There will always be differences
All of us have our own unique histories, experiences and viewpoints. Often it’s the differences between us that we first find attractive in each other.
It’s inevitable and normal that our differences will also lead to disagreements. When we don’t see eye to eye it can be troubling and we might find ourselves questioning whether we’re really suited as a couple. But all relationships naturally go through some challenging stages. The key to making things work is finding a way of disagreeing that is comfortable for both partners.
The art of disagreeing
Disagreeing is just another form of communication. Research shows that the couples who recognize this are the ones that tend to manage conflict well. Because they see disagreements as a way of expressing their views and feelings, rather than as a sign that the relationship is in trouble, they’re more able to get on with sorting things out.
Here are some of the things that work well for many couples:
- Getting the timing right: Try to choose a time to talk when your partner is more likely to be receptive and less likely to be stressed and grumpy – NOT when they’ve just got in from work or when they are watching their favorite TV program.
- Approaching the issue softly: If there’s something you are cross about, a conversation will usually end the way it begins, so try not to start with a negative or hostile remark – your partner will more than likely give as good as they get and you’ll both get angry and upset.
- Knowing each other’s buttons and what not to push: Tread gently when you know you’re on sensitive ground.
- Understanding that an argument can be a symptom of other things: Make some allowances for outside stresses or deeper issues that can affect how we feel and behave in our relationship.
- Seeing where your partner is coming from: Respect each other’s point of view, even if your ideas and feelings are very different.
- Knowing the difference between a complaint and personal criticism: Choose your words carefully when making a complaint – don’t turn a straight forward complaint about behavior into an attack on personality or character.
- Learning what helps to stop things escalating: Get to know what small things you might say or do when things start getting heated – perhaps using humor, acknowledging what your partner is saying, telling them you’re sorry they are upset – that can stop a difficult moment from getting worse.
Why can’t we have a ‘good’ disagreement? We get defensive…
We’re less able to take the more positive approach when we’re still just getting to know each other or when we’ve got into the habit of being negative. Arguments often take us unawares and can escalate before we have time to work out how to put the brakes on.
Getting defensive is a natural reaction when we’re feeling criticized. We only see our own position and don’t think about our partner’s feelings. In no time our partner seems like an enemy and we go on the attack. So what starts out as a simple disagreement about the washing up can end up with each partner wondering why they ever got together in the first place.
Learning to sort things out
Getting good at disagreeing doesn’t happen quickly. As we continue to learn more about each other we’re able to better anticipate and handle those moments and issues that create tension.
Feeling loved and accepted – our flaws as well as the good stuff – plays a big part in managing conflict well. We’re less likely to feel threatened and get defensive if we feel our partner basically likes, understands and respects us. It’s then easier to choose to make things better rather than go down the road of scoring points.
Many differences and disagreements are not resolvable
After celebrating their 81st wedding anniversary, the UK’s longest married couple say they have a disagreement every day and they still feel they have a happy and healthy marriage!
Not all of our conflicts need to be resolved in order to have a happy relationship. In fact, most of our disagreements are not resolvable – they’re just part and parcel of our inevitable differences. Quite often the only way forward is to simply accept them, have a sense of humor, or find a good compromise…