When two people want compromise but haven't been able to get there.
September 26, 2008 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever gotten past what seemed like a major impasse in a romantic relationship? Something significant that the two of you, after MUCH thoughtful discussion spread over months, just couldn't usefully agree about? Did a couples therapist or other neutral third party help you? What else helped you?

I'm purposely not being specific about the impasse because my question is about the process of negotiation and compromise itself, and about the question of whether a third party like a therapist could help us and how that would work. (And because the specifics would take long explanation and definitely cause derailing.) Your anecdotes would be much appreciated no matter what your own impasse was.

We're two logical, stable people who both know the other is well-intentioned in this and everything else. We've been together for more than 5 years. We don't have external ties like marriage, kids, intertwined finances or living together (and the impasse has nothing directly to do with any of those things).

Currently we're at a compromise point on this issue which isn't working for him and has increasingly made him sad and fixated on the issue, but which is the farthest towards "his way" that I'm currently willing to go -- after much solo thought, and much discussion with him, across 8+ months. So we're both unhappy (he because he wants me to change and is used to me being very flexible in general; I because he's unhappy). He sees this issue as a very significant thing, whereas I see it as significant only in that it's bothering him so much -- and we both understand we're at odds on that.

I wonder if a neutral third party could help us -- a therapist or anybody who doesn't know either of us (because my friends agree with my position on the issue, so that's no help). But that's complicated because my partner is the only one who could dream of affording such a thing. I have a very low freelance income with no health insurance; he has a secure, six-figure job but he's also extremely careful about spending money (which I admire). And I doubt his company insurance would cover a couples therapist given that he and I have no legal relationship. I haven't suggested a therapist to him yet and I'm feeling totally reluctant to. In terms of past experience: I've never gone to a therapist (not for lack of belief in therapy, just for lifelong lack of money); he used to go to an individual one years ago, and thought it was fairly useful, and doesn't now.

(p.s. I'm female, just so you don't have to waste any thought on which pronouns to use.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I doubt his company insurance would cover a couples therapist given that he and I have no legal relationship.

Most health insurance plans have a yearly cap on therapy of any kind, which includes couples counseling. There is no proviso on any health insurance plan that I have ever heard of which restricts couples counseling to married couples only. The billing codes don't differentiate between married and unmarried couples.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:41 PM on September 26, 2008

What I mean by "a yearly cap" is that the insurance includes a fixed number of counseling sessions and then after that you have to pay all of the cost (or a larger portion of the cost). But I can't imagine any way that those counseling sessions could be limited by whether or not a couple is married.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:43 PM on September 26, 2008

I'm not sure where you are located geographically, but a number of universities with graduate level social work, MFT, and psychology programs have counseling centers that operate on a sliding scale basis. It is an option if you find that you cannot afford the higher rates of a therapist in private practice. That might take at least one variable out of the equation as you look at deciding what to do.
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 2:05 PM on September 26, 2008

You might look into mediation instead of counseling, but counseling might be better. Depends on the emotional weight of the issue, I guess.
posted by amtho at 2:11 PM on September 26, 2008

I was unhappy with a personality trait in my partner. I lived with his loving and wonderful personality for years and was perfectly content. This particular trait wasn't negative, it was something that came to the forefront of our relationship as it was evolving. This trait and his accompanying "reluctance" and "unwillingness" to create my ideal life was making me terribly unhappy. With therapy, I realized that this trait was here to stay and there was nothing I could do about it. I actually knew this going in, I only needed perspective. I needed to talk with a professional and deal with why this particular trait, that millions of people have and even welcome, was bothering me so much. My partner wasn't actually reluctant or unwilling, of course. He tried very hard to please me. He just couldn't meet my unrealistic expectations. I wanted him to be a certain way. I wanted a certain life. He wasn't delivering. I was hellbent on dwelling on this particular trait. The dwelling made the situation worse. It was my problem. After therapy I matured a bit. I realized the problem wasn't as significant as I believed. I learned to appreciate this particular trait and accept it wholeheartedly.

I don't know if my story helps, but I think couple's therapy is an excellent idea. If you've been together for over five years, what is your apprehension in asking him? Try him out. See what he has to say.

I'm not rich. My insurance did not cover counseling. I paid cash for my therapy sessions. They ran about 90 dollars an hour. You could always split the costs if it will make you, or him, feel better. I think it's worth every penny. My partner was not unwilling to go to therapy with me. I knew I had a certain problem with acceptance of who he was, a maturity problem, and self-esteem issues. For these reasons, I chose to go on my own. I wouldn't hesitate to go on your own if your partner won't go. Also, try not be afraid of therapy. It isn't the easiest thing you'll do, but it wasn't as nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. I actually looked forward to my sessions. Talking to a professional is nothing like talking to a friend, even if they are objective and wise.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 2:21 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

The most helpful thing my now ex-partner and I did that helped us understand each other better was to take the Myers-Briggs test via a therapist. We differ on 3 of the 4 factors: no wonder a crisis was tearing us apart. While we eventually parted, knowing the MBTI results did help us (an ISFJ and an INTP are very, very different!).
posted by Carol Anne at 2:47 PM on September 26, 2008

My wife and I went to counseling. The only thing of substance that the counselor went over was effective techniques for discussing issues, listening to what the other person is saying and the process of negotiation. She (the therapist) had nothing to say on the specific issues that were causing the problems. The entire point of the exercise was for us to learn to discuss our problems in a way that did not make them worse and to then move on to resolving them. It certainly wasn't an instant cure but it did help a lot.
posted by GuyZero at 2:47 PM on September 26, 2008

Mrs. Director and I were separated for six months back in what now seems like the early years of our marriage. As the time dragged on I was increasingly convinced we'd never work things out.

We didn't see a counselor but we did talk. We each admitted to our own shortcomings and how we had made mistakes. The key was the complete lack of finger-pointing and blame-laying.

Eventually we decided that the marriage was worth saving and that we'd each have our work cut out for us in the time ahead.

I have to say that if you two reached a compromise that leaves him miserable it wasn't much of a compromise. Sounds more like him giving in to make you happy. Don't count on that have a lasting, positive effect.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:16 PM on September 26, 2008

Compromises happen all the time in relationships. But some things can not be compromised and are instead black and white and therefore dealbreakers (having kids, monogamy, what city to live in etc). Is this thing more towards the dealbreaker territory? The key to compromise is for both people to agree there is a compromise and then be happy with the agreed on compromise and live with it. He isn't happy; he hasn't really compromised and the discussion is never getting closed. A normal relationship should have several compromises over the span of its life - in the past has one of you always compromised (you said he is used to you being flexible) and the other person not had to compromise? That is not a healthy dynamic. Certainly a relationship counsellor would work on building better communication in your relationship. Not all counsellors are equal though so you may have to shop around. If his car was making a weird knocking noise he would pay for a diagnostic analasys by a professional - I am sure he would do the same for a relationship you both value.

I wish you had specified the issue, yes people would have piled on, but I am confused by you stating it is a significant issue for him but not for you. If it isn't significant to you but very important to him then why not compromise more this time? Perhaps I am misreading your meaning though.

For myself, I am able to give a little (or a lot) on the other side of compromises because I recognise that MY partner compromises more on my side about 50% of the time. Rarely are compromises right in the middle. Usually the person who wants/needs the compromise more gets their way (agreeing to watch together a movie that he has been looking forward to when I just think it is dumb but have nothing more pressing to do, him not complaining when I leave the movie halfway to go on askme). Good luck, it sounds like you have thought this through very thoroughly are frustrated by each other's inability to move past the issue.
posted by saucysault at 11:05 PM on September 26, 2008

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