LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XVI. PLATE THREE: DECIDING WHAT’S IMPORTANT (IDENTIFYING SHARED VALUES)
As in the case of the other developmental plates, couples seem to successfully perform in the values domain when they share respect for one another and genuinely appreciate and rely on their important differences / .4’even during the difficult storming stages of a relationship. According to Erik:
The main thing that everything else comes from is high regard for one another. We really respect one another and have retained that respect for the whole 7 1/2 years. That’s helped us to get through a lot of really hard times . . . We do share a similar world view . . . We are able to give each other space when we need it and time apart when we need it. We play well . . . We’re able to really relax . . . We’ve been able to establish some real good, sophisticated negotiation skills. It was with a lot of work. We went to couple counseling two or three times, with different counselors. It took a lot of sitting at this table. for three or four years . . . for three hours at a time. . . It was painful at times.
Much as they have patiently continued to struggle for major social reforms, Erik and Nancy have fought hard for their own relationship.
First of all, Erik and Nancy are quite purposeful about finding time together for the nurturance of their relationship:
Erik has given me a foot rub almost every day of my life . . . We hug each other every day. We spend some time every day talking. . We play a lot . . . We act silly around the house. We play as part of the way we exchange affection and have sex . . . We nourish one another by respecting the other person’s need for alone time. . . . We have sex several times a week. When we go for a week just on once a week, we get really weird. We get irritable and snappy. . We write notes to each other [pointing to some hanging from an archway].
Second, Erik and Nancy make use of negotiation skills (such as active and empathetic listening) that they learned in their training as social activists. They have been willing to work through conflicts, rather than avoid them. According to Nancy:
We do it pretty much right out of the textbook. I talk first and I say my feeling or opinion. Then we respond to each other and sometimes in that initial sitting down we can come to an agreement. Sometimes what it is for one of us or both of us is being heard as to how we see it, having the other person validate that [Conflicts where we want the other to come around to our way of thinking] have taken a much longer period of time. We have a whole series of strategies. If we’re in the middle of discussion . . . and we feel it’s escalating we have a magic word, “flowers,” and that means the discussion is off. We’ll regroup an hour later and check out whether we’re willing to go on with the discussion. . If we’re really polarized and really stuck, [Erik suggests a method] of having us exchange view points and talking about it through the other’s point of view to see what the other person is so insistent on . . . what is so hard to let go of.