The purpose of negotiation is to resolve immediate differences. These differences are concrete and situation-specific (for example, what movie to attend or who takes on what household chore). Immediate differences don’t linger to periodically frustrate us; in this way, they diverge from enduring differences, the ones that tend to promote continuing conflict and misunderstanding.
Immediate difference negotiation is idea-centered and carries the expectation that the difference is resolvable. This contrasts with the “vulnerable” sharing that is essential to dealing with enduring differences, where the expectation is that the parties will find a way to “live with” the difference.
John and Susan are new to parenting after 12 years of marriage. Following a difficult pregnancy, they recently welcomed twin girls into their family. Since they expected the girls to be a “handful,” they decided that Susan would stay home for the first year and John would be the only family wage earner.
Susan does not mind having to manage on her own during the day, but finds it exasperating that John goes to AA meetings in the evening, just when there is lots to do at home. She would like him to stay with her in the evening and help around the house. Her resentment over his lack of responsiveness to her pleas is beginning to express itself in an old problem for her — excessive credit card spending.
John has no objection to sharing responsibility for the girls. He takes care of them on the weekend (together with Susan) or alone when she leaves the house to run errands or to visit family and friends. His problem with her request for assistance in the evening relates to his belief that regular AA attendance is the bedrock of his sobriety program. He has been sober for three years and believes that if he does not keep up with his meetings, he could begin drinking again, a situation that would be disastrous for both him and for his family. He worries about Susan’s spending urges because their income has declined markedly from what it was prior to the twins’ birth.