In distress and disagreement whose need is more important, his or hers?
Here’s a map to the mind-set needed to know each and every time.
Her husband had an affair and now is over: she wants to talk more about her lingering pain; he doesn’t want to talk about it any more. Whose need trumps the other?:
To talk or not to talk?
Who is to say that her need to talk is more important than his need to stay quiet?
The gravity of this particular scenario may make it easier for a third party to choose sides depending on which choice triggers him/her less anxiety, but as dire as this scenario may be, the approach to decide what to do, is no different than whether she wants to watch the news in the same room and at the same time he wants to listen to music instead.
Over the years, I witnessed couples in therapy sessions, often wrestle with these dilemmas, frantically hoping to find an ally, someone that would validate them, take their side and make the other one do what they expect them to do. Although some of the techniques used to get their partner to fill their need(s) are varied and pretty ingenious, unfortunately, they are mostly ineffective.
Unless you have a pre-arranged agreement: -“I get my way on this one and you take the next one” kind-of-deal- (and a pretty good bookkeeper to keep track of it all), learning whose need takes precedence at any given moment, challenges a core evolutionary question: who matters more?, the ultimate rhetorical question.
Bestselling author, Terrence Real, highlights in his illuminating book: “The New Rules of Marriage”, that neither -coercing, convincing, compromising, giving-in or backing off- methods work to get a need met, because it inevitably leaves one or both partners feeling resentful and or disempowered. So, if those methods don’t work, how can couples discern effectively what to do when faced with a situation where they each have strong, valid but very different needs?
In order for a couple to be able to know whose need outranks the other at any given moment, a shift in the mind-set paradigm from “me” to “us” must take place. To accomplish this mind-set shift means to challenge the indoctrination of the last half century ideology that spoon-fed us self empowerment while conversely devalued relational synergy.
When you and your partner become a couple, you don’t stop being individuals, of course, but a greater entity is born out of that synergy, a sacred and unique spot: your relational space, an indivisible place that holds all of you both. Greek philosopher, Aristotle, captured this concept in his studies and the profoundness of its meaning lies in the immortal quote: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
So, when faced with the dilemma of whose need commands to be honored at any particular time or how to reconcile the disparity of your needs, change “hats”, from “me” or “you”, to “it” and ask yourselves: what does “it”, our relational space, requires most right now from us?
Your relational space is the place that intimately cradles both of you, a field where your children play and grow, the gatekeeper of the outside world and the birthplace of your love.
“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there”. Rumi