Why Do Couples Resist a Win-Win Goal?

A win-win outcome both in business and in marriage is the ideal. No one would argue that point. But as I’ve already noted, some feel that trying to achieve that ideal in marriage is immoral, impossible, or impractical. They feel that there’s something about a romantic relationship between a man and a woman that rules out win-win resolutions to conflict.

The problem usually begins with confusion over the value of the sacrifice strategy—one partner is willing to lose so that the other partner can win. It’s a time-honored way to prove that you care, and it’s the way most romantic relationships begin. It gives your account in a prospective mate’s Love Bank an initial boost.

It’s a lot like the way a business introduces a new product. It’s sold at a greatly reduced price, or is even given away, to give prospective customers a taste of what the business can do for them. In a dating relationship, partners want an opportunity to get to know each other, so they will often sacrifice their own interests to motivate each other to spend time together. When I would call Joyce for a date, she would agree to go even before I told her what we’d be doing.

But it’s at this point that business and romantic relationships usually part. In business, the product that had been initially given away is now priced to provide a profit for the company and value for the customer. In romantic relationships, however, sacrifice continues to be expected. After all, it’s regarded as the romantic ideal.

Fortunately for our marriage, after we said our vows Joyce stopped sacrificing her interests just to be with me. If we were to go on a date, she wanted to know where we’d be going before she’d agree to go. And if she wasn’t interested in what I had in mind, she’d suggest alternatives that served her interests. The sacrifice strategy had come to an end in our marriage, as it does in all romantic relationships.

Why was this fortunate for our marriage? Because we were now forced to do what businesses do—find win-win outcomes to our conflicts.

Of course, we could have chosen the path that most romantic relationships follow: dictatorship, dueling dictators, and anarchy. In time, we would have become disillusioned, had a power struggle, lost our love for each other, and eventually parted ways either through divorce or permanent separation.

But we didn’t follow that path, and as a result, we are still in a romantic relationship after fifty years of marriage. I’m convinced that every couple can follow the path we’ve taken by learning to re- solve their conflicts with each other’s interests in mind. When that happens, they discover win-win solutions to all of their conflicts.

The Policy of Joint Agreement

To help couples keep their eye on the ball, I challenge them to consider a rule that leads to win-win outcomes. I call it the Policy of Joint Agreement: Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse. Enthusiastic agreement becomes the goal of negotiation whenever a couple faces a conflict. In other words, they both must win or they keep negotiating.

If you follow the Policy of Joint Agreement (POJA), it will force you to resolve conflicts the right way—the way that takes the interests of both of you into account simultaneously. Not only is this the mutually caring thing to do, but final decisions made this way are usually wiser than any decision you would have made on your own. By joining together to make each decision, you’re able to consider a much broader range of options, and come to conclusions that take more factors into account.

When I first introduce this rule to clients, it usually triggers two reactions. At first people react to how they feel about being consulted before their spouse makes a decision: “If this means that Lisa must ask me how I feel about what she’s planning to do before she does it, I think that’s a good idea. There’s a lot going on in her life that I’d like to know about, and a lot that I wouldn’t agree with if I did know. If she’d tell me her plans in advance, and give me the right to veto some of them, I think we’d get along a lot better.”