5 Ways Not to Get What You Want

Many arguments arise when we want one outcome and our partner wants a different one. For instance, let’s say you don’t think the kids should have more than 30 minutes of TV a day. Your spouse thinks TV isn’t a big deal. Or let’s say you want to take a romantic vacation, but your spouse would rather spend that money on a home improvement project.

I’m sure I could come up with 100s of examples. But I won’t. Instead, I’d like you to take a moment and think about how this is true in your life. How many of your arguments are triggered merely by a difference of opinion? How many are a result of you wanting one thing and your spouse wanting something else?

For me, it’s a lot.

The worst is when a difference of opinion is never resolved. So you keep having the same argument over and over and over again. That’s no fun, is it?

Here are 5 reasons differences of opinion don’t get resolved:

You made sure your partner understood your point of view. But did you make sure to understand his? If you don’t know why your partner doesn’t agree with you, it’s going to be very difficult to reach a compromise that you can both feel good about.

You assumed. Perhaps you assumed that your partner knew what you wanted. Don’t assume. Check. Ask, “Do you understand where I am coming from? Could you tell me what you are hearing me say?”

You got lost in self pity. Rather than constructively try to solve the problem, you obsessed over, “Why does this keep happening to me? How could I have ever married someone like this? Why doesn’t he agree with me? How could he be like this?” Such thinking is normal and most married people do it from time to time if not every day. Just know that it won’t solve your problems. To solve problems, move beyond self pity and embrace change.

You refused to budge. You became so attached to getting your way that you refused to consider any other alternatives. Shift your focus from winning and over to problem solving. That way you can both win the argument.

You attacked your partner, not the problem. Rather than attempt to listen, understand, compromise, or agree on a strategy, you attempted to gain leverage and power by taking your partner down a notch or 867 of them. Name-calling might scare your partner and it might cause your partner to feel unloved or even back down, but it’s probably not going to get you any closer to the outcome you seek. Even if you convince your partner to do what you want, it’s going to be a hollow victory. Your partner will resent you and become passive, just waiting to gloat, “I told you so” when your strategy fails. Whenever you feel the urge to call your partner names, ask for a time out. Return to the conversation only once you’ve calmed down.

DISCUSS: How do these issues get in the way of problem solving? How have you been able to overcome them? Which of these do you struggle with and why?

SPEAKING OF DISCUSSING THINGS: Kris won the March Reader of the Month. She is getting a $50 Visa Gift card from Rental Car Choices. If you’d like to win the Reader of the Month, all you have to do to be eligible is comment a lot on the site.

YOU MIGHT WANT TO READ THIS: I wrote an essay about our goldfish for The Atlantic.

14 comments… add one

  • Rosemary April 4, 2012, 11:46 am

    Sometimes you can solve the problem by just changing what you want. Really. If I want Mexican food and my husband wants sushi, it’s not hard for me to think about how much I like the sushi place down the street and decide that that would be pretty good. Even many bigger issues can be resolved this way. What color to paint the house, where to go on vacation – If you let go of your attachment to whatever it is you think you want and consider the benefits of your partner’s idea, very often it becomes clear that his idea is just as desirable as yours.

    I’m not suggesting that you give up your dreams or that you should always just go along with whatever it is the other person wants despite your own preferences. But it’s amazing how often you can be just as happy with one solution as you would with another, if you simply consider it with a positive attitude.
    Rosemary´s last blog post ..Showering Together? Really?

    • Carla April 19, 2012, 11:51 am

      yes I get that, but it seems like I give in all the time. I tell him what I want and it is basically – too bad, we are doign this. There is no compromise. I missed my honeymoon to Cancun because my husband decided at the last minuet he couldn’t get on a plane. I told him I wanted to go to Vegas for our 5 yr anniversary. Nope, we went to the cabin (which he spends every other weekend at). I beg him for dates. I don’t get anything. but in his mind he is the one giving everything up.

  • Anon April 4, 2012, 11:58 am

    Perhaps another discussion would be how to counter some of these strategies and get the discussion back on track.

    For me it’s the last one. In part because I think I have been a pushover, I find myself (or perceive myself) on the receiving end of that one. I don’t think my wife gets up in the morning intending to be malicious, but I think she sees it as the shortest path to getting her way in the short term.

    As an example — I suggested a different way to end a vacation that was built around visiting her relatives, included camping (which I hate), her visiting her grade school friends and teachers, and virtually nothing that was my idea (which may be a problem with my lack of asseritiveness). Her response included saying “It’s not about you!” and “This is supposed to be a *family* vacation!” and then “So why don’t you just go on vacation by yourself, then?”

    It seems apparent to me that this was an effort to knock me off my position by trying to make me feel that I’m being overly selfish.

    Now, I recognize that this is not a productive move. She’s human, just like me, and can make mistakes. So my point isn’t to bury her for doing this. My question is how do I pivot from this to a more productive discussion? I don’t think it’s helpful to defend myself from what I see as the implicit accusation that I’m being selfish by making this proposal, but I’m not sure how to get the discussion back on track. So, I find myself folding, which as Alisa notes, doesn’t do anybody any good.

    • Rosemary April 4, 2012, 2:45 pm

      Maybe you need to find out more about what this really means to her. Is there a special reason for spending time with relatives and looking up old friends at this time? For example, a person facing a landmark birthday might feel the need to reconnect with her youth. Maybe she feels that everyone is getting older and she needs to spend time with them while she still has the chance. Or maybe it’s just that this is the kind of vacation she’s always been used to and because of habit it seems more comfortable than trying something different.

      Maybe you could tell her, calmly and kindly, that it’s not about you, and it’s not about her, either. It’s about the two of you together. Sharing special times and building memories together supports and strengthens the relationship.

      • Anon April 5, 2012, 3:43 pm


        To clarify — my idea did not challenge any of her time with her friends or her family. She had to be back for work, and the kids and I did not, so I was suggesting she fly back ahead of us and we could have a few more days in the cool place we were instead of the scorching hot home.

        Now, there may be reasons this would not work out or be a bad idea, but not that it’s all bout me.

      • Anon April 5, 2012, 4:32 pm

        Although, given that, I suppose one response might be, “Wow — you seem to be reacting pretty strongly to this. Can you help me understand why this seems to evoke such a strong response?”

      • Rosemary April 6, 2012, 11:04 am

        Anon – When I read your original comment I did think you were wanting to spend some of the vacation time in a different way than she did. Your clarification puts a slightly different light on it. But either way it definitely makes sense to find out why she is reacting so strongly.
        Rosemary´s last blog post ..The Five Love Languages

  • Rose Byrd April 4, 2012, 3:46 pm

    Alisa, I totally agree that discussion and EACH partner clearly explaining and carefully listening to the other is the answer–ALWAYS!
    Rose Byrd´s last blog post ..“……and you say we have no wisdom except HIS?”

  • David Stevens April 4, 2012, 7:28 pm

    Assumptions is a big one Alissa,
    still working on that (after 33years you’d think that would be solved)
    be good to yourself
    David Stevens´s last blog post ..Living your Mid Life – 6 things that I learned, can be done with Purpose instead of Ho Hum

  • MyKidsEatSquid April 4, 2012, 9:52 pm

    Count me in the “assumer” category–I think I’ve finally learned to accept that and to try, try to be more clear.

  • Lesli Doares April 5, 2012, 10:13 am

    These are so dead on. It’s accurate to ask if you want to be right or do you want to be married (happy), because you can’t be both. Your relationship only wins if both of you are winning. Taking this approach and making room in your life for your partner and their way of doing things are part of my recipe for a happily ever after.
    Lesli Doares´s last blog post ..Radical Honesty for a Healthy Marriage

  • Becky April 5, 2012, 8:44 pm

    One of the it ones for us, is just being open. It sounds so easy but at times, it is the hardest thing in the World to be vulnerable!
    Becky´s last blog post ..Death – A letter to the Savior

  • Goog April 10, 2012, 5:27 am

    I can relate to Anons dilemma completely. A big source of disagreement in our relationship has become about traveling. My husband always wants to include friends and/or family. I am not opposed to this, I would just like some balance with time for the two of us. He really seems to have no need for that, or at least much less. We have been married a long time, we celebrated our 20 th anniversary with 36 of our friends in tow on a trip because it was his 50 th birthday, and it was what he wanted. I am not assertive enough that’s for sure. The thing is the discussion always starts out innocently enough, but then it becomes much more complicated with many changes, (duration, travel days, type of travel, extra people etc…. I always have to be ready for the next change and i cant count on anything and that I cant control anything about the trip in the end. So i fold. I feel like I’m always being manipulated slightly So It’s possible that I am being paranoid. After so many trips that work out his way only and leave me disappointed and angry I’m beginning to think Im being played. I need to be more assertive and draw some boundaries, obviously i feel taken advantage of. And yes i have been probably too wishywashy or overwhelmed by all the permutations to be effective Any suggestions?

  • sheryl April 11, 2012, 7:37 am

    Assuming has gotten me into trouble more times than I can count. Sometimes I’m absolutely convinced of something…but that doesn’t make it real.


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