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Is It a Third Alternative or Just Alternative 1.5?

You have a disagreement with your spouse or life partner. You want one thing. We will call it Alternative 1. Your mate wants something else. Because I am a stickler for symmetry, we will call it Alternative 2.

Alternatives 1 and 2

For example, Alternative 1 might be the toilet paper you grew up with and Alternative 2 might be a new, greener brand your husband or wife prefers.

If you two choose Alternative 1, you will be happy, but your beloved will be unhappy. Choose Alternative 2, and you just swap outcomes, leaving one of you resenting your position in the marriage. Not good for your marriage or your outlook on life.

Alternative 1.5

If you decide to give a little, compromise for the sake of your marriage, you might end the disagreement, but you both agree to be somewhat unhappy for each other. This would be so noble, so admirable, if Alternatives 1 and 2 were the only ones available to you and what mattered to you about them was in conflict.

Guess what? This is very seldom the case.

Third Alternatives in the Bathroom

Your choices in the bathroom are not limited to green vs. familiar. You do not need to spend every day with a toilet paper you dislike to avoid a fight or do something like promise to clean the toilet in exchange for getting the paper you prefer.

There are many brands, many varieties of each brand, as well as bidets, lotion wipes, and the crazy option of hanging two toilet paper holders. A Third Alternative is a choice you both like, something that requires none of the compromise and disappointment of the meet-in-the-middle solution, Alternative 1.5.

Which one is your Third Alternative depends on what each of you wants from your initial alternative and what you dislike about your mate's first choice.

This is where it is always good to ask. You might hear Big Green Toilet Paper and think your mate seeks its biodegradable and recycled properties. We are not so predictable as this. We create so much misery for ourselves by trying to read a husband's or wife's mind.

Perhaps the appeal is only to support a friend's company. Your Third Alternative might include some other product from this company, leaving you free to pick the toilet paper. If it is to reduce the amount of paper in your septic tank, the bidet option might delight both of you. If it is a preference for the feel of the paper, two holders might yield two happy partners.

It's Not All Toilet Paper

Perhaps you are thinking right about now that you would feel over-the-top lucky if your biggest problem were toilet paper. But Third Alternatives work for all size disagreements.

During my first marriage, I had a long workweek and a long commute. My husband had a shorter workweek and a short commute. I was sure this meant he should take care of more of the local chores: local errands, school visits, the necessary phone calls to local businesses. He did not agree.

It wasn't until he had been dead a month or two and I was juggling all the chores on my own that I found a Third Alternative. I shortened my commute. From my new office, I could have walked to his office or met him for lunch, in addition to being close enough to do my share of those chores so easily.

As long as he had been alive, I was free to treat it as a disagreement and fight over it. Because I imagined he had time that I did not, who did what was all I had considered.

He was right. He did not have that time. And I stupidly waited until it was all gone, and I was a 34-year-old single mom, to question some of my assumptions about my own time and find what would have been a great Third Alternative for our two-year-long disagreement.

I have to disagree with anyone who says compromise is the secret to a happy marriage. If you discover them while you still have a spouse to disagree with, Third Alternatives are like getting what you want while giving your beloved spouse a great gift. That makes a much happier marriage.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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