It’s the oldest story in the world. Boy meets girl. Boy dates girl. Boy ends up watching Sex and The City 2 and hanging out with girl’s friends all night talking about shoes. And boy starts to wonder: How did this happen?
The answer isn’t actually so complicated. Girls are just better at negotiating for what they want. While boys tend to either make demands, or more often than not just shrug and mumble something incomprehensible to avoid the discussion altogether, girls come to the conversation prepared: They know they want to go to the mall to buy that dress, and they have reasons why it’s that dress and not another, and why it needs to happen when they say. As a result, malls are full of boyfriends schlepping around like the “Walking Dead,” while they could be doing something they actually enjoy. It’s frustrating for them. And frustration builds. The longer things stay this way, the shorter their relationships will be.
But there is a way through this. It’s the art of negotiation, possibly the most useful skill a man can learn. And it’s actually quite simple.
Stage 1: Learn
“The main thing to realize is there are two stages -- a learning stage and a solution stage,” says Laurie Puhn, a lawyer, relationship expert and best-selling author of Fight Less, Love More. “In the learning stage, you’re a detective. You’re searching for the hidden reason she wants to do one thing or another. So you ask neutral questions, like ‘Is there a reason for that?’ You want to understand where she’s coming from.”
Typically -- and much less successfully -- men just skip the learning stage altogether and announce what they want and when they want it. Commands and demands. No one likes to be talked to that way. “You negotiate so people like you,” says Puhn. “It’s very important. And by learning what it is you’re actually negotiating, you gain the high ground. You have the information.”
So, first, take a breath. Don’t just assume that she wants you to do A because she doesn’t want you to do B. And don’t say, “Sure, whatever” or “Hell no, I’m watching football on Monday night.” Instead, use your questions. For example: “Is there a reason we need to go to the mall when the game is on?” Or: “Why would you like me to be there?” The answers may surprise you.
“It may come down to ‘We don’t do enough stuff together’,” says Puhn. “So it’s not a football issue; it’s an attention issue. You wouldn’t know that if you didn’t ask. And just by asking, you’ve shown that you’re concerned about her needs and goals. That’s very important to girls.”
Stage 2: Find a Solution
The second stage -- the solution stage -- is trickier. It requires tact and calm and some measure of forethought. But the first thing is to actually know what it is that you want. You’ve asked her what her goals and needs are, so be clear on what yours are too. Then you’re ready to start offering solutions.
“You can make trade-offs,” says Puhn. “While you’re learning where she’s coming from, you can put your own interests together and say: ‘You’re right, we don’t spend enough time together, so how about we go out on Tuesday instead?’ That way you’re solving her real problem. Then explain what you want: ‘I’ve always watched football on Mondays, that’s all. I’d like to continue if I can.’”
A common mistake is to assume that she knows what you want and is just stopping you from having it. And that misunderstanding goes both ways. “A lot of girls think that a guy should just know what she wants,” says Puhn. “It takes some women till they’re in their 30s before they realize that he actually doesn’t -- they need to articulate it!”
Finally, says Puhn, watch your tone. “Speak in a kind way. Stay calm and manage your emotion.” When talking solutions and trade-offs, it’s possible to get a bit exasperated, but it won’t work to fly off the handle. “Remember, your goal is to find a solution, not to win,” explains Puhn. “Because if you win, she loses, and that means she’ll be motivated to win the next time. So you both lose, really. It leads to a rollercoaster relationship with a scorecard.”
In other words, try to remember that she’s your girlfriend, not your opponent. And if she’s determined to watch some dismal chick flick with you, then consider it an opportunity to negotiate for something you want … like renting Jackass 3-D next time. It’s only fair!