For entrenched differences, Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey have introduced an alternative approach they call “Getting to We.”

“We” includes activities enjoyed together; mutual interests; shared passions; the resolution of differences; common experiences; relying on or helping one another; and knowledge of each other’s needs, strengths, and resources.

The way to get to “we” utilizes an empathy technique that allows each partner to develop an understanding of how the other partner is approaching the enduring conflict. Neither partner makes any effort to change the other. Acceptance is the key to “getting to we.” With each partner able to make sense out of what is going on between them, they have the resources for finding a mutual resolution to their difference. The sign of a mutual resolution is that they are both able to “live with” the difference.

Getting to “We”

Identify one unending argument about one enduring difference. After trying negotiation without success, mutually agree on one recurring issue and stick with it. The idea here is to find a way to learn to resolve or to live with your differences, rather than to “get satisfaction” or “be right.”

Mary and Bill agreed to focus on their anger toward each other.

Follow the rules of engagement. Be methodical about following the “Rules of Engagement,” otherwise your emotional reactions will divert you into repeating your usual argument.

Each partner expresses a concern related to the enduring difference. The first partner states an honest concern with an “I” statement. This statement avoids blaming and judging the second partner. (“You” statements put the second partner on the defensive, limiting that person’s ability to listen.) The more vulnerable the first partner can be in making this statement, the more likely the second partner will pick up on what the first partner really wants. The second partner listens to the concern to see the situation from the first partner’s point of view. The second partner summarizes the essence of the first partner’s concern. When the first partner is satisfied that the second partner understands, the process is reversed and the second partner states a concern.

Mary states: “I feel angry and abandoned by your denial of responsibility for our family and the energy you instead put into your friends and your work.” Bill states: “I’ve been feeling bored at home since our first child was born. Actually, I feel angry that ‘all’ your energy goes into the children and I feel that you don’t have anything left for me.”

Together, detect each person’s dream or yearning that underlies the concern. Each partner makes a statement that expresses the dream or yearning that underlies the other partner’s concern. There is no attempt at this point to join these dreams in any way. Each partner gives feedback to the other regarding the accuracy of the other partner’s dream statement.

Mary heard that Bill’s dream involved a renewal of their former closeness. Bill heard that Mary’s dream involved a bond that included their children.