Ask Page: Dead Bedrooms, No Win-Win?

two separate beds with a lamp in the middle and paintings hanging on the wall
Image by Roberto Ferrito / CC BY

Page, in your post on conflict resolution styles you forgot one thing about Collaborating. In my opinion: There’s not always a win-win solution. Like. I don’t think in that situation it automatically becomes Compromising. It’s just a conflict that can’t be resolved in a collaborative way.

It’s one of those drawbacks no one wants to believe is real. “If we just work hard enough to find the solution…”

But I can think of situations I’ve seen with other people. They started off trying to collaboratively solve their issues and when it became apparent they couldn’t, one of them switched to a more competitive model.

Like how do you come to a collaborative resolution to the conflict “one of us needs/wants more sex and intimacy than the other is willing to give or allow them to seek elsewhere and either of us wants to break up anyway?”

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Thanks for this letter! You raise a very good point.

There definitely are situations where both parties can’t get exactly what they each want. And when we can’t come up with a win-win solution? We are faced with a choice:

  1. Lose-Lose. Compromising. Or, in another sense, a mutual case of Win-Some, Lose-Some.
  2. Win-Lose. Competing. You Versus Me.

When Collaborating isn’t possible, then finding a compromise may very well be in order. However, this requires both parties to make concessions.

If one or both parties decide they don’t want to compromise? Well, it won’t happen.

So begins the competition.

Breaking Up Can Be Collaborative

The example you give is an interesting one: “One of us needs/wants more sex and intimacy than the other is willing to give or allow them to seek elsewhere and either of us wants to break up anyway?”

A collaborative solution in this case? It depends on how you look at things. In one sense, if one partner is unhappy about the level of intimacy and the other wants to break up, then breaking up could very well be a collaborative solution, at least looking at things long term. True, the increased sex and intimacy may not be instantly available to the dissatisfied partner. But they’re at least free to seek it out elsewhere.

And the other partner is also free to pursue a relationship that better matches what they’re looking for.

Breakups can be mutual and mutually beneficial if both parties recognize that each will be better off without the other and decide that breaking up is the best option. The separation would be peaceful, and the logistics surrounding it (money, possessions, living arrangements) handled respectfully and kindly. No damaging spectacle.

I’ve seen this happen, but this is rare. Most of the time in this situation, a breakup is either a compromising or competitive resolution to their conflicts.

Breaking Up Can Be Compromising

The same decision to break up can be looked at as a compromise if both parties view it negatively. Or see it as a failure. Lose-lose.

Still, in a Compromising solution, both parties would view the breakup as a mutual decision and strive towards a separation that isn’t damaging for either party. Again no smack-talking. And a commitment to cooperative on logistical concerns with each other, as before.

The major difference between a breakup being a Collaborative solution and a breakup being a Compromising solution? Well, it’s one of attitude. And whether the people feel like the change is largely positive or negative for them.

But one thing is for sure: Both Collaborative and Compromising styles require cooperation.

Breaking Up Can Be Competitive

A Competitive breakup, however? It’s when cooperation falls apart. Perhaps one person doesn’t want to break up at all. And they’re fighting it.

Or let’s say that both people want to break up, but one wants or needs to be “right” in the court of public opinion. So they’re on the attack, destroying their soon-to-be-ex’s reputation.

Or maybe one person empties the bank account. And the other person wakes up in an empty apartment to find everything has been moved out overnight.

Other Cooperative Solutions to Dead Bedrooms

Now let’s backtrack to the original situation: One partner wants more sex and intimacy than the other. Except this time let’s say neither person wants to break up.

I see this a lot.

A frequent solution that involves Compromising is to try an open relationship. One partner is allowed to explore other sexual and romantic outlets, but they, too, must Compromise by following whatever rules and measures are established by their partner.

In addition, even if both partners don’t exercise the privilege, most healthy open relationships allow for everyone involved to have the option to pursue other people if they choose to. This means that while they have new freedoms, they will also have to share and Compromise in turn.

I’ve also seen people achieve Compromise by finding new sexual activities to try that are a kind of middle ground. They might not be exactly everything that the one partner wants and not exactly comfortable for the other to try. But sometimes it works out.

That said, Compromise is a tricky balance. And without the proper finesse, it can turn into a Competitive situation. Or one partner giving in (Accommodating) to the other’s needs, regardless of the cost to themselves.

Many people find it helpful to involve a neutral third party, such as a therapist, to maintain this balance and achieve healthy cooperative solutions.

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