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When You Want Different Things

One wants to go out more. The other would just as soon stay home. It is an incredibly common difference of opinion between couples. It would be less of one if couples recognized they have lots more options.

The person who wants to go out more assumes their partner wants to stay home to avoid the very things he or she values about getting out, whether it's new experiences, better food, or exercise in the company of friends. This is seldom true.

The person who wants to stay home may beg their partner to stay home, too, only to find that his or her idea of staying home is to get some work done or read email, not to sit quietly together, make the house and yard more inviting, or to make love.

Disagreements get really ugly when one partner expects the other to initiate going out or staying home when the other is their preference. It guarantees an awful time together wherever you end up.

How do you resolve such differences? You look for a Third Alternative. Step One, you jump the net and tell your husband, wife, or life partner, "I want you to have what you're looking for." You will never find it while holding onto the idea that only one of you will get what you want or that you will have to settle for less than what you want.

Step Two, you write up the specs for having what both of you are looking for and for what both of you need to avoid. You want one set of specs that both of you buy into. Check each one to be sure you both will know whether an idea meets it or not.

Step Three, you brainstorm the craziest things you can think of that might possibly comply with the full set of specs, gradually tweaking each idea until you find one (or more) that make you both say, "Yes! I want this."

Step One is critical but easy to master. Step Two takes practice, but mastering it makes Step Three easy. To succeed at it, you must be genuinely interested in getting past your own meanings for words and finding out what they mean for your spouse.

"I prefer wearing sweats after work." Sounds simple, but there are so many possibilities in it. Perhaps this means that going out in other clothing would be fine before work or on weekends. Perhaps it simply means that after work clothes must be comfortable to wear, but could be made of other fabrics and in other designs.

"I get bored being here all day. I need a change of venue." Good point. But is it needed when you're together? Or have you just fallen into a pattern that keeps you home during the day and itching to go out when the sun goes down? And is it perhaps possible the change of venue could be at home if you created a room at home that's totally different and reserved for time together after hours?

"I would rather have dinners at home than to go out to a restaurant and dancing with friends." This mixes several things together. Would you be interested in dancing if it were a different style of dancing than your current friends engage in? Or if you could do it at home on your own dance floor, with or without friends? Are dinners at home better because of the food? The price? The noise level? The ease of including the kids?

Once you stop defending your original plan (one of a thousand or more available to you), you can take the time to ask about the meaning behind the words your partner uses. It will improve your specs for a solution. It will also make your spouse feel known and valued.

When you get to brainstorming a way to meet your now shared specs, I expect a lot more ideas will come to you. You won't be running from a disagreement, but dancing together toward a better life for both of you. And that is the incredible power of Third Alternatives. Try it and see.

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

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