The Principle of Common Ground

By Greg Baer M.D.

July 2, 2014

People often ask me to resolve disputes, and at first glance, the subjects appear to be widely varied. A large portion of them, however, are about one subject: the use of resources that are limited—notably money and time. He wants, for example, to spend more money than she does on a car. She wants to spend more time with her family than he does. These arguments can be endless. What to do?

If both parties were perfectly loving, disputes would vanish. Most people argue this point, but only because they have not seen a relationship with sufficient Real Love. Achieving this condition, however, takes faith and practice, and time, so in the meantime how can we approach these disputes?

Let’s consider the principle of Common Ground. To graphically illustrate this, let’s suppose that you and I are taking a vacation together. For whatever reason, I want to visit Kentucky, Tennessee, Oregon, Alabama, and Florida. You, on the other hand, want to vacation in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Oregon. For reasons that do not matter—certainly not worth arguing about—you want nothing to do with Alabama and Florida.

What can we do here? On the surface, it appears that our differences are irreconcilable. I really want to visit Alabama and Florida, while you don’t want to set foot in those places. But the solution becomes easy when we apply the principle of Common Ground.

What is the common ground—in this case, literally—that we can both live with? The three states we have in common. My pleasure at visiting Alabama and Florida wouldn’t be nearly as memorable as your discomfort. Pain almost always trumps pleasure. We cannot maintain healthy relationships where we are willing to enjoy something at the cost of hurting our partners. So we have solved the vacation problem. We’ll go with our common ground: Kentucky, Tennessee, and Oregon.

Now, how do we apply this to real-life situations that are more likely to occur? Let’s suppose that Donna and I need a new car. We share all income, so there is no “my” money or “her” money. We’ll be spending OUR money. I want to spend $37,000 at most on the car, and Donna wants to spend $31,000. It would be tempting to conclude that we could look for a car that is $34,000—an average of our two desires. But then we’d both lose. I’d be getting a car $3K less than I want, and Donna would be getting a car that cost $3K more than she was willing to spend.

Solution? Find the common ground. We are both agreed that we want to spend at LEAST $31K, right? So if we get a car that costs $31K, Donna gets everything she wants, and I get most of what I want. I don’t get everything I want, but I don’t HAVE to have a $37K car. If we get a $37K car, on the other hand, I’m forcing Donna to give up money she wants to keep—effectively robbing her.

Suppose Mike and Susie are on a first date. Mike says he wants to hold hands and kiss, while Susie wants only to hold hands. They could easily turn this into an argument, or they could use the Common Ground principle. What part of their separate desires is common to both? They both want to hold hands. Although Mike may WANT to kiss Susie, it is not an essential need. He won’t die without a kiss, so holding hands is their common ground.

With Common Ground, nobody’s safety is violated, which is more important than everybody getting what they want. People must feel safe before they can freely give in a relationship. So with a $31K car, I might not be fully satisfied, but if we spend any more than that, Donna’s right to spend only what she wishes would be violated. With hand holding, both Mike and Susie get something they want, while with kissing Susie’s right to control her body is violated.

Until you both AGREE on your common ground, NO ACTION is taken. Until Donna and I agree on the car we’ll both be happy with, we get no car at all. Until Mike and Susie agree on how physical they’ll be, there will be no physical contact. Relationships are healthy only when there is consensus, not force or pressure.

Now that we understand “no action without agreement,” let’s see how Common Ground might work in other situations.

Suppose that you and I get in the car, and you turn on the radio. For reasons that do not matter—I hate the radio, I have a headache, whatever—I ask you to turn it off. Although it might not be obvious, our common ground is to have the radio OFF. You don’t REQUIRE the radio. You didn’t need the radio before we got in the car. You won’t have a seizure without the radio. So you can live without it, and so can I. If you turn it on, it violates my need to have it off. Common ground? Radio off.

Put even more simply, our common ground is what we can both be satisfied with. Neither of us may get exactly what we PREFER—kissing, bigger car, or the radio playing, all preferences not essentials—but we BOTH get what we can live with.

As we become more loving, we may adjust what we can live with to accommodate more of what the other person prefers. Donna MIGHT, for example, decide she’d be willing to live with a more expensive car, but that would be HER choice, NOT a decision I have a right to manipulate her to make. I might decide that because I love you, having the radio on wouldn’t be too annoying, especially if the music were of a certain kind. But again, I would have to make that choice for reasons not based on guilt or obligation.

Common Ground simply enables us to avoid unnecessary conflicts and even to be more loving toward others.

Real Love in Marriage

Find your common ground  and enjoy genuine happiness now and forever.


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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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