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Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Tips on Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

In my last article,  Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship, I began a discussion with a composite vignette about two people in a relationship, Ann and Jerry, who initially were very close in their relationship, even though they had very different temperaments.

Ann was an extrovert and Jerry was more of an introvert.

Initially, Ann and Jerry admired the qualities they saw in each other and felt was missing in themselves.  But, as time went on, they began to have arguments due to their conflicting temperaments.

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

While Jerry, who was a writer, was working hard to meet a publisher's deadline on his book, Ann began to feel resentful, as time went on, that Jerry wasn't joining her for social activities with their friends.  She tended to be gregarious and loved being around other people and having fun.

Jerry felt that Ann was being inconsiderate because she knew that he was under a lot of stress.  And Ann missed having Jerry at social events, especially when her friends were there with their partners.

Initially, each of them kept their feelings to themselves.  But the tension built up over time, and they had an argument that developed over a petty issue.   That's when the real, underlying issue, their conflicting temperaments, came to the surface and threatened their relationship (see my prior blog post).

After their argument, they had a couple of weeks where they were distant with one another.  Jerry stayed at home most of the time, and Ann spent more time going out with her friends.

When they were at home, they barely spoke to one another. Neither of them was happy with the tension between them, but they didn't know what to do.

Then, one day, they got into another argument when Ann brought up that her parents invited them over for dinner.  There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Jerry told Ann that he was too close to his deadline and he needed to stay at home to write.

Ann became angry and told Jerry that they hadn't seen her parents since Jerry began working on his book.  She asked him, "Can't you spare one night to go with me to my parents' house?"

When Jerry lowered his head to think for a moment about how to respond, Ann interpreted this gesture to mean that he was ignoring her.  She ran out of the apartment in tears telling him that she didn't know if she wanted to be in a relationship with him any more.

Jerry was stunned and he followed her out.

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

He said to Ann, "Look, I've been thinking about things.  Maybe we should see a couples counselor to get help.  What do you think?"

Although Jerry had been in therapy before, Ann had never seen a therapist.  She wasn't sure how she felt about it, but she knew that she and Jerry couldn't go on like this, so she agreed to go.

After listening to each of them, the couples counselor pointed out how they had very different temperaments and this seemed to be causing the conflict between them.

Neither Ann nor Jerry had thought of their problems in this way before, and it gave them each a lot to think about.

Both of them told the couples counselor that they were still in love and wanted to salvage their relationship.  But they just didn't know how.

The couples counselor helped them to learn relationship skills so that they could negotiate the differences related to their different temperaments.

Here are some of the relationship skills that they learned over time:

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments:

     Avoid Power Struggles Over Being "Right"
There are many conflicts where both people in the relationship are "right," so basing an argument with your partner on getting your way because you think you're "right" will won't settle an argument most of the time.

Avoid Power Struggles Over Being "Right"

In Jerry's and Ann's relationship, they were both "right" with regard to how each of them felt.

After months of Jerry spending most of his time working on the book instead of going out with Ann, Ann missed having Jerry with her at social events.  Jerry knew Ann liked going out, so he never told Ann not to go out and see her friends.  But Ann wanted him there with her.  Ann had a right to her feelings.

Jerry, who wasn't nearly as outgoing as Ann, felt that Ann was being unreasonable:  How could she expect him to go out parties, which he didn't always enjoy, and possibly miss the deadline for his book?  He felt that Ann wasn't being understanding about what he needed to do.  So, Jerry also had a right to his feelings.

When each of them looked at it this way in couples counseling, where they were calmer than when they tried to talk about it at home, they both acknowledged that it wasn't a matter of "right or wrong."

As they talked about it, each of them acknowledging the other's feelings, they began to relax with each other more.

     Focus on Behavior as Opposed to Making Personal Attacks
The couples counselor pointed out to each of them how they both engaged in personal attacks instead of focusing on behavior.

Focus on Behavior as Opposed to Making Personal Attacks

The couples counselor also pointed out that this only exacerbated their problems, and each one of them became more entrenched in his or her argument rather than working together to try to solve their problem.

     Negotiating Differences
The couples counselor told them that every couple has problems, and couples who have different temperaments can go through challenging times.  But this doesn't mean they can't negotiate their differences.

So, each week the couples counselor gave Ann and Jerry homework assignments to do related to negotiating their differences.  Ann expected Jerry to protest about the homework because of his book deadline, but Jerry wanted to save their relationship, so he agreed enthusiastically to work on these assignments, which made Ann happy.

Over time, both Ann and Jerry developed a greater sense of empathy for each other, which helped them to make compromises.  They struggled along the way, but each of them was more willing to find common ground rather than insisting that he or she was "right."

In couples counseling, they remembered what they liked about each other and what brought them together so they were able to rekindle their relationship.

With the help of the couples counselor, they were able to make compromises between staying home and going out socially.

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

Jerry realized that he was actually more productive when he took a break from his work to go out and have fun, and Ann realized that she could begin to appreciate staying home more and feeling close to Jerry, even when he was working.

Getting Help in Couples Counseling
Problems with negotiating conflict is a common issue in many relationships, so if you and your partner are having this problem, you're not alone.

The important thing is to get help before anger and resentment build to the point where the relationship is beyond repair.

An experienced psychotherapist who has expertise in working with couples can help you to learn the necessary relationship skills to negotiate conflict so that you can have a happier relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me:

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