Long, long ago, in the early months of our marriage, Saturday mornings were tense with disagreements about how we were going to spend our time. Were we going to work first (my German Lutheran heritage) or were we going to play first (my husband’s Latin, free-spirited background.) It was an early power struggle, and somehow, magic and grace, I suspect, we figured out a compromise that involved rotating our process every other week. This week we play first, and then work. Next week we work first, and then play. On the weeks we played first, we didn’t get as much work done. On the weeks we worked first, we didn’t get in as much play. Neither one of us died. The house didn’t fall apart and we didn’t turn into irresponsible adults, either. Perhaps the compromise even changed us each a little. The other person’s way had some merit to it. Yielding actually meant winning. It was a good lesson to begin learning as newly weds and young ones at that.
36 years of marriage later, we have navigated a few more power struggles. We have spent more than a few dollars on the marriage therapy couch. One of the biggest take-aways for me has been this: If you want a vibrant, healthy, happy marriage, you need to accept each other’s influence.
What does that even mean? Accepting your partner’s influence is primarily about two things: sharing power, and conveying honor and respect.
When I respectfully listen to my partner and believe that his or her opinion is as valuable as mine, (one person, one vote as a friend of mine likes to say) I am capable of accepting influence. When I listen with the intention of learning more about what my partner is thinking and why, (Cultivate Curiosity) I am capable of accepting influence. When I can lay aside my own need to be right, I can begin to accept the influence of my partner.
Accepting your partner’s influence is primarily about two things: sharing power, and conveying honor and respect.
Here’s a story that is a compilation of situations I have encountered. These are not real people, but this is an accurate presentation.
Susie and Charlie have been married for 17 years. They are having great difficulty co-parenting their youngest child who is quite persevering and willful. Susie reasons with her son, and although it is not particularly efficient, she usually gets the results she wants. Charlie takes a hard line and is often spanking and threatening his child. When he entered my office, he began the session by saying, “ I don’t even want to be here. I am not going to let anyone tell me how to raise my child. Including her. (He points his finger at his wife). Susie is crying by now. This is the first five minutes. Charlie will not give his wife any credit for having some pertinent ideas as to what might work with their child. I stay away from the presenting problem, which of course isn’t the problem at all. The problem is that Charlie will not accept the influence of his wife, his wife has become a nag and a vigilante, and their child is not receiving the benefit of an aligned parenting team. (And of course there are even deeper problems than that which are important but not the topic of this blog.)
Now I have to say some politically incorrect things but please do not stop reading. I have to say that the research says that men have a more difficult time allowing their partners to influence them. And women tend to nag more and use harsh start-ups. It seems to be gender related. Women ask for help and suggestions very naturally. Men more easily make decisions on their own. Women push early on for things to happen their way. Men allow for consequences to set in as a way of proving a point.
Are you still reading? Please keep reading.
“Marriages where the husband resists sharing power are four times more likely to end or drone on unhappily than marriages where the husband does not resist. Women are less likely to be critical and use harsh start-ups when she knows her partner is willing to accept her influence.” (Gottman, The Seven Principles That Make A Marriage Work.)
And if you are a man and you are reading this and you stop now, you are just proving the next politically incorrect well-researched fact which is that when men get defensive, shut down, stonewall, or escalate the aggressiveness of the conversation, that they are just a breath away from a divorce.
Oh, and even more politically incorrect news, men who accept their wives influence are better fathers. Yup.
Women, you are not off the hook. Not even a little. Women, check your harsh start-ups and your nagging criticism. It doesn’t ever help. Not really. It will never win you his respect, his honor, or his admiration. Which is what you really want anyway, right?
Unless what you really want is to be right. And here’s the question to ask yourself: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship? Because sometimes you cannot have it both ways.
I read an article last week entitled I Got Divorced Because I Left Dishes In The Sink. Written by a man, it is a well-written example of what it means to accept influence. And why it is worth doing it.Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship? Sometimes you cannot have it both ways. Click To Tweet
If you have read this blog before, you know that my husband and I ballroom dance. This has been quite another lesson in accepting influence. We must work as a team. And even though at the ballroom the man “leads”, it is always a team effort. Respecting each other’s ways of doing things, being influenced by each other’s rhythm, covering each other’s mistakes, being moved by each other’s body. So the dance becomes a metaphor for life, for relationship, for commitment and trust. (Be Your Best Self).
Committed relationships are messy. They are challenging. The rewards for treating your partner with fondness, admiration, and genuine respect are too many to count. So accept your partner’s influence, because life is marvelous, and life is messy.