My friend Robb, an interior designer from San Francisco, once posed me this question: “Is saying yes all the time the best way to a peaceful marriage?”
Robb has been having problems that have been hurting his marriage relationship with his wife, Jane. During one of our talks over coffee, Robb described in complete detail the types of arguments he had with Jane.
He admitted that he felt that these arguments, which were rooted in simple issues, would have been quickly diffused only after he started agreeing to Jane, even when he had a different opinion in the first place.
He told me, “One time, Jane and I had a huge argument over a scheduled community meeting. I was quite hesitant over not going with her because I was already exhausted from my work on that day.”
To maintain peace and avoid further arguments, however, Robb took the safest route of agreeing to Jane’s demands and wishes—even when he had a completely opposing opinion about being part of a monthly community meeting in the first place.
Compliance Is Not Always the Best Route
“Robb, complying and saying “yes” all the time even though you want to say “no” will not help you achieve a peaceful and harmonious marriage,” I said flatly.
“There will come a time when you will hate her and you will hate yourself more for being a complacent doormat and for complying so quickly just to escape a possible argument,” I added.
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Most of the time, agreeing with someone just to be able to escape an argument is only another version of avoiding the responsibility of engaging with matters that can destroy your marriage. Moreover, it is also a way of not engaging with your marriage relationship.
Agreeing to something, even when you do not like it will only trigger more arguments in the long run.
Instead of nurturing your relationship with your partner by making a stand on issues that concern your marriage, you are only showing that you do not have a voice in your marriage if you will only comply with your spouse’s wishes all the time. Keeping mum and always saying “yes” is an unhealthy mindset.
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Should I Learn to Say “No” More Often?
On the other hand, giving out a “No” or always refusing and disagreeing with your partner as soon as he or she opens up about a concern is also a poison that can ruin your relationship. It is just as harmful as saying “yes” all the time.
“It is a matter of willing to be influenced”, says Dr. John Gottman, the author of The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work.
Take note that the issues you deal with in your marriage do not have to be as polarizing as you might think.
While most couples would tend to treat issues concerning their relationship by standing on opposite sides of the pole, what you should do is to revolutionize the idea of arguing and agreeing with your partner.
Learning the art of discussing what you don’t agree with and then working together to find a common ground so that you will both meet at the center of an issue instead of standing at the opposing sides of the spectrum is the best way to go.
Most couples prefer to persuade and try to change their partner’s mind about an issue during arguments. This is a negative single-minded approach as they are not working to find a common goal.
Dr. Gottman posits that most arguments concerning marriage can never be resolved.
Each individual has a deep-seated personality created by our idiosyncrasies and individual backgrounds where most of our values and principles root from.
These things are non-negotiable, and most of the important decisions we make in life are based on this inner core. Most of the time, these idiosyncrasies go against our spouse’s inner core during an argument.
Trying to change someone’s perspective, mindset, and inner core is like trying to alter his or her DNA completely—which is something that can never be done.
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Turning Tables or Turning the Tides
Since complying all the time is never a solution and proactively saying “No” right off the bat is also not an answer, then what should couples do to gain a win-win situation in an argument?
Dr. Gottman says that agreeing with each other should always be treated as an active process of finding common ground.
It all boils down to your willingness to consider your spouse’s opinion or perspective even when it does not match with your take on an issue. This is a better mindset than always trying to persuade your partner to change his or her point of view.
Robb’s saying “yes” always will never help him with his relationship with Jane. It will also not help you.
Robb saw that compliance is a less confrontational and less messy alternative to achieving what he really wanted: to make Jane realize that community meetings can eat up both their free time and can only add to their staggering daily life schedule.
This is not the proper method to handle an issue. To fully understand the roots of their argument, I asked Robb to describe Jane’s overall personality.
He said that Jane is “a sociable person with a warm and radiant aura.” He also said that being an extrovert is the best word to describe Jane.
This made me see why being a part of a community is so crucial to Jane. She is naturally outgoing and sociable, and she is at her best in situations that allow her to meet and talk to other people. In short, the community meeting is an extension of her traits.
Robb cannot make Jane change her mind about the community meeting, but he could at least voice out his side and have her meet him halfway.
Reaching a compromise begins with an agreeable mindset. This does not entail, however, always being the person who says “yes” in a relationship.
As we have discussed earlier, relationships do not flourish when you always agree about something without really thinking about it thoroughly.
Set a good example by expressing an open-mindedness to listen to and understand your partner’s point of view. This will put you at the advantage of being able to express your own informed opinion.
It will be way easier for your partner to listen to you as well when you start your statements along the lines of: “That is an interesting idea, and this is what I think about it…”
Taking the initiative to say, “It is something that we can both consider” to their side of the issue is making an invitation for your spouse to find a common ground with you.
It is a great threshold for a healthy and respectful discussion about your concerns while not completely shutting yourself off from your partner’s perspectives and feelings about the issue.
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Learn to Agree to Disagree
Even when you do not agree on every issue that is set on the table, what is more, important is that you both have learned to set the issue on the table in the first place and open yourselves up for a possible discussion.
Never be discouraged that you and your partner might disagree on every issue you put up for discussion.
This is just normal for every married couple. Furthermore, having a mindset based on agreeability leaves both you and your partner a greater feeling of satisfaction even if you do not persuade your spouse to change his or her mind about a specific issue.
Always saying “yes” or “no” to an issue without really thinking it through is a cop-out. It is a failing escape route to avoid a fruitful discussion with your partner.
I made this point clear to Robb, and he considered this tip for possible use in future talks with Jane.
When we met again for coffee, he was glad to report that Jane no longer tries to force him to come to every community meeting. He said that they both agreed on Jane attending some meetings alone and then going with Robb on the others.
Robb agreed to attend the meetings with Jane when he is not too exhausted from his daily work.
He let Jane know that he completely understood why she values going to the meetings, and he is willing to support her even when he is not totally committed to attending the meetings the same way as Jane.
Meanwhile, Jane learned to appreciate Robb’s eagerness to be supportive despite his initial misgivings. She understood that Robb’s work can become exhausting and that there will be days when he cannot accompany her to go to the meetings.
He added that after discussing it several times, both he and Jane made good progress in finding a common ground instead of hurting each other’s feelings by trying to change each other’s opinions.
As a result, they both met halfway and found a common ground even when they have different perspectives about the community meetings.
Trying to find a common ground about a certain issue in your marriage is not exactly an easy thing to do especially if you are just starting in your relationship.
Nevertheless, you and your partner can achieve a more harmonious and happy marriage if you will set aside your interests and begin to learn the art of finding a common ground.