Marriage shouldn’t be a Competition: Learn to Collaborate with your Partner

Marriage shouldn’t be a Competition: Learn to Collaborate with your Partner

SCRUBCO: The letter C for Collaboration and Compromise

Among married couples, there are collaborators and there are competitors. I once knew a couple married for more than fifty years whose theme song was from the Irving Berlin Musical, Annie Get Your Gun. Whenever the mood struck, they would sing the lyrics, “Anything you can do I can do better. No you can’t. Yes I can. No you can’t. Yes I can.” Then they’d chuckle with one another and the war of tiny competitions would continue.

“Bill, why do you say ‘turn down the air conditioning’ when you really want it to get cooler in here? You should say, ‘turn up the air conditioner.’ Don’t you think?”

No, Laura, you’re wrong. It’s turn down the air because I’m trying to make it cooler. If I wanted it warmer, I’d say turn it up!”

“Oh, Bill, that makes no sense. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

This tedious and maddening repartee was the fuel that stoked their marriage for more than half a century. While it may have worked to keep the heat on, it wasn’t the most nurturing experience for each party. If this was how they settled disagreements in public, I can only imagine how they resolved the larger issues behind closed doors.

Healthier marriages are based on collaboration and compromise, not competition. Collaboration and compromise are conflict resolution terms that refer to the different styles of resolution a couple chooses to work out their conflicts. When couples collaborate they’re seeking win/win solutions where each party gets his needs met. Compromise is the next best style to collaboration because each party gives up a little to get something back. Therefore, the resolution is balanced. In both of these styles, healthy couples are able to view themselves as a well-functioning team, rather than viewing the other as an opponent to constantly compete with or fight with for control.

To be an effective collaborator in your relationship, it’s important to know the steps to collaborative problem solving when something big comes up.

  1. Identify the problem in neutral terms
  2. Identify your feelings about the problem without making accusations.
  3. Listen to the other person without interruption
  4. Identify what each party’s needs are regarding the problem
  5. Brainstorm some possible solutions where both parties can get their needs met
  6. Choose a solution and make an agreement on how to enact it.

Of course, collaborative problem solving isn’t always possible. Sometimes compromise is the only answer. In this case each party prioritizes what his most important need is and then gives up something that’s less important to them to meet the needs of the other person. Ultimately, productive conflict resolution is a dance we learn to do with our partners. The question is, are you participating in a waltz or is it the dance boxers do in the ring? If it’s the latter, you might want to rethink your strategies.


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