Negotiating in a Relationship

Family Group

Negotiating in a Relationship

Conflict is inevitable in every marriage - from small disputes, such as who should wash the dishes, to heated arguments over household budgets. Resolving these issues requires the couple to negotiate to achieve a mutually desirable outcome for both parties. However, making a successful negotiation is often easier said than done.

In this article, Family Life Educator at TOUCH Marriage Support, Ms Chang Mun Lan, and her team share some tips on how to negotiate with your partner so that the outcome will always be a win-win.

  1. Have a strong emotional bank account

    Many might think that the negotiation starts when the conflict first surfaces. But in fact, the process begins way before there are any signs of choppy waters.

    According to Ms Chang, to have successful negotiations, the couple must first possess a large ‘emotional bank account’ which they would have shared and built over time.[1] Based on the research done by Emeritus Professor, Dr John Gottman, this ‘emotional bank account’ grows as partners react positively to each other’s requests for favours and ‘repair attempts’ – any act or statement that is meant to diffuse negativity.[2]

    So, the more you turn towards your partner to fulfil a favour – like giving them a massage or helping out with chores – and accept their repair attempts, the more the couple builds mutual trust. Couples who frequently turn to each other are more likely to be able to work together to help each other achieve what they want.

    On the other hand, couples who often do not respond or respond negatively to these favours and repair attempts will gradually become emotionally distanced. So, when a conflict arises, they are less likely to have the patience and willingness to negotiate, resulting in neither party getting what they want.

    Therefore, building this emotional bank account should be one of the main goals of every couple. Be receptive towards your partner. Perform small actions that make them feel special and try to do so frequently. Put in the effort to respond positively, even when you’re not feeling it. These things, although seemingly insignificant, become an investment that would serve as a cushion when times get rough.

  2. Verbalise and understand each other’s perspectives

    Always begin a negotiation with a gentle start-up. Take responsibility for your part – acknowledge that you are coming into this negotiation with your own biases and subjective views. Share your feelings about the situation and express your needs. Mun Lan highlights that you should convey a positive need, not what you don’t need. For example, say “I would appreciate if you helped me out with the chores too” instead of “I don’t want you to spend all your time watching television while I do all the chores.”

    Next, and most importantly, listen and understand your partner’s perspective. Verbalise it and check with them if you have accurately understood their point. This is one of the keys to effective communication. Often times, couples slip into a verbal war where neither really listens to what the other party is saying. Verbalising and checking with your partner not only ensure that there is no miscommunication, but it also helps your partner feel that you are making active efforts to hear them out, and this will result in a similar reciprocation.


  3. Keep emotions in check

    You should also check on yourself whether you are experiencing any emotional flooding. As much as we try to be cool and rational during negotiations, we might still get triggered by certain issues and strong emotions might ensue. Be aware of these emotions and allow yourself and your partner to take a time-out to calm down. You can always continue and re-engage in the negotiation after that.

    Work together to find a win-win situation by exploring and understanding your partner’s underlying needs. Sometimes, after spending time negotiating, you or your partner might still be unsatisfied. This can often get frustrating, but do not simply give up and give in. Instead, try to clarify and adjust your approach. Attempting to resolve or manage the issue is always better than harbouring resentment afterwards. But above all, always be affirming, gentle and respectful.


Want to know more about marriage, parenting or any family-related support? Contact TOUCH Integrated Family Group at 6709 8400 or click here to find out more.

TOUCH Integrated Family Group (TIFG) is TOUCH’s newest service group, set up in January 2020. TIFG focuses on Family Resources to help families cope with different stressors along their life course, transition of roles in Family Transitions, Relationships & Growth, and building Family Resilience.

With TOUCH’s multi-service experience in meeting the needs of disadvantaged children, youth-at-risk and vulnerable families since 1992, TIFG aims to equip families with resources and enable them to build resilience. This is done through an integrated suite of services to support the family as a unit, with emphasis on education, intervention and advocacy.