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Couples Can Cooperate for Success

You have probably entered relationships madly in love, convinced that your feelings for each
other were so strong your dream would carry you through the tough times, but wound up
feeling more like you were living in a nightmare than a dream, struggling with conflicting
wants and needs. If you dont know how to work together effectively to solve the conflict,
the resulting frustration, anger and battles make the relationship more and more unpleasant
and difficult to sustain. As a therapist, I know that couples need to know how to solve
problems together successfully, and to work together as a team rather than struggle. A
major part of my life work is helping couples learn to work together to develop a partnership
that supports love and intimacy. To reach people beyond my immediate area, I wrote two
books on this subject:How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (with coauthor Riley K. Smith) is
a step-by-step guide to help you learn the skills of problem solving and cooperation. Money,
Sex and Kids: Stop Squabbling About the Three Things That Can Destroy Your Marriage
teaches couples how to solve specific problems using the skills of cooperation.
Couples without teamwork skills fight about money, sex, affection, time, infidelity, in-laws,
raising children, housekeeping, or other problems, often repeating the same old arguments,
without any resolution, or locked in habitual ways of relating that they think they "should"
do, but that create dissatisfaction and struggle between them. Struggles like this are not
Learning good relationship skills (communication, cooperation, knowing and saying what
you want, overcoming destructive habits, breaking out of rigid patterns that don't work,
counteracting unrealistic expectations, and creating new ideas) enables you to:
Make room in the relationship for individual differences, preferences and tastes.
Recognize and solve problems to your mutual satisfaction.
Keep your individual emotional issues from creating partnership problems.
Solve both individual and relationship problems.
Identify old relationship patterns that were dysfunctional, addictive or abusive, and to
develop healthy alternatives.
Discuss changes and conflicts and find ways to accommodate them.
Identify and examine the "traditional relationship" models to see what aspects of them are
relevant to your partnership, and what you need to change to develop a new model of
partnership that works for you.
With good communication and negotiation skills, any couple can create satisfying, loving
intimacy. When you and your partner know how to cooperate, you can build a partnership in
which you:
Give and take equally.
Are committed to mutual satisfaction.

Face problems rather than avoiding them.

Work together toward mutual satisfaction.
Feel like a team.
Treat each other's feelings, wants and needs as important.
Share thoughts and feelings freely.
Encourage each other and create excitement as well as comfort and security.
Feel comfortable, satisfied, stimulated, and thus secure in the relationship.
Have confidence that your relationship will last.
There is a pervasive myth that somehow happy couples just agree on everything
automatically all the time. Believing this myth, we enter relationships convinced that
whatever problems or differences we have with our partners will be easy to solve. But, in
reality, the individuals who make up a partnership will disagree frequently, and often
struggle over even minor issues.
In the course of building and sustaining a lifetime relationship, every couple encounters
many problems. Different backgrounds and experience, discordant perception of each other
and events, unequal rates of education and growth, conflicting needs for self-expression and
contact, and differing values and beliefs about relationships complicate and often block
attempts at creating partnership together.
Relationship models based on the idea that one person must lead and the other follow, or
one win and the other lose can easily become power struggles, where the partners fight
bitterly. Each partner struggles to be in control, or they avoid disagreements altogether
because it isn't worth the struggle. Hence they spend a lot of their time either fighting for
what they want or feeling deprived.
The belief that someone has to be in charge of the relationship causes couples to compete
for power rather than cooperate. Otherwise loving partners can struggle because they
believe its the way to get their needs met. Between partners in intimate relationships
competition becomes stressful, counter-productive and toxic, poisoning the relationship by
turning us into adversaries, and undermining the mutual support and encouragement vital
to satisfactory relationships.
Differences can be frightening, and make resolving problems and conflicts with our intimate
partners tense and difficult. In a relationship intimate enough that we feel a deep bonding
or sense of commingled identity, its easy to experience disagreements as threatening.
Disagreeing seems to indicate we are separate individuals who perceive everything
differently, and have different needs and wants, and we fear that we'll be rejected or
disapproved of if we are different.
Sometimes relationship problems are only indirectly connected to your partnership: your car
breaks down, your kids need to get to school, your boss is difficult to get along with. These
issues become partnership problems because you bring their effects, big and small, home
(into the relationship) with you. Anger at your unreasonable boss can quickly become a

difficult evening with your partner if you bring your frustration home, are irritable, and the
two of you wind up arguing unnecessarily.
While this feels unfair and inappropriate, in real life it happens frequently. Unskilled couples
easily become tangled in a web of blaming, hurt and anger and, after years of similar
unresolved conflicts, can build a backlog of bitterness that can't be healed.
Some problems are directly related to your relationship: you fight about housework, time,
money, child care or sex. One or both of you becomes hurt or angry. For couples who dont
know how to cooperate, such issues can escalate into a big problem or accumulate over
time. When problems cause friction and never get resolved, they undermine an otherwise
loving and viable partnership.
Only recently have psychologists and sociologists begun to discuss the elements of effective
decision making. Among other discoveries, they found that decision making (even in
business) is more effective when everyone contributes their views of priorities, needs,
wants, goals, and their thoughts about possible solutions. This cooperative approach means
that both contribute their understanding to the problem (which often makes it clearer) and
both feel involved in the process and committed to the success of the solution they agree
In cooperative negotiation, both parties attempting to resolve a conflict or make a decision
involving them can negotiate so that both get what they want . By working together, you
can learn to solve the problems of the past (I'm afraid we'll fight about money like my first
wife and I did); the present (I don't think I'm getting a fair share of the housework) and the
future (what will we do if I lose my job?). Instead of being a struggle or something to avoid,
solving such problems becomes an opportunity to re-affirm your mutual love and caring,
and to strengthen your partnership and teamwork.
2009 Tina B. Tessina
Adapted from: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Squabbling About the Three Things That Can
Destroy Your Marriage (Adams Media) ISBN# 978-1-59869-325-6 and "How To Be a Couple
and Still Be Free" (New Page)"ISBN #1_56414_549_2

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30
years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17

languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide
to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin
Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your
Differences. She writes the Dr. Romance blog, and the Happiness Tips from Tina email newsletter.

Dr. Tessina, is CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for LoveForever.com, a website designed to
strengthen relationships and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship
with personalized tips, courses, and online couples counseling. Online, shes known as Dr.
Romance Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV shows as Oprah, Larry
King Live and ABC News.