I recently received an email from an old friend, asking for relationship advice. She and her wife, newlyweds, were having their first real disagreement, a household matter in which compromise seemed difficult. My friend likes to sleep with the drapes open, so that early morning light helps wake her up. Her wife prefers to sleep with the drapes closed, to sleep as late as possible before having to get up for work.
As soon as they agreed to sleep with the drapes closed, my friend began to struggle with the feeling that she had lost power in the relationship. Why should her wife get to have her own way? Should my friend not have “backed down?”
This conflict may seem unique to couples in a relationship, but the truth is, we are constantly navigating compromises in all our relationships: with friends, with family. And these compromises rarely seem more at the forefront than during the holiday season, which begins this month with Thanksgiving.
Many of you have already talked to me about the family tensions that spark around the question, “Who should go where for Thanksgiving?” Should parents come to visit their adult children? Should adults bear the burden of travel (and the costs) to visit their elders? Even once decisions are made, resentments can simmer and mar what should be joyful family gatherings.
Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt—authors of the “Couplehood” class I am currently facilitating at Chalice—offer a useful way of thinking about these challenges. Rather than thinking of who “wins” or “loses” in a conflict, Hendrix and Hunt invite us to think about the relationship and what it needs. In other words, each person in the relationship has needs, but the relationship itself also has needs.
With this framework, my friend was better able to assess the disagreement with her wife. It allowed her to let go of the feeling that she had “lost” the argument, and to see that the relationship itself benefits from her wife getting more sleep. As she let go of her anger, she was also able to suggest a further compromise of sleeping with the drapes open on the weekend, which her wife agreed to.
So as we approach the start of the winter holiday season, I encourage you to think about the relationships that are important to you. What do those relationships need in order to be nurtured and strengthened? Perhaps you have relationships that need more kind words. More forgiveness. More laughter. More listening. These are things you can offer to the relationships you treasure. I encourage you to do so.
Bright blessings, Sharon