You know that old saw about the constant husband-wife battle over who puts the toothpaste cap back on and who leaves it off? What's with that? Why is it so true?! And how can something so simple be so hurtful?

Your husband knows perfectly well you don't like to sleep with the windows open, yet there he goes, opening them (behind the shades, of course, so you won't see it) as you get ready for bed. As soon as he snores, up you get, to close them. And somewhere in the night, he's goes and opens them again, so that you awake totally annoyed, feeling a draft. Off you go to close them, and on the battle rages through the night. You wake up arguing, hardly a positive way to begin the day.

You recognize that this is just a variation on the "toothpaste cap" fight, and you can't believe that you're arguing over something so - well - idiotic! Only it doesn't feel idiotic, it feels hurtful. You don't understand how two supposedly good people who love each other could fight over something so small. You don't realize that what's really going on is a power struggle, called "My way or the highway."

You see, in a marriage or any committed relationship, you forego some measure of personal freedom in order to have the companionship, love and comfort of the other person. Yet it's a rare soul who gives up any portion of his or her freedom unconditionally and without complaint. But since you love each other, and since you chose to be together, you hardly feel in a position to complain about yielding some small portion of your freedom. So you stifle your yearning, along with your guilt about feeling complainy in the first place, but since feelings have a way of coming out anyway - there you go, fighting over shutting windows or toothpaste caps, a misplaced power struggle in order to regain some of that lost freedom. Both of you are hurt, both of you feel in some way rejected by the other, and neither of you feels good about the outcome.

How do you deal with it? How do you get past the power struggle without one of you giving in entirely to the other just to keep the peace?

1) Acknowledge what's going on.
You can't fix what you don't know is broke. Acknowledge that the window open/shut or any other toothpaste cap argument is really about the freedom you relinquished, not about any "right" way or "wrong" way to do something. There are few things in this life which can be done only one "right" away.

2) Make peace with yourself.
Recognize that in exchange for the 100% total freedom that an individual not in a relationship enjoys, you receive a wonderful flow of love, tenderness, caring, humor, companionship, partnering, help with the chores, and an endless list of other relationship "perks." Realize that the exchange is more than fair. View and review its obvious benefits until you are at peace with your choice.

3) Appreciate your individual desires.
Understand and appreciate your partner's right to his or her desires. Understand and appreciate your own right to your desires. Now you can say "I appreciate what you want, as I appreciate what I want. Let's get creative, let's have fun seeing how we can accommodate both of our wishes." There is no longer a power struggle; there is only a problem to be mutually resolved.

As odd as it may seem, working creatively together with the open admission of your different desires can bring you closer together. Once you are willing to admit that you are both right, that both your desires are completely legitimate, then you are in a perfect position to negotiate creative ways of accommodating each other. "My way or the highway" then becomes "Our way," a true expression of the loving couple that you are.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D., known as "Dr. Noelle" to her clients, is a respected psychologist, consultant and author. Her most recent books is "The Power of Appreciation: The Key to a Vibrant Life" (with co-author, Jeannine LeMare Calaba, Psy.D.; Beyond Words, 2003). For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives with her "compassionate psychotherapy." Dr. Noelle welcomes your comments via email ( You can visit Dr. Noelle anytime at