How to Use Negotiation Skills to Save Your Relationship

In the last article you witnessed how easy it can be to find yourself in a relationship with someone who is practically a stranger. But you also saw how it was possible to take steps to get to know your self and your partner so as to determine whether or not you both wanted the same things from your relationship. John and Sue-Anne had taken this journey of discovery and realised that even though they had not been aware of this before, there was plenty of potential in their relationship and they had a good chance of building a life together.

There was just one niggling point: John’s non stop playing of computer games. In the past these games had been a source of companionship and support when life got too hard, and he went into shut-down mode. Now they had become an obstacle impeding his way forward in creating a satisfying relationship. Depending on individual tastes computer games can be replaced by card playing, snooker, You Tube marathoning or endless browsing on the internet. You may be thinking: “Why is this a problem? Even if you are in a relationship are you not entitled to ‘me time?” And of course the answer to this question is “Yes”.

The problem arises when ‘me time’ evolves to all the time, and you and your partner are not sharing any time together. If eventually one partner is totally consumed by their extra curricular activity the other partner may begin wondering why they are in this relationship.

And this is where we find John and Sue-Anne. They had appraised their relationship and had both decided that they wanted a life together. John too had agreed that he wanted to spend time with Sue-Anne, however he was having difficulty doing so.

Fast action was needed to prevent this ‘niggling’ concern escalating into a relationship breakdown.

Even though they had just recently examined their values, wants and needs another review was in order.

Companionship, fun and friends were not high on John’s list but he did own up that these values did have some influence in his life. For Sue-Anne these values were central to her being and she was glad to note that they did play a role in John’s life.

With this awareness that these values were significant to both parties- although not to the same extent- a common ground was established which now opened the door to negotiation.


Negotiation is not limited to some strange trade union interaction aimed at getting a fair deal for workers. It is a communication skill that should be found in all relationship tool boxes. Couples facing similar issues to that of John and Sue-Anne, and even more serious ones, may be able to find some acceptable solutions by working their way through the negotiation process.

The aim of this process is to help couples state their views and demands in a safe non threatening environment, allow them an opportunity to provide proposals and counterproposals, and encourage them to find a solution that can work for all involved, whether this be through a win/win outcome or through compromise.

Mastering Negotiation

Step 1

Before you begin the arduous task of presenting arguments for your case, you and your partner need to determine what resolution you expect from the negotiation process. In your mind you need to establish what would be your best outcome, what would be an acceptable outcome and what would not be acceptable. As you draw your line in the sand and make your stand, you are ready to sit firm on what you want so as to be able to walk away from the negotiation table satisfied with your results.

Step 2

Before any serious talk can begin it is crucial for you and your partner to establish communication guidelines so you will both feel safe to share your thoughts throughout the negotiation process. Some common basic rules include: avoid judgements, name-calling and threats; do not blame or accuse; stick to the facts and avoid using emotional blackmail; keep your language as positive as possible.

It is important to note that the above rules also pertain to your nonverbal communication as you want your body language to be supportive and friendly as opposed to hostile and threatening. Accusing fingers, rigid body posture and closed facial expressions are not conducive to healthy negotiation.

Step 3

You are now both ready to describe the situation as you see it. At this stage you merely want to objectively without emotion explain what you consider to be the concern. Once you are both clear on this and understand each other’s views on the matter you are now ready to leap into the Talk.

Step 4

At this point you are not as yet looking for solutions to the issue but are allowing each other an opportunity to further express the facts as you see them, and voice your own feelings which may have been suppressed so far.

Each of you is given a chance to communicate how important the matter is to you and how important you think it is to your partner.

The outcome you want is tabled and discussion begins to focus on what can be an acceptable solution and what can’t be.

By this time you and your partner have a good idea as to how you each view the situation and how far you are willing to budge from your position. It is now time to work towards a solution that is acceptable to both of you.

Step 5

With insights gained from the discussion you are now ready to start making suggestions, brainstorming options, and being proactive in introducing change. Proposals are made and are answered by another proposal. Suggestions are voiced and then slightly modified by your partner. You agree to some of you partner’s wishes but submit some of your own demands as well.

Step 6

Although ideally it would be gratifying to end all negotiations with a win/win result (and this does happen), a more realistic resolution may be found in compromise. This means that you and your partner both get some of what you each want but not all. A compromise may require both partners taking turns doing something neither enjoy but is necessary; it may be an agreement to respect and accept each other’s differences; or it may be a tit for tat response in which you do something for me and I do something for you.

What is important is that both partners feel that they have been heard, their interests and desires considered and an acceptable solution has been found.

John and Sue-Anne quite easily moved through the negotiation process. They both agreed that the concern was John’s excessive game playing which resulted in little time being spent as a couple.

In a non threatening manner they were able to clearly communicate their wants, state their case and draw their line in the sand. John had no intention of giving up his computer games and quietly insisted that he wanted to spend the priority of his time playing these games, while conceding some weekend time for couple activities.

Sue-Anne had no desire to stop John’s game playing and clearly accepted his need for winding down and enjoying himself. She however did not want to see herself in second place to computer games, and wanted John to shift his priorities so as to spend the majority of his time with her. Their wants were not really that diverse, but at this stage pegs had been placed in the sand and neither John or Sue-Anne was shifting them.

It was only as John and Sue-Anne began to share their feelings and clarify their position in the Talk stage that hope for a mutually satisfactory solution could be viewed as a realistic possibility. There was room to manoeuvre on how much computer time and couple time would be acceptable to both John and Sue-Anne.

Sue-Anne eventually realised that she was more important to John than his computer games, and began to really accept that John had a greater need for ‘me’ time than she did. She saw that it was up to her to find other ways to fill her time and could not depend on John being a constant companion.

John also became aware of how much he did enjoy his time with Sue-Anne and was happy to give up some of his computer playing to explore different couple activities.

Eventually John and Sue-Anne drew up a time table which outlined what each of them planned to do with their time outside of work. Included in this table was  some couple time and computer time that was acceptable to both of them. The plan was always subject to review.

Although this sounds a bit mechanical such a plan can work as couples relax into their relationship knowing that their needs and concerns are important to their partner.

Ideally it would be wonderful if all relationships avoided disagreements and conflict. However this is not the norm. It is therefore crucial for relationships to be equipped with some negotiation skills that can help them find acceptable solutions to those irritating issues that could become destructive if not resolved.

John and Sue-Anne by using negotiation skills had been able to work through the one issue that threatened their newly established relationship. It had taken hard work and time but their relationship was now on track heading in a positive direction.

Author: Zahava Starak