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August 7, 2018

Married to a Doormat

If you're someone with a lot of strong opinions, you might find it convenient to marry a "go along to get along" partner -- for a while.

You'll be the one choosing who does what, where you vacation, which friends you see, what big purchases the two of you make, all sorts of things. It may even feel like you've married someone who's ultra-compatible with you, that you're the logical one or the one with better taste or just remarkably persuasive.

Your friends and family may be calling your spouse a saint. And that's a warning sign.

Doormats want very much to avoid conflict. They also want to have a say in all those things you're deciding, but not at the price of conflict. And this means every disagreement is a win-lose choice with you winning and both your spouse and your marriage losing.

Eventually, the losing spouse reaches a point where it's time to deal with conflict, a long-growing pile of conflict, or to regain some control over his or her life by simply slipping away without conflict, leaving you only a goodbye note at best.

Either way, if you haven't noticed the warning signs, you are likely to be thoroughly shocked at how damaged your "perfect" marriage really was.

If you want to stay married, then long before your spouse blows up or walks out, you can hand back some say in the marriage without conflict and without feeling you've lost any of your power to get what you want. You just won't get it by wiping your feet on your wife or husband.

You need Third Alternatives, those alternatives to your front-of-mind ideas that give you what you want and give your spouse the same, the ones that are never obvious until you look for them. And you need to initiate the process of getting them just a bit differently from couples with more equal levels of certainty and conflict aversion.

Let's say you would like to spend some of your savings to replace your car. Not a problem when you're single: set a budget, choose the car you like best, done. You might not even notice how many other options you're cutting off, only that you're getting a better car: a more appealing car, a less prone to failure car, a car with newer features, or a car that can carry the gear for your new hobby.

But that wonderful person you married also has a list of desirable upgrades in mind. His or hers might include a home you'll be able to buy together sometime soon. Or perhaps the option to share a car to save money while getting some more education. Or getting ready to be good parents or grandparents in the next year or two. Or moving to an area where your new car will be impractical.

If you only knew what's on this list, you could have what you're looking for without dashing your mate's hopes. It's actually quite rare that what you're after conflicts with those hopes. It's how you go about getting what you're after that tramples them.

And if you're married to a conflict-avoider, you may never hear about the hopes that you dash, unless you ask about them before you announce your plan to buy that car. Your saint of a husband or your saint of a wife will go along to get along. And those dashed hopes will provide fertile soil in which to grow the resentment that kills marriages.

If your goal is more reliable or more impressive wheels, you can precede your announcement of your plan with a question about any big purchases on your spouse's horizon. If there's one in the works, and you'll feel good supporting it, you can look for a way to achieve your goals without killing that other one. A more reliable, better-looking car can be a good way to increase your income by more than the cost of the car: think Uber, Lyft, deliveries, transporting your real estate or architecture customers, etc. A more reliable car may not require more money, if you can downsize or if you're not fashion-conscious about your car.

If the expense ahead is more education, you two might be able to combine cars right now, and you could end up with one that's actually nicer than you were considering, but more practical for a shared vehicle.

If expense isn't on your spouse's mind, you can ask (before you announce that you want a different car) what other changes he or she has been thinking about. If it's a change that you're not averse to, choosing a car that will work for both locations or lifestyles (now and soon in the future) may actually make you happier than choosing one you'll need to give up in a couple of years.

Of course, if you're averse to that planned change, you'll want to look for a Third Alternative for that disagreement, too. No choice in marriage is either/or. They just look that way at first.

If you want to enjoy being married to your conflict-averse husband or wife, introduce your plans and wishes with a mind toward finding a Third Alternative instead of allowing your mate to go along to get along. Doormats wear out quickly. Partners don't.

The Author

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

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