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There’s a fundamental principle, essential in all long term committed relationships. It’s the 3rd entity –  “coupleship,” a.k.a., the “team.” When decisions need to be made, if one partner wins and the other loses, the relationship loses. Many couples resist this fundamental principle. They understandably struggle with the practical realities of being on a team whereby everything you do or don’t do impacts the other, either negatively or positively.  It often feels like a power struggle as each partner tries maintain their personal autonomy, individuality and sense of self. Getting one’s needs met at the expense of your partner’s well being can wreak havoc in relationships. Simply put, when asserts one’s self, it inevitably has a profound impact on the other and vice versa.

Research (John Gottman and the “Love Lab”) shows that MOST OF THE PROBLEMS AND ISSUES THAT COUPLES FIGHT ABOUT ARE NOT SOLVABLE. Rather, the majority of conflict is the result of core personality differences in maintaining emotional stability in life. This can make creating a successful coupleship difficult and challenging. Core differences affect emotional stability in a relationship because what makes one partner feel emotionally stable tends to make the other partner feel emotionally unstable. Some of these core personality differences are: 1. togetherness first (we do everything together!) vs. independence first (I need a lot of alone time!); 2. invest in the future (work first,then play) vs. live for the moment (work & play-along-the way); 3. readily upset (people that need to express how they feel in the moment) vs. slow to upset (people that tend “not sweat the small stuff,” go with the flow, etc); 4. Understanding first (typically female) vs. problem solving first (typically male); 5. predictability first (get “your ducks in a row,” get a plan!) vs. spontaneity first (“play it by ear,” “let’s see how it goes…”). I’ll discuss these core differences in more detail in future Relationship Essentials. Given that core differences really don’t change, that is, they are biologically wired, successful coupleships are the result of partners finding creative strategies and solutions that “meet in the middle.” In other words, successful couples make decisions that work for both partners and ultimately contribute to the overall relationship winning. Both partners must feel good about how decisions are made!

A major source of conflict in relationships is when one or both partners make unilateral decisions. Examples of unilateral decisions common in daily life are withholding sex, withholding communication, emotional withdrawal or holding resentments. Larger scale unilateral decisions might look like making expensive purchases without consulting your partner, choosing to have/not have children, deciding where and how to to live your lives, or moving forward with an affair (emotional and/or sexual ) which is actually one of the ultimate unilateral decisions.
If you want to reduce conflict in your relationship, STOP MAKING UNILATERAL DECISIONS. Reflect on how your behavior and attitudes is affecting your partner and the quality of your relationship.