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You’re fighting. It all started when you bounced a check when you knew perfectly well that both your paychecks had been deposited just last week. You’re furious! Ok, so he used the money for an emergency new transmission, but that doesn’t make you feel any better. You're mad because he never tells you what’s going on with the account until after the fact, which has now led to a colossal argument about why you never have any savings for emergencies and on and on.

Your stomach is in knots, you’re trying to keep your voice down so the kids won’t wake up, you glance at the clock, it’s way past your bed-time, you’re in for a lousy night and then . . . your husband leans against the bed backboard, clasps his hands behind his neck, arms akimbo, and you realize, to your shock and dismay, he’s enjoying this! Your husband isn’t suffering as you are, he’s into the fight! He’s taking some perverse pleasure in it! Your heart sinks. You’re gonna lose this one, you just know it. Again.

All because you don’t know how to fight. Or more to the point, you don’t know how to negotiate. So what could be a civilized non-stomach-clenching discussion always turns into a fight, something you abhor but he revels in.

You see, men are trained as boys to fight fiercely on the playing field, but it’s not personal, it’s just how the game is played. So conflict between spouses is just another game – not in the pejorative sense – but as in “it’s not personal, it’s how we work out what I get and what you get.” It has little if anything to do with how much he loves you. However, for most women, relationships are relationships, on or off the playing field, and conflict is often seen as “if I win, you lose” or vice-versa, and that’s just too painful in terms of preserving a relationship, thus the aching stomach and sleepless night.

Give it up. Stop thinking of conflict as fight material, and start thinking of conflict as a reason to negotiate with your spouse for what you want and need. Don’t approach the conversation when you’re still fuming. Instead, give yourself some time to cool off, and then follow these guidelines to negotiate successfully:

1. Know your goal

Want to be right or want to have an outcome you both can live with? Pick “an outcome you both can live with” and you’re halfway there. But know what it is. Often we start a fight not even knowing what we really want out of it.

2. Create options

Be open to and ready with, several options or alternatives. When you go into a negotiation with only one possible acceptable outcome, you’re already in a losing posture. On the contrary, think of several acceptable outcomes: $100 a month into a savings account, setting half of one week’s paycheck aside, revising the family budget entirely, etc.

3. Listen with open ears and open mind

Yours are not the only good ideas. Listen hard. By keeping both your ears and mind open, more options or alternatives will emerge than you could have thought of on your own. Ask questions: “What would work for you here?” or “What is most important to you about X?” Assume that there is a way to come to a mutually acceptable solution, and keep listening and working toward it.

4. Appreciate

Never put down your husband’s position. Regardless of your private thoughts on the matter, be respectful of his input. Avoid comments like “Well that’s stupid” or “That’ll never work.” Always look for what can work.

5. Leave the door open

If you come to an impasse, rather than throwing in the towel or backing your spouse into a corner, suggest that you both think about what was discussed, and see if coming together again at a later date might not be beneficial. In the meantime, make some notes summarizing what you think were the main points and progress so far. Now you’ve truly redefined the issue as one of discussion with every expectation of a good outcome.

Disagreeing with your mate is part of life--it's going to happen. How you approach the disagreement will result in either a full-blown argument (with ample shouting or worse, hurt silence) or a solution that can be used to create a stronger bond between the two of you. Learn to negotiate and you’ll have far greater success, and a much more peaceful marriage!

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