In Christian couples counseling sessions, I hear over and over again: We need help with our communication. Often what couples need is to clarify a goal for their communication. Do they want their point of view to be heard? Do they want to get the other to see it from his/her perspective? Do they want to learn to listen “better”? Listen toward what goal?
I see a two crucial outcomes for good communication: compromise and validation.
In this article, I will focus on compromise, I will make a brief statement about validation. I have said it before, but I believe it important enough to repeat. Validation is not about agreement but about empathy. A simple statement such as, “I can see how that would make you feel this way” goes a long way.
In my work with couples, I rely heavily on the work of John and Julie Gottman. There is an exercise that I have referenced in a previous article on compromise that bears repeating. In this article, I hope to flesh it out a bit more, to make it more easily replicated in your own home.
An Exercise in the Art of Compromise
Step 1: Consider an area of conflict in which you and your partner have been stuck in perpetual gridlock. Gridlock is that repetitive argument or complaint that never resolves or that always escalates. For example, “He is so forgetful when I tell him things important to me” or “She expects me to be perfect!”
Gridlock can also be experienced as a lingering resentment that one is sacrificing more than the other. “I want the whole family to attend church together,” she says. “Well, you married me knowing that church was not as important to me as to you.”
Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area, and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.
Step 2: Think of the inside oval as containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval as containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with. Make two lists. One list goes on the inside of your oval, and the other to the outside oval.
Step 3: Discuss the following questions with your partner, in the way that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you. Make sure that you really listen to each other as you discuss your core needs.
Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you? (This may come in the form of a story about past hurts or disappointments.)
What are your guiding feelings here? (Offer validation after each feeling is expressed. Again, validation is simply offering understanding and empathy, not agreeing with the other.)
What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s see which ones we have in common.
How can I help you to meet your core needs?What temporary compromise can we reach on this problem? (Example: We will attend church once per month as an entire family. The other week/s, you can take the kids. On the weeks I do not go, let’s have a weekly family devotion/reading together.)
Note: This exercise should not be approached in the midst of a stressful discussion. It will be most helpful if undertaken in a peaceful time, perhaps in the evening or on a weekend when there are no distractions (give the kids something to do or hire a sitter, leave the phones in another room, etc.). It should take you and your partner approximately thirty minutes.
Christian Couples Counseling for Growth in Marriage
As a Christian counselor, I have witnessed how crucial to the relationship is having an eye toward validation and compromise. These are crucial in maintaining a loving, respectful, and fulfilling marriage.
If you would like to interact with these ideas within the safety of a counseling office, or if you feel that you and your partner could use some outside help and perspective, please consider calling a Christian counselor to schedule a couples counseling appointment today.
“Together,” courtesy of Matthew Fassnacht, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Snow,” courtesy of Savs, unsplash.com, CC0 License