How to Get What You Both Want

by Sandra on November 5

holding handsNo matter how compatible you are with your partner, there will always be little things you disagree on, have a different opinion about, or simply see differently.

Most of the time these little disagreements have no influence on your relationship. It doesn’t matter if he likes purple and she likes green, or if he prefers his sandwich toasted and she likes them as they are. Of course, people who cut their sandwiches straight instead of in a triangle are mentally unstable and shouldn’t be allowed to make sandwiches at all!

However, it is when those differences do have an impact on our relationship that fights and problems may happen.

Negotiables and Non-Negotiables

Before thinking about compromise, negotiation and making things work, it is important to recognize that not all issues can be talked into a compromise. Sometimes the two interests simply lie too far from each other to find a middle ground where everybody is happy.

Having children can be one of those issues. Religion can be another one.

They don’t have to be—it depends a lot on the people involved and the type of difference. “No children at all” vs. “at least a soccer team” are too far apart to negotiate on, but the difference between 3 or 4 children is smaller.

It is always worth talking and seeing if there is a middle ground you can meet on. If not, however, don’t hesitate to end the relationship rather than compromise on something you don’t want to compromise on.

How to Open Up the Conversation

Communication is of course very important when you have differences in opinion. However, starting a conversation where you know you’ll have different opinions can be tricky. You have to avoid turning it into a fight, or an argument where you try to convince the other person of your point of view.

The purpose is to find a common middle ground where everybody can be happy, not to make your partner move to your side of the fence.

The best way to start this conversation is to first let each person explain their own point of view fully. The other person is only allowed to ask questions for clarification.

Sometimes this alone will solve the situation, especially if it is something that wasn’t previously talked about. In the details, it may turn out that what seemed like opposites are actually the same thing.

Often when others are talking we are already occupied in our minds with how we will respond, what we will say, and which argument will most likely make them agree with us, that we miss what the other person is really saying. And sometimes what the other person is really saying is exactly what we want to convince them off.

How to Continue the Negotiation

Once you both are certain that you understand each other and no solution has presented itself, you can use the following question to work your way up to gaining common ground where you both feel completely satisfied and happy with the outcome. The question is:

“What is the purpose of that?”

You can ask that question several times about the situation, on both sides until you reach more general answers, that get out of the details.


Mike wants to buy a new car

Michelle wants to buy a second hand car

They explain to each other their points of view, yet cannot reach an agreement yet. So they ask themselves the question:

“What is the purpose of that”?

Mike asks himself; what is the purpose of buying a new car? His answer is that “it is better quality.” And he asks himself again, what is the purpose of having better quality? And what comes up is “safety.”

Michelle asks herself as well, what is the purpose of buying a second hand car? And she comes up with “spending less money.” Asking again, what is the purpose of spending less money? The answer that comes up is, “have more savings.” Asking again, what is the purpose of having more savings and the answer is “to be safe.”

Both realize at that time that the main thing that they want is safety. They just come at it from different directions.

Sometimes you’ll get there within 2 times asking, other times you might need to go 5 or even 10 rounds. Keep asking yourself (and each other) the question until you reach a word that describes a value, something deeply important to you.

After you both have answered that from your own point of view, you now have two words that are more easily compatible, and you can ask yourself “What solution is there that will generate both X and Y?” Or you may find out that both of you actually want the same thing, and are just going about it in different ways. Then, you can ask yourself “How else can we get X, in a way that we both agree with?”

Reaching a Compromise

“How can we buy a car that gives us both a sense of safety?” Both can get behind this, because for both safety is an important value.

From there, a compromise can be reached with which both people are happy.

Before using this technique, Michelle and Mike might have gotten into a fight. They might have made assumptions about why he wants a new car (to show off) and why she wants a second hand car (she doesn’t care about quality).

Knowing that actually what they both are looking for is the same thing (safety) makes it easier to reach an agreement.

What If the Answers are Different?

Let’s say Mike’s value was “freedom.” If the values come out to two different things, you ask a very similar question

How can we buy a car that gives us Freedom and Safety?

It will lead to a compromise, most likely, but one in which each person gets the value that is important to them, even if it is not the thing they first thought they wanted. For example, now knowing that a new car is financially safer than a secondhand car because of resell value, Michelle might agree to buy a new car. And Mike might agree to look into a lower price class in order to keep it financially viable for them.

Some out of the box thinking will be needed, so don’t expect to come to a solution in that same conversation. Leaving it to simmer in your unconscious might be a good idea. Don’t rush through this, but take your time.

It is important to avoid “why” questions because those can feel to the other person as if you are questioning them or even attacking them, which will lead to a fight, instead of a conversation.

In the End…

Looking at the differences from a higher level (values) instead of staying stuck in the details makes finding solutions easier. It also makes it easier to understand the other person’s point of view, which promotes healthy communication and a healthy relationship.

I am not saying that this is the end all solution to all differences of opinion. It is just a tool to help you reach an agreement and a compromise that both can live with and be happy about.

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Sandra is a 33 year old mother, wife, life coach. As a Dutch national living in Mexico she is trying to find ways to make most out of life. She’s passionate about simplifying life, yet loves her luxuries and non-minimalistic lifestyle.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz English November 5, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Wonderful way of detailing compromise, after being happily married for 34 years my husband I found many different ways of compromising. Your explanation should definitely help many couples.


Sandra November 5, 2015 at 9:36 pm

Thanks! Long time experience with the other person will definitely help. I’ve noticed that a lot of couples already use this technique, except unconsciously, because they know each other and each others values so well.


Cathy Fraser November 5, 2015 at 9:57 pm

Sandra, great tip on how to treat each other with respect and look at each other’s viewpoint in a different manner


Sandra November 5, 2015 at 10:43 pm

Thanks 🙂


Miki November 6, 2015 at 12:07 am

Sandra, thank you for these tips. Each one of us is unique and observe things differently, so it makes sense to take time and come to compromise…(yet, it’s hard to do sometimes! LOL)


Sandra November 6, 2015 at 10:14 am

The way I see it, you either take time to compromise, or you take time to fight… The time will be lost anyway.


Julie Syl Kalungi November 6, 2015 at 5:38 pm

I have found that the reason many people get into a rut in their relationships is because they STOP DATING and start existing with each other. So they find their differences annoying, and downright unacceptable.

Yet in a state f Dating, we always find a way to accommodate each other’s needs, allow agreeable compromise and even go out of our way to please each other.

We gotta learn to Keep that lil ember warm always, see your partner as that gorgeous man or woman yo fell in love with. Be grateful for their life every day. Accept that you too aren’t perfect and the other person was a full grown adult when you met, with a different life culture so we gotta adapt. And that ember will grow into a steady fire that wont go out, however much liquid or sand is thrown at it! Attitude is key, Gratitude is the Sauce, Love is the Glue…!

Thank you for this awesome post! Wow!


Sheena November 10, 2015 at 1:46 am

great tips that you shared to benefit both people


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