Why is it that men and women have so much difficulty getting along? Recent research from the Pew Institute (Pew 2013) found that 83% of women and 82% of men desire marriage, yet only about 50% of adults are currently married and the divorce rate for first marriages looms at a whopping 50%.
While studies on the benefits of commitment and marriage are mixed, most experts concur that long-term commitment has many benefits. According to researchers, it’s tied to live-in emotional and physical support. In other words, when you have someone around on a day to day basis, you have someone to remind you to take care of yourself and are more likely to be healthier and live longer.
So why do so many couples report that they’re on the verge of a breakup or divorce? This is especially true for women—since two thirds of divorces are filed by the wife. One of the main reasons experts cite for women filing for divorce is that they want an equal partner—someone who listens and appreciates them.
That said, we all want unconditional love and a partner who values our opinion and respects us. Even though men report more happiness with the wedded state than women, researchers have found that women thrive in a happy marriage. So in principle anyway both sexes want the same thing.
How can men and women resolve differences and declare peace within a relationship? According to the authors of the study The Normal Bar, the happiest couples, wherein both people feel relatively satisfied in their relationship, learn to compromise. They write: “This seems to be the core secret for relationship happiness: frequent compromises over time, and balance in giving and getting, conceding and winning.”
What is the meaning of the word compromise? It’s a settlement by which each side makes concessions. And while this doesn’t sound romantic, if you decide you want to save your marriage, you have to learn to negotiate – which is the essence of compromise. Negotiation is about diplomacy and is a tool that will help you and your partner get on the same side and to become intimately connected.
Perhaps women need to adopt realistic expectations and view conflict as positive. According to psychologist Harriet Lerner, a good fight can clear the air. She writes: “and it’s nice to know we can survive conflict and even learn from it. Many couples, however, get trapped in endless rounds of fighting and blaming that they don’t know how to get out of. When fights go unchecked and unrepaired, they can eventually erode love and respect which are the bedrock of any successful relationship.”
It’s also important to stop keeping score and to try not to win every argument, even when you’re in the right. Instead, author Pat Love says, “think of winning an unofficial contest I like to call ‘Who’s the Bigger Person? Resolving Conflicts is about who wants to grow the most and what’s best for your relationship.’”
In the beginning of a relationship, couples tend to focus more on their similarities. Yet after a while, negative projections tend to surface and your partner may remind you of someone from your past. This could explain why some couples who seemed so compatible when they first got together, have more conflicts as time goes by. This may be especially challenging for some women who grew up with the mindset of a soulmate who cherishes and loves them unconditionally.
Fortunately, Caroline, age 34, learned it takes two people to contribute to communication difficulties. Caroline and Jackson started meeting with a counselor out of desperation. “That’s when I noticed that I had a problem communicating. I expected Jackson to know what I wanted without me telling him what I needed. When he failed, I’d punish him with the silent treatment, or blow up. When I let go of my efforts to fix him, and started negotiating, I started getting my needs met.” she says.
8 ways women can keep the peace with their partner:
- Create leisure time and a relaxed atmosphere to interact with your partner often. Ask for what you need in an assertive (non-aggressive) way and be willing to see your partner’s side of the story. This is not optional—couples who spend at least one night a week together can enhance their relationship resilience, according to recent research.
- Cultivate and affectionate bond. According to author Kory Floyd, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging, and touching can release oxytocin (the bonding hormone) that reduces pain and causes a calming sensation. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones—lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Take a risk and deal with hurt feelings—especially if it’s an important issue—rather than stonewalling or shutting down. Avoid criticisms and focus on positive ways you can get what you need from your partner—at least most of the time.
- Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude and avoid the blame-game. Instead of trying to prove a point, examine your part in a disagreement. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on issues than are unclear. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings.
- Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements that tend to come across as blameful—such as “I felt hurt when purchased the car without discussing it with me” rather than “You’re so selfish and you never talk to me about your purchases.”
- Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you time to calm down and collect your thoughts. But be sure to chat later because when issues get swept under the rug, this can leave the partner who feels hurt—or both people—even more resentful.
- Show attunement with your partner in non-verbal ways such as eye contact, body posture, and gestures that demonstrate your intention to listen and compromise. Dr. John Gottman developed this principle after observing thousands of couples in his Love Lab.
- Establish an open-ended dialogue: Don’t make threats. Avoid saying things you’ll regret later.
Be assertive yet open in your attempts to negotiate for what you want from your partner. Both individuals in a relationship deserve to get some (not all) of their needs met.
It’s essential for women to find creative ways to compromise with their partners and not throw in the towel too soon. According to Dr. John Gottman, the number one solution to the communication problem that couples have is to get really good at repair skills. He posits that the thing that seems to be breaking up many couples is difficulty bouncing back from a conflict or disagreement in a healthy way (Business Insider).
If you believe your relationship is on the rocks, adopting a resilient mindset and working on ways you can repair hurt feelings, can help you get back on track. Couples who learn to compromise are on their way to building a successful relationship that is long-lasting. Adjusting your expectations and compromising are indispensable tools to making peace with your partner and promoting mutual understanding.
Follow Terry on Twitter, Facebook and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome The Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship” is available on movingpastdivorce.com.