I just need space".
Here are three things that will help you say no with connection to yourself and your partner:
-Express your caring and ask for support. For example, "I so love contributing to you and care so much about you. At the same time, I know that part of me being healthy is to take care of myself, but saying no is scary for me. If you're willing, I would love to hear that you can hear my no and keep loving me even though you feel disappointed."
-Set boundaries around any lashing out that your partner does when you say no. For example, "When I say no and you start naming all the things you have said yes to, I feel discouraged and need respect. Could you put down the relationship scorecard and share with me your experience or propose a different request that would meet your needs?" When your no is met with convincing, minimizing, criticism, comparing, analysis, pouting, rage, or punishment; set an immediate boundary. Let your partner, that this is not okay with you and that you welcome curiosity about your no, negotiation through the proposal of new requests, and hearing each other's experience to move the conversation forward.
-Stay engaged in meaningful activities that are just for you (that is, not something your partner is doing). Staying engaged with what's uniquely meaningful, fun, or nourishing for you helps you maintain the confidence to say no and trust that you can still be loved.
The last thing to remember about negotiation is that when it gets stuck it is often because one or both of you are caught in attachment to preferences and favorite strategies and have lost sight of the needs. You can keep needs alive in your negotiation by writing them on a white board, writing them on index cards, or using the needs list and circling the needs relevant to the conversation.
This week choose an upcoming decision to negotiate with your partner keeping in mind the principles and strategies above. Let me know how it went for you :)