Ellyn Bader

How many decisions will you make with your honey over the holidays? Whether you guess fifty or five hundred, I guarantee that you will make even more. The holidays are full of choices: gifts, guests, travels, money, menus, and more. And many of these decisions are made begrudgingly, especially as the
calendar fills up and every day becomes a challenge of “who needs to do what by when.”

Some of these decisions and negotiations will generate more heat than a roaring forest fire. So here's a method to turn down the heat blasts and make your holidays a little more cozy. It's a new way to think about “who needs to do what by when.”

This process helps you avoid the two most common negotiation mistakes.

Mistake #1. You cave in too quickly to keep the peace or to avoid an argument. If you do this too often you know the result–creeping resentment that can spread like a bad oil slick.

Mistake #2. Bullying, persuading, cajoling until you get your way. However, you rationalize this by thinking you are simply a tough negotiator. Frankly, you've been too thick to get the connection between getting your way and a lack of affection and support from your honey.

Here's how to do a course correction that can bring peace, harmony, love and joy to your holiday division of labor.

First you both agree you will experiment with the following method.

Second, decide on a chore or responsibility that needs to be done. Choose one that neither of you wants to do.

Then set aside some time to ask each other questions about the chore and the difficulties doing it. Take turns asking questions, and listen–truly listen–to the answers. Try to hear something new about each other. Don't just listen for opportunities to boost your case or criticize your partner.

When you believe you understand the major concerns, make a suggestion in this form.

“Honey, what I suggest is …, this suggestion works for me because …. and it could (not should) work for you because…”
Be sure to include why it COULD work for your partner, not why it should work for them!

By describing why the suggestion works for you, you avoid the temptation to capitulate too quickly. You have to think of your own interests.

By describing why the suggestion works for your partner, you avoid the temptation to think only of yourself.

After your suggestion, your partner responds. They may agree with it or they might suggest an alternative. They will also use the same formula of why their suggestion works for them and why it could work for you.

Those people who are able to experiment with these concepts will be toasting each other instead of roasting each other at the end of this holiday season.

Happy holidays,
Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson

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© Copyright MMIV The Couples Institute


Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy.

Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.