We don’t like to admit it, but a marriage (or any long, cohabiting relationship) looks less like an early romance and more like a business partnership. As organisational psychologist Adam Grant and his wife Allison Sweet Grant explain in Redbook, married life involves a lot of compromise and negotiation. They offer four negotiation techniques for avoiding unhappy compromises.
Art by Anthony van Dyck
Our favourite tactic is the last: “Let each person win something”. If you and your partner are debating multiple important disagreements, instead of compromising on each, turn them all into one big negotiation. That way each of you get to “win” some disagreements outright.
For example, the Grants couldn’t agree on whether to build a pool, or what to name their baby. But they figured out that each of them cared more about a different argument. So they negotiated:
Allison cared more about giving our son a distinguished name than having a pool-free home, and Adam cared more about giving our son a place to swim than protecting him from a childhood of name-calling.
While the pool and the name were big life decisions, they weren’t the biggest decisions, and even though Adam and Allison felt strongly about both, they could each respect and trust the other’s opinion, enough to completely accept it. Having that mutual trust makes it much easier to sacrifice for each other.
The Grants also suggest tactics like trading ultimatums, or “throwing out an anchor” to shift the terms of a debate. Some of these methods might sound mercenary or manipulative, but they’re better than a trail of compromises that leave no one happy. A lifelong partnership means sacrificing for each other, and managing those sacrifices is crucial.
Especially if you’re planning to make a third partner.