When pressure from work and family responsibilities become overwhelming, it's easy to forget that cooperation rather than competition makes for smoother sailing. Couples who say "yes" to cooperation share greater marital satisfaction. They know that competition wastes time, depletes precious energy, decreases intimacy, and increases unnecessary conflict. Who needs it? Cooperating couples foster a sense of mutual accomplishment and respect that enhances their growth as a couple, as well as nourishing family harmony. Results? A better balanced life, a more satisfying marriage and good role modeling for the kids.
There's no magic in any of this, but couples who cooperate reap enormous rewards. The specific strengths that cooperating couples develop create a powerful marital alliance. The following practical guidelines will help you to build marital muscle and help you value and respect your partner's differences. Don't ever underestimate the power you have as two caring people with a genuine willingness to work together. You pack a potent punch.
1. Raise the bar on the common priorities you both value and support.
Listen to what each other's priorities are and find the commonalities. Your priorities don't have to cancel out your partner's. Start small so you can achieve your goals. Agree to support one another's priorities, not just in word, but in action. By taking specific actions to support your partner's priorities, you become stronger as a couple, and reinforce mutual respect. Be flexible by being open. When you cooperate, rather than compete, you share credibility and participate in each other's success.
2. Tone up your daily routine by following through with your responsibilities.
Some couples take ten minutes the night before, others prefer to do a check-in the first thing in the morning. The point is, do it. Taking ten minutes to review the daily schedule helps each of you begin the new day with both feet on the ground. A weekly schedule is a necessity for many busy couples, but the daily check-in gives each of you time to cover the bases, just for that day. It eliminates after-thoughts and last minute phone calls to one another for those annoying "don't forget to", while it supports both of you to each do your part, one day at a time. Then, if you phone one another during the day, the agenda is to connect the two of you.
3. Give your partner credit for what's working well.
You're in the swing of cooperating and you're seeing the benefits. Great! Tell one another. It's amazing that when things go wrong, we complain with gusto, but often forget to let one another know when something works well. By telling your partner specifically and concretely what's working well, you accomplish several things. Your partner learns that his or her actions have made a difference in your daily life, and that difference is appreciated! Giving good feedback serves to reinforce your success in cooperating with one another. An appreciative recipient is powerful motivation for a willing giver.
4. Stretch your flexibility and create various solutions for no-hassle closure on small issues.
You know that men and women view life and problem solving from different perspectives. So what's new? Viva la difference! When small issues arise, be willing to reach closure by giving each other's solutions a try. One of the most damaging mistakes couples make is to war over the small stuff. You both have good ideas. Use them! Trying what your partner suggests stretches your learning curve. You'll both grow from accepting and using different solutions. Think of it as your investment for the future, when the really important situations come along. Keeping communication open keeps the mind and heart open.
5. Make small experimental changes and experience how they shift your perceptions.
You know when you're stuck because you begin to sound like you're on automatic pilot. Your partner says one thing and you say another. It's so predictable. It's like banging your head in the same place. It hurts. So stop! That's right, take a breath and cut it out! Why waste your time and your partner's by this "same old routine"? Grow yourself up. Your perception needs a change of scenery. Treat it to one. Try doing something different, experiment with various responses. Get creative, surprise yourself! What have you got to lose? When you're willing to offer a different response, you're going to see a different picture. So will your partner.
6. Turn on to your partner's differences because they're here to stay.
The more adaptable you are the better it is when it comes to accepting your partner's differences. There's always more than one way to do just about everything. Does it really matter that your partner do such-and-such exactly the way you do it? When you accept rather than criticize your partner's differences, you're opening the door for the kind of give and take that makes room for both of you. Someone once asked, "Is it more important that fire be cast upon the earth, or that "I" be the one to cast it?" Wise words, don't you think?
7. Tell the truth when conflicts arise and eliminate more serious problems later.
Some conflict is a natural and normal part of intimate relationships. It can offer an opportunity to clear the air. When conflicts arise, don't use smoke screens, draw other people in, use the past, get into dead end arguments or create drama. Tell your partner the truth about what you think and how you feel. It frees the both of you because you know exactly what you're dealing with. Lying and deception are like noxious gasses. You may not see or even smell them, but they're there, and they're dangerous. It takes self-esteem and courage to tell the truth. When you do, you make a powerful investment in yourself, your partner and your future.
8. Be generous, it matters.
What are the small acts of generosity your partner appreciates? Do you know? If you do, wonderful. If you don't, why don't you? How much time does it take to pay attention and learn? Is it a gentle touch to the cheek? A simple word of thanks? How much effort does a small act of thoughtfulness take? The old saying, "Little things make a difference", is timeless and true . Being generous and thoughtful in word and action takes little time and effort. It also goes a long way in letting your partner know that you appreciate and value them. Generous gestures are heart memories, for both of you. Make them a lifetime habit.
9. Escape from your familiar environment.
Don't scream, "That's impossible!" It isn't. In fact, it's a necessity if you don't want to wake up one morning wondering who's lying beside you. You brush your teeth everyday, right? It's a habit. Making time for yourselves is also a habit. Here's a suggestion. Make two lists. On one, name things to do that take minimum or no money. On the other, list the things you want to do that cost what you can afford. The point is to get into the habit of choosing things to do that get you away from your familiar surroundings. This gives you breathing space and intimate time to renew yourselves. Couples who enjoy one another's company are more cooperative.
10. Apologize when you're wrong or have hurt your partner.
Three of the most important words you can ever say are, "I am sorry." Just three words, but for some of us, difficult ones. Yet, these are the words, that when spoken in a timely manner, with genuine sincerity, have the potential to heal what otherwise can, over time, turn the softest hearts to stone. Saying you're sorry and meaning it when you are wrong or have hurt your partner, is an act of love. When you withhold an apology it's because you value and assert your ego over your partner's feelings. When you offer an apology you put the event which precipitated it to rest, you free yourself, and give both you and your partner a gift!
Strengthen your marital muscle as you continue to support, respect, value, appreciate and work with your differences rather than against them. Create your own pace, begin now and reap the rewards!