Let Your Partner Influence You

Egalitarian Harmony

Embracing Influence in Modern Partnerships

In the evolving landscape of relationships, the work of Dr. John Gottman stands as a testament to understanding and improving marital dynamics. Among his principles, the notion of allowing your partner to influence you is pivotal for nurturing a healthy, egalitarian relationship. This principle, though not quickly apparent when you read the book, is a straightforward concept, challenging traditional roles and paving the way for mutual respect and balance in decision-making. As we examine this principle through the lens of modern egalitarian relationships, we leave behind outdated gender norms, embracing a partnership built on equity, understanding, and shared influence.

Understanding Influence in Relationships

Jack was considering buying a used blue Honda. The car seemed like a great deal since the seller, Phil, had only owned it for a month. The car was for sale because Phil’s company was suddenly transferring him to London. Jack liked the car’s handling and power, not to mention the state-of the-art sound system.

He was ready to do a deal, but first, he told Phil, he wanted a mechanic to check the car. “Why?” said Phil. “It’s really a new car. It only has three hundred miles, and you get the manufacturer’s warranty.” “True,” said Jack, “but I promised my wife I wouldn’t buy a car without having it inspected first.” Phil gave Jack a withering look.”You let your wife tell you what to do about cars?” he asked. “Sure,” said Jack. “Don’t you?” “Well, no. I don’t–didn’t. I’m divorced,” said Phil. “Well,” Jack chuckled. “Maybe that’s why”

Jack had the car checked by his mechanic, and it turned out that the rear bumper needed to be replaced, so he never bought Phil’s car.

But more importantly, he never bought Phil’s attitude toward women. Jack has made his wife a partner in his decision making. He respects and honors his wife and her opinions and feelings. He understands that for his marriage to thrive, he has to share the driver’s seat.

Gottman, 1999

Influence, within the context of a relationship, is the ability to affect each other’s thoughts, emotions, and actions. It’s a reciprocal dance where both partners have a voice and their opinions are valued. Gottman’s principle does not advocate for submissiveness or one-sided decision-making; rather, it encourages both individuals to engage in a democratic process of give-and-take. This democratization of domestic life is a cornerstone of modern egalitarian relationships, where power and responsibility are distributed equally, free from the constraints of gender-based expectations.

The Impact of Gender Norms on Influence

Historically, relationships often fell into patterns where one partner—typically the male in heterosexual partnerships—would wield more influence over decisions, both large and small. Such imbalances can lead to a corrosive dynamic, where one person’s voice becomes dominant, stifling the other’s growth and potential. In contrast, contemporary views on relationships advocate for a departure from these roles, promoting a dynamic where both individuals can lead and follow, irrespective of gender.

Research by Dr. John Gottman has shown that relationships are much more successful when men allow themselves to be influenced by their partner. It’s important for women to accept influence too, but the research has shown that the majority of women already do this. Being open to influence requires a man to let go of avoidant strategies like distancing, attacking, and defensiveness. This doesn’t mean adopting an inferior position, but rather allowing his partner’s needs to be of primary importance in his life.

In a long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, Gottman found that, even in the first few months of marriage, men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives’ influence. Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to
share power with his partner, there is an 81 percent chance that the marriage will self-destruct.

Accepting influence is also about moving from a position of “me” to “we,” which requires a shift toward more maturity and complexity, beyond seeing the world as a binary, win-lose, right-wrong, zero-sum game. This movement from a one-person system to a two-person system is called “secure functioning.” Such a shift demands and facilitates maturation by caring for one’s relationship in the long term through considering another’s mind and emotions.

Emotionally Intelligent Men

The data on newlywed couples, at the time, indicated that more husbands were being transformed in this way. About 35 percent of the men studied by Gottman fall into this category. Research from previous decades suggests the number used to be much lower. Because this type of husband honors and respects his spouse, he will be open to learning more about emotions from her. He will come to understand her world and those of his children and friends. He may not emote in the same way that his wife does, but he will learn how to better connect with her emotionally. As he does so, he’ll make choices that show he honors her. When he’s engaging in any solo activity like television, short videos, video gaming, reading, and she makes a request to talk about something, he’ll turn toward her and actively listen. He is choosing to engage with his partner and actively communicate with her.

Gottman believes that the emotionally intelligent husband is the next step in social evolution. This doesn’t mean that he is superior to other men in personality, upbringing, or moral fiber. He has simply figured out something very important about being married that the others haven’t–yet. And that is how to honor his wife and convey his respect to her. It is really that elementary.

The new husband is likely to make his career less of a priority than his family life because his definition of success has been revised. Unlike husbands before him, he naturally incorporates the first three principles into his daily life. He makes a detailed map of his wife’s world. He keeps in touch with his admiration and fondness for her, and he communicates it by turning toward her in his daily actions. This benefits not only his marriage but his children as well.

Research shows that a husband who can accept influence from his wife also tends to be an outstanding father. He is familiar with his children’s world and knows all about their friends and their fears. Because he is not afraid of emotions, he teaches his children to respect their own feelings–and themselves. He turns off the football game for them, too, because he wants them to remember him as having had time for them.

This new type of husband and father leads a meaningful and rich life. Having a happy family base makes it possible for him to create and work effectively. Because he is so connected to his wife, she will come to him not only when she is troubled but when she is delighted. When the city awakens to a beautiful fresh snowstorm, his children will come running for him to see it. The people who matter most to him will care about him when he lives and mourn him when he dies.

The other kind of husband and father is a very sad story. He responds to the loss of male entitlement with righteous indignation, or he feels like an innocent victim. He may become more authoritarian or withdraw into a lonely shell, protecting what little he has left. He does not give others very much honor and respect because he is engaged in a search for the honor and respect he thinks is his due. He will not accept his wife’s influence because he fears any further loss of power. And because he will not accept influence he will not have very much influence. The consequence is that no one will much care about him when he lives nor mourn him when he dies.

Practical Applications of Gottman’s Principle

  • Active Listening: This involves paying full attention to your partner, acknowledging their perspective, and showing empathy. It’s not merely about hearing words but understanding the emotions and intentions behind them. Active listening validates your partner’s feelings and makes them feel respected.
  • Shared Decision-Making: Whether it’s about financial investments, parenting styles, or daily routines, decisions are made together. Each partner’s input is considered, and compromises are reached that reflect both parties’ contributions.
  • Respect for Differences: Differences in opinion are inevitable. Embracing Gottman’s principle means valuing these differences as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles. By understanding each other’s viewpoints, partners can find common ground and develop solutions that are inclusive of both perspectives.
  • Emotional Intelligence: This involves being attuned to your own emotions as well as your partner’s. Partners with high emotional intelligence can navigate conflicts more effectively and are better at allowing influence because they can empathize and regulate their own reactions.
  • Constructive Feedback: Rather than criticism, constructive feedback is about expressing needs and concerns in a way that is non-threatening and focused on behavior rather than character. It’s about saying, “I feel worried when we don’t discuss big purchases,” rather than, “You never consider my opinion on our finances.”

Challenges and Considerations

Despite the benefits, practicing this principle can be challenging. It requires letting go of the need for control, which can be difficult for those accustomed to making unilateral decisions. Moreover, societal and cultural expectations can sometimes exert pressure on individuals to conform to traditional roles. Overcoming these requires conscious effort and commitment to personal growth and to the health of the relationship.

You can start by taking the quiz below, which will give you a sense of how skilled you currently are at accepting your wife’s influence. There’s no reason why wives shouldn’t take the quiz as well, since the more open to influence you both are, the smoother your marriage will be. Then work through the fun exercises that follow. They will help you hone your ability to share power.

Accepting Influence Questionnaire

Write the numbers down on a lined sheet of paper or journal page. Place the numbers that correspond to each question on the left of the page one number per line. Read each statement and determine if it is true or false and write your answer next to the number.

  1. I am really interested in my spouse’s opinions on our basic issues.
  2. I usually learn a lot from my spouse even when we disagree.
  3. I want my partner to feel that what he or she says really counts with me.
  4. I generally want my spouse to feel influential in this marriage.
  5. I can listen to my partner, but only up to a point.
  6. My partner has a lot of basic common sense.
  7. I try to communicate respect even during our disagreements.
  8. If I keep trying to convince my partner, I will eventually win out.
  9. I don’t reject my spouse’s opinions out of hand.
  10. My partner is not rational enough to take seriously when we discuss our issues.
  11. I believe in lots of give and take in our discussions.
  12. I am very persuasive and usually can win arguments with my spouse.
  13. I feel I have an important say when we make decisions.
  14. My partner usually has good ideas.
  15. My partner is basically a great help as a problem solver.
  16. I try to listen respectfully, even when I disagree.
  17. My ideas for solutions are usually much better than my spouse’s.
  18. I can usually find something to agree with in my partner’s position.
  19. My partner is usually too emotional.
  20. I am the one who needs to make the major decisions in this marriage.


  • Give yourself one point for each “true” answer, except for questions 5, 8, 10, 12, 17, 19, 20.
  • Subtract one point for each “true” answer to questions 5, 8, 10, 12, 17, 19, 20.

6 or above: This is an area of strength in your marriage. You willingly cede power to your spouse, a hallmark of an emotionally intelligent marriage.

Below 6: Your marriage could stand some improvement in this area. You are having some difficulty accepting influence from your spouse, which can cause a marriage to become dangerously unstable.

The first step in righting the situation is to understand just what it means to accept influence. Review this lesson again if you’re still unclear about why it is so essential to share power with your partner. Then the following exercises will show you how to do so.

Exercise 1: Yield to Win

Below is a series of common situations faced by some of Gottman’s couples. Try to visualize these scenes as if you and your spouse are the ones having this conflict. (Women who are doing this exercise should flip the genders accordingly.) The more vividly you put yourself into each situation, the more effective the exercise will be. No matter how negative you envision your partner as sounding in these scenarios, try to think of the negativity as her way of emphasizing how important this issue is–not as an attack on you. In other words, try to respond to the message, not to your partner’s tone of voice. Assume that within that message is a reasonable request with which you could easily agree. In your notebook describe that reasonable request in a sentence. (In some of these scenarios the demand is implied rather than directly spoken.) Then write down what you could say to express your cooperation.

There are no right answers to these exercises.

As an example of a completed scenario:

When you come home tired from work, you like to eat dinner and then watch TV but your wife, who works at home all day wants to go out. One night she gets very angry and claims that you are inconsiderate of her need to escape from the house. You say that you are just too tired to do anything at night. She yells, “Well, what about me? I will go crazy if I can’t get out and have contact with other people!”

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request: To get out of the house.
  • You say: “I’m sorry you’re going so stir crazy. What if we have a relaxing dinner at home so I can rest, and then go out for dessert?”

1. You and your wife have not been getting along lately. Part of the problem is that you think she spends way too much money. Now she’s insisting that you undergo expensive marital counseling. You point out that there is simply no money to pay for that until expenses are cut somewhere else. Your wife says, “I disagree. We can’t afford not to get counseling. It’s like borrowing for a needed vacation. We’ve got to do it!”

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

2. Since your wife is not working, you’ve agreed together, with an explicit relationship contract, that she will be responsible for the majority of the housework, and will have dinner prepared by the time you come home. One night you get home and find out that the laundry isn’t folded and dinner isn’t made. You voice your complaint, and she says, “You never notice how much I have done during the day. You only notice what hasn’t been done. You just don’t appreciate how much work it takes to keep the house going.”

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

3. You’ve gone down to the local bar with a few friends to have a couple of beers. You and your wife have argued frequently about your going out drinking too often. Tonight she keeps calling you at the bar to say that if you don’t come home right now, she’s going to come get you. When you finally walk in the door, she is crying. “Instead of spending all your free time with your buddies at the bar, why don’t you ever take me dancing?”

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

4. It’s a Saturday afternoon, and your wife has been cleaning and telling you about some repairs the house needs. You feel that she is not willing to make the financial sacrifices in other areas so that you can afford these repairs. She says, “You just don’t think that what I want is important. You’ll find money for things if you want them.”

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

5. For the past few days your wife has been complaining about your not being very affectionate and considerate when you have sex with her. Tonight after having sex your wife tells you she feels dissatisfied and wants you to touch her more. You tell her that you’re not used to doing things that way. She says, “I understand how you feel, but we’ve got to learn how to turn each other on more. I’ll try to help you.”

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

6. When you come home from work, the first thing you like to do is to get comfortable, have a drink, read the paper, and take off your shoes and socks. Sometimes you make a bit of a mess in the living room, but you usually clean it up after dinner when you have more energy. One night, when you haven’t cleaned up, your wife says, “It really makes me mad the way you leave your stuff around. I’m tired, too, and I wish I didn’t have to pick up after you. Why can’t you clean up before dinner?”

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

7. Money has been tight lately, so you’ve come up with a system in which you and your wife discuss every purchase beforehand. Tonight you come home, and she announces she’s bought new bulbs to replace the outside lights, which just blew. She says she bought them without consulting you because she feels the bulbs are absolutely necessary–she doesn’t feel safe at night unless the lights are on. You tell her they may be necessary, but you can’t afford them. She says, “We need to have them whether we can afford them or not.”

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

8. You decide to surprise your wife by buying a new car. As soon as she sees it, she gets very upset. She says, “That’s terrible! I’ll never ride in it. Take it back!”

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

9. You’ve just come home from work feeling tired, and you still have to run to the hardware store. Your wife, who stays home to raise the kids, says that she has just had a terrible day with them. She asks you to take them with you to the store so she can have some alone time.

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

10. You like to stay up late and work or watch TV Your wife likes to go to sleep by eleven. One night around ten-thirty she comes into the den where you’re watching TV and asks you to come to bed. She says that it bothers her that you don’t come to bed until after she’s asleep, because she’d like to have sex more often.

  • Reasonable part of wife’s request:
  • You say:

Sample Answers
1. Reasonable part of wife’s request: Your marriage does need help.
You say: “I agree that improving our marriage is very important. Maybe counseling is the answer. Let’s think about how we can cut down somewhere else so we can afford it. Then I won’t be so worried about the money.”

2. Reasonable part of wife’s request: To feel appreciated for the work she does around the house.
You say: “I’m sorry. You’re right, I haven’t noticed. Let’s start over again. Help me to appreciate what has been done. Then maybe I can also pitch in and fold some of this laundry. You have been doing a lot lately. Maybe tonight we should go out to dinner.”

3. Reasonable part of wife’s request: To spend more of your free time with her.
You say: “Great idea. Let’s go down to McSorley’s and dance until we see dawn together like in the old days.”

4. Reasonable part of wife’s request: Your house does need some repairs.
You say: “Okay, maybe you’re right. What repairs do you think we need to do?”

5. Reasonable part of wife’s request: For you to focus on what turns her on.
You say: “This is hard for me to talk about, but I’ll try to listen to you. Tell me how you want to be touched.”

6. Reasonable part of wife’s request: For you to clean up before dinner.
You say: “Sorry, okay, I’ll clean up.” Then do it.

7. Reasonable part of wife’s request: Buying the outside lights was necessary.
You say: “You’re absolutely right that we need them. It’s fine that you bought the lights. Thank you for doing it. But next time can we talk it over first, like we usually do?”

8. Reasonable part of wife’s request: Not to surprise her with a new car.
You say: “We need to talk about this car. Tell me why you’re upset.”

9. Reasonable part of wife’s request: To get a break from the kids.
You say; “Okay. Let’s go for a ride, kids. Ice cream on the way for everybody!”

10. Reasonable part of wife’s request: To have sex more often,
You say: “Great idea. Can you wear the satin nightie? I love making love to you.”

Now that you’ve worked through these examples, you should have a better sense of what it means to “give” in a relationship. The next step is to get used to giving to your spouse and sharing power more in your own marriage. The following fun exercise lets you work on making decisions together. As you do it, remember that the goal is for both of you to be influential and to accept each other’s influence.

Exercise 2: The Gottman Island Survival Game

Imagine that your cruise ship just sank in the Caribbean, and you awaken to find yourselves on a tropical desert island. Gilligan and Ginger are nowhere in sight–the two of you are the only survivors. One of you is injured. You have no idea where you are, you think there’s some chance that people know of the ship’s distress, but you’re not sure, a storm appears to be on the way. You decide that you need to prepare to survive on this island for some time and also to make sure you’ll be spotted by a rescue party. There is a bunch of stuff from the ship on the beach that could help you, but you can only carry ten items.

Your Mission

Step 1: Each of you writes down on a separate piece of paper what you consider the ten most important items to keep from the inventory list below, based on your survival plan. Then rank-order these items based on their importance to you. Give the most crucial item a 1, the next most crucial a 2, and so on. There are no right or wrong answers.

Ship’s Inventory

  • Two changes of clothing
  • AM-FM and short-wave radio receiver
  • Ten gallons of water
  • Pots and pans
  • Matches
  • Shovel
  • Backpack
  • Toilet paper
  • Two tents
  • Two sleeping bags
  • Knife
  • Small life raft, with sail
  • Sun block lotion
  • Cook stove and lantern
  • Long rope
  • Two walkie-talkie sender-receiver units
  • Freeze-dried food for seven days
  • One change of clothing
  • One fifth of whiskey
  • Flares
  • Compass
  • Regional aerial maps
  • Gun with six bullets
  • Fifty packages of condoms
  • First-aid kit with penicillin
  • Oxygen tanks

Step 2: Share your list with your partner. Together come up with a consensus list of ten items. That means talking it over and working as a team to solve the problem together. Both of you need to be influential in discussing the problem and in making the final decisions. There is no correct list of ten items.

When you’ve finished, it’s time to evaluate how the game went. You should both answer the questions below.

How effective do you think you were at influencing your spouse?
a) Not at all effective
b) Neither effective nor ineffective
c) Somewhat effective
d) Very effective

How effective was your spouse at influencing you?
a) Not at all effective
b) Neither effective nor ineffective
c) Somewhat effective
d) Very effective

Did either of you try to dominate the other, or were you competitive with each other?
a) A lot
b) Somewhat
c) A little
d) Not at all

Did you sulk or withdraw?
a) A lot
b) Somewhat
c) A little
d) Not at all

Did your partner sulk or withdraw?
a) A lot
b) Somewhat
c) A little
d) Not at all

Did you have fun?
a) Not at all
b) A little
c) Somewhat
d) A lot

Did you work well as a team?
a) Not at all
b) A little
c) Somewhat
d) A great deal

How much irritability or anger did you feel?
a) A lot
b) Some
c) A little
d) None

How much irritability or anger did your partner feel?
a) A lot
b) Some
c) A little
d) None

Did you both feel included?
a) Not at all
b) A little
c) A reasonable amount
d) A great deal

Scoring: Give yourself one point for each “a” answer, two points for each “b” answer, three points for each “c” answer, and 4 points for each “d” answer. Tally your score.

If your final number is over 24, you’re doing a good job of accepting each other’s influence and working together as a team. If you scored 24 or below, your marriage needs further work in this area.

If you’re having difficulty accepting influence, one of the best things you can do for your marriage is to acknowledge the problem and talk with your spouse about it. Nobody can change old habits overnight. But if you’re able to take responsibility for the parts of your marital troubles that are caused by your difficulty with sharing power, that in itself will be a major leap forward for your marriage.

Your spouse is likely to feel a great sense of relief and renewed optimism about improving your marriage. The next step is to make your partner an ally in your crusade to overcome this problem. Ask her (or him) to gently point out to you instances where you are being unwittingly domineering, defensive, or disrespectful.

Because all of the Seven Principles are interrelated, the more you work on the others, the easier it will become for you to share power. And of course, the more skilled you become at accepting influence, the easier it will be for you to adhere to the other principles. A willingness to share power and to respect the other person’s view is a prerequisite of compromising. For that reason, becoming more adept at accepting influence will help you cope far better with marital conflict -The focus of Principles 5 and 6. As you’ll see, there are two major categories of disagreements that virtually all couples experience. When coping with either kind, accepting influence will be a cornerstone of success.


Obviously it takes two to make or break a marriage, so we’re not singling out men here. The point of this lesson is not to scold, bash, or insult men. It’s certainly just as important for wives to treat their husbands with honor and respect. But the data indicates that the vast majority of wives–even in unstable marriages–already do that. This doesn’t mean that they don’t get angry and even contemptuous of their husbands. It just means that they let their husbands influence their decision making by taking their opinions and feelings into account. But too often men do not return the favor.

Allowing your partner to influence you is not about losing your identity or power; it’s about creating a synergistic relationship where both partners flourish. It’s about interdependence, not dependence or codependence. By moving beyond outdated gender norms and embracing a modern, egalitarian approach, relationships can become a source of strength, happiness, and mutual empowerment. In practicing Gottman’s principle, we build not just better relationships, but also a more equitable society, one partnership at a time.

In the spirit of learning and evolving, embracing the influence of our partners is a journey worth undertaking for the enrichment of our most cherished relationships.