Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Getting Him To Do What She Wants Him To Do

How can she get him to do with she wants him to do?

For many couples this is a burning problem. At Psychology Today StevenStosny recommends negotiation as a solution.   

Surely, negotiation is better than the alternatives he offers. You would rather negotiate than coerce, threaten, pressure, manipulate, or barter.

Yet, I am puzzled by a blatant omission. If you want your spouse to do something, how about asking nicely?

As I see it, it is better to assume mutual respect and good will than to believe that the relationship is grounded in contention and conflict.

Couples should never go to war over who is doing the dishes or taking out the trash.

If you define your relationship as a power struggle, negotiated compromise will only be a stopgap, a prelude to the next crisis. Compromise will feel like a loss because each person will feel a need to come away feeling like the only winner.

It is bad to think that relationships involve getting your way.

While I agree with Stosny on the importance of negotiation, I find that he frames the question incorrectly.

Wanting the other person to do what you want is not the same as wanting the other person to do what has to be done. People are much more comfortable fulfilling their duties than doing what someone else wants them to do.

Conflating the need to pick up a child afterschool with the wish to vacation in Aspen is to foster a conceptual confusion.

The one is an obligation and a duty; the other is a matter of personal taste.

Most people are more willing to cooperate when they feel that they are doing what has to be done. They get their backs up when they are being asked to do what someone wants them to do.

If you frame the issue in terms of who will prevail—Aspen or Maui; the ballet or the playoff game—you will close off the space for cooperation.

Writing in Forbes Victoria Pynchon takes severe exception to Stosny’s approach. She says that women do not like to negotiate. They see themselves as disadvantaged at an activity in which men tend to excel.

Then, Pynchon offers a caricature of Stosny’s view of negotiation. Or, at least, the view he presents in his article.

I agree with her that negotiation is not a zero sum game and that it is not a lose/lose proposition. As I understood him, Stosny would also concur.

Successful negotiation leads to a win/win situation. Unsuccessful negotiation involves one person winning and the other person losing—a zero sum game—or neither partner getting what he or she wants- a lose/lose situation.

If he wants to go to Aspen and she wants to go to Maui and if they compromise on Yellowstone, a place that neither of them likes, that is not a negotiation.

It is dumb.

As for what a negotiation looks like, let’s say that a couple is divided between the ballet and the big game. The obvious solution is to do both.

They may not be able to do both together, but such is life. To mitigate his pain at going to the game alone or with his friends, she might prepare a game-day lunch for him and his buddies. To mitigate her pain at going to the ballet without him, he might hire a car service to take her and her best friend to the performance.

If the two events are at exactly the same time and it’s their wedding anniversary, he should give up his tickets to the game and take her to the ballet. It’s the gallant thing to do.

If she can see the same ballet a different day or if he has already given up two games to participate in events that mattered enormously to her, it is her turn to do something that makes him happy.

One should never consider these normal marital choices as anything other than efforts to make the other person happy.

You are not going to have a happy marriage if you think that the relationship is meaningful only if you get what you want.

A thoughtful, considerate, caring spouse can usually find negotiated solutions to problems.

Pynchon is right to suggest that when partners have differing tastes, they should say what they want, and not just hint at it.

She errs when she suggests that a long, drawn out conversation will allow each partner to appreciate fully the other person’s tastes. If women abhor a certain kind of negotiation, Pynchon should know that men do not like long drawn-out exercises in soul searching.

As for the larger question, how can a woman get a man to do what she wants, there are two correct answers.

First, as I mentioned, she should frame the question in terms of duty rather than personal wish or predilection.

If a family obligation requires the two of you to be in Maui, then Maui it will be, regardless of how much he wants to go to Aspen.

Second, a woman with superior relationship skills knows that the way to get a man to agree to do what she wants him to do is to let him to feel that he is doing what he really wants.



Dennis said...

It all still comes down to "When you seek to deceive the only person you deceive is yourself." One has to give respect if they expect it. There is little respect shown if a woman believes she has to con him into doing things. The vast majority of us men are pretty decent individuals that will help you in many areas if you just ask and most importantly appreciate what we do.
If you ask me to do something and then criticize every thing done then guess what I am not going to do it or find ways to ignore it. Remember a face that shows displeasure is easier to take than nagging. "If I can do no right then your opinion is of no value to me."
The sad part here is that life is really simple and we do our best to make it more complex than it needs to be. The question is what are you doing to do what he wants? Try thinking of a marriage as a team with players who have different skills and abilities and your job is find the synergy that makes it a winning team.

David Foster said...

If women do not like negotiation and view themselves as bad at it, how does this square with the oft-asserted superior social intelligence of women? And how does it square with the fact that many women do extremely well in business-to-business sales positions, which typically involve a *lot* of negotiation?

Related: I've often heard it asserted that women in job situations don't like to act to forward their own interests, by asking for raises or promotions. Very few of these shrinking violets have been identifiable among women working for me.