Couples in troubled relationships are often concerned about their ability to negotiate successfully with one another. They think, how can we negotiate issues now when we have had little success resolving conflicts in the past. They worry that the other is stronger, unreasonable, has to be right. Or they may feel the other is unreliable, makes agreements and doesn't uphold them, says yes and means no. These may be very real challenges, which understandably raise anxiety when a potential conflict occurs.
But you may, in fact, have more negotiating skills than you realize even though you are not always able to access them when dealing with your spouse. If you think about it you negotiate all the time, in all kinds of situations. Often you are not even conscious of these behaviors. For example, you negotiate with children -- if you keep your room clean, then I will take you to the movies; with a spouse -- if you cook dinner, I will do the dishes; with friends -- if you can take care of Susie for me tomorrow, I'll take care of your kids over the weekend. Even if you are the kind of person who wants to please others and has difficulty asserting what you want, there is probably a situation or time in your life where you have successfully negotiated for what you needed.
As an exercise, take a few minutes to recall one situation in which you successfully negotiated for something you wanted. Notice what you said and did, how you felt, what allowed you to be successful. Take five minutes with your eyes closed to recall this occasion. Then, write down what you said or did in that situation which could be useful in dealing with your divorce negotiations.
Next, write down your fears or concerns about negotiating with your spouse. Can you use any of the abilities you listed above to help with these anxieties? Can you think of three ways to be more businesslike and assertive that work in other situations, like at the office, or even with your children, that you can try the next time you have to negotiate with your spouse?
Are You a Soft or Hard Negotiator?
All negotiators have two primary interests: what one wants and the relationship. Concern for one's self- interest and concern about the other party are part of every negotiation, however simple or complex. Sometimes you are more concerned about getting along and not rocking the boat, while other times it is more important to get what you want. You may be a person who tends to yield in the face of opposition, not wanting to hurt someone's feelings and not wanting to be disliked. This kind of negotiator typically cares more about the relationship and being accepted than about personal needs and goals. Such people would rather give up what they want in order to avoid the discomfort of potential conflict or the risk of not being well regarded. This person would be considered a "soft" negotiator. In a divorce negotiation, they risk giving too much away. At the other end of the continuum are the "hard" negotiators who seek to meet their own goals without concern for the needs or acceptance of others. To varying degrees these people can be aggressive and bullying, believing that this is what it takes to survive in the world. They go after what they want and don't care what other people think about them.
Either extreme obviously creates problems. Successful negotiating requires a balance between advocating for your own needs and interests and being concerned about the needs and interests of the other. If you consider yourself a "soft "negotiator, you risk not advocating for your own interests sufficiently. If you are a "hard" negotiator you tend to ignore a relationship or other people's concerns in pursuit of your own goals. You may achieve your goals, but leave a fractured relationship behind.
If you are a soft negotiator, you will have to practice paying more attention to identifying and asserting your needs, You will have to learn to take deep breaths so that you can think more lucidly under pressure. Be prepared for meetings; write down your goals and objectives; put your proposals in writing., have supporting data. Remember, it will probably be easier to stand up for yourself now than in the past because your spouse's approval and the relationship with him or her is not as important to you as it was when you were married..
If you tend to have a dominating style of negotiating, you put relationships at risk. Domination is power. While it intimidates, it frequently generates passive resistance and opposition because the other side is afraid to confront you directly. If you are a "hard" negotiator, you will need to pay more attention to your spouse's concerns and needs if you want your discussions and negotiations to succeed. You will have to listen more carefully without interrupting, ask more questions about the other's concerns, and offer proposals that meet your spouse's needs as well as your own. If you overpower your spouse or take advantage of your strength, you will simply push your spouse into the hands of a strong attorney who can handle you.
Other chapters in my book, THE HEALTHY DIVORCE, will walk you through the specifics of win-win negotiating and resolving conflicts.