What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse
Ever had the same old fight over and over? Do you wonder why, or what in the world you can do about it? Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, disagreeing with your spouse is normal. The bad news? According to Dr. John Gottman’s research, 69% of problems in relationships are perpetual or unsolvable. Couples will return to these issues over and over again in their relationship. These are often grounded in fundamental differences between two people: differences in personalities, needs, or expectations.
So, what do we do if all our problems can’t be solved like the fairy tales taught us? Gottman suggests creating a dialogue around them instead of attempting to solve them.
Sometimes, disagreements can bring a couple closer together. The key is how you and your spouse handle it when you disagree. Successful couples learn and grow together through difficult times.
Here are some steps to take when you disagree with your spouse:
1. Don’t avoid the issue.
Disagreements are best handled when you acknowledge they exist. If you’ve been married more than a minute, you’ve probably run into a disagreement or two. Let’s be honest: Planning a wedding is full of disagreements, so why would we expect marriage to be different? If the best way to navigate disagreements is to create a dialogue, it’s best not to avoid them.
The more you practice managing your disagreements, the better you can stay connected and engaged as you navigate them.
Becoming a good listener is essential if you want to maintain a healthy relationship. Far too often, people listen to respond, but the key is to listen to understand. Listen to your spouse’s viewpoint. Ask questions, don’t interrupt, and seek clarity. Good listening skills will help you recognize those perpetual issues. (READ The Art of Communication for more great info!)
3. Practice empathy.
According to U.C. Berkeley researchers Levenson and Ruef, empathy is the ability to accurately detect the emotional information being transmitted by another person. But empathy isn’t just understanding how they feel; it goes a step further. Empathy is an action. It’s feeling what your spouse feels. Don’t worry too much if you struggle with empathy, because it’s a skill you can learn.
4. Be respectful.
A common theme in our house is that everyone deserves to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect – not because of anything they have done but just because of who they are. This starts with our marriage. When you disagree, attack the problem, not the person.
We’re all individuals with our own opinions. Be careful not to belittle your spouse just because they don’t see eye to eye with you. Remember, we grow through our differences.
5. Seek a resolution.
People often say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” That can be a great thing in marriage. Suppose your disagreement is due to a perpetual issue. In that case, you won’t find a resolution, but you may be able to compromise. You can agree that it’s okay to disagree and seek a compromise you both can live with.
Brush up on those negotiation skills and meet each other in the middle.
The goal of managing a disagreement isn’t to win. It’s to understand each other and find a mutually beneficial solution. Marriage is a partnership of two imperfect people choosing to build a life together and move toward each other throughout the journey. You’re going to disagree with your spouse, but you can use those disagreements to grow closer together.
How to Improve Your Relationships With Effective Communication Skills
How Successful Couples Resolve Conflicts
6 Ways To Agree To Disagree With My Spouse
If you’ve been married for a minute you know disagreements are going to come up between the two of you. But, have you ever had one of those disagreements where not only were you on opposite sides of the issue, neither one of you was willing to budge?
Guess what? You’re in good company. Plenty of marriages have experienced this; they may just not be talking about it because what does it really say about your relationship if you can’t figure out how to come to some type of compromise? Asking for a friend, right?
It’s actually possible to agree to disagree without experiencing distress in your marriage. Meaning, both people have accepted the other’s point of view without agreeing on it and they are moving on.
For some couples, this is a very far-fetched idea.
The key to couples learning how to agree to disagree is learning how to be good listeners and knowing how to value and express appreciation for their perspective, even if you have a completely different point of view.
Typically, what happens in a marriage when spouses disagree is one person shares their perspective. Instead of really listening to what the person is saying, the other spouse is focusing on words or phrases they want to respond to. So, they don’t really hear all that their spouse said. And, while responding, the same thing happens with the other spouse which creates this dangerous downward spiral, leaving both people feeling unheard and not valued.
What if you both agreed to hear each other out?
Scott Stanley, Howard Markman, and Susan Blumberg have been researching couples for more than three decades. One of the things they learned is, it’s hard for couples to slow down long enough to hear each other before jumping in with a response. They came up with an effective way to help couples hear each other called “The Speaker/Listener Technique,” which is also known as “The Floor.”
Here’s how it works.
One spouse has “the floor.” The “floor” could be an index card, a piece of paper, anything that is a visible reminder of who is speaking at the moment. That person chooses one topic—only one topic—to talk about from their perspective.
The other spouse does not have “the floor.” They are the listener. Think of this as being an investigator. The goal is for your spouse to feel heard when they finish sharing with you. You’ve asked questions in a way that makes them know you are listening. Your spouse knows you value what they have to say—even if you don’t agree with them.
Here are some other strategies to help you when it’s clear you need to agree to disagree with your spouse:
- Make sure your spouse feels heard. Sharpen those listening skills.
- Guard against allowing the disagreement to create resentment or bitterness between the two of you.
- Accept that it’s possible neither of you may be wrong—you just see the situation from different perspectives. It’s like being at the scene of an accident and two people telling what happened from two completely different angles. Neither is wrong, just different. Different isn’t bad. (See #5.)
- Make an extra effort to love through the disagreement. In other words, don’t punish each other for not seeing things eye to eye all the time.
- Different is good! Don’t forget, differences are like ingredients in a recipe. If you only have one ingredient, it will be a very bland dish. The different ingredients allow your tastebuds to experience the dish in an entirely different way. The same is true in your marriage.
- If you’re experiencing great difficulty getting past something that’s causing stress or distress in your marriage, a third party may be able to help you.
It’s not always easy to disagree without being disagreeable. Keep in mind, the one you love is far more valuable than proving your point or being right. Highly happy couples will tell you there are plenty of moments where they’ve agreed to disagree about certain things, but they never lost sight of the fact they were on the same team and their marriage was more important than whatever threatens to come between them. There is a better “right” than being right.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
It’s election season. Unless you live under a rock, you already know that because it’s pretty much impossible to escape the endless ads everywhere you look reminding us who to vote for.
Now imagine election season through the eyes of a child. They’re taking in the information they hear at home, possibly at their grandparents’ house, on social media, and from friends. But do they really understand what’s happening?
You might wonder if they even care. But if you’re talking about it, they’re probably at least interested in what is happening. They may feel the stress and anxiety of it all but have no idea what’s really going on. The good news is, you can guide your child through election season.
This is a great opportunity to teach your child:
How our country operates…
Talk about the different political parties, what they represent and what their history is. Look at each party’s website and ask your child what the differences are in each party’s perspective. Explain how people can become candidates and what is required of them. Discuss how the people in this country get to choose their leadership and how that differs from other countries.
Ask them what it means that we are called “the United States of America.”
Talk about the Electoral College and the role it plays in the election process. You can even get them to research why some people want to make changes in the Electoral College.
How to get accurate information…
With all of the talking heads giving their opinions about candidates, this is the perfect opportunity to teach your children how to educate themselves about the candidates and the issues versus taking all information at face value. Show them how to search for the facts concerning the issues. Talk about the dangers of believing every headline.
How to talk about the different issues with people even when you disagree…
This right here might be one of the most important skills you can teach your children through the election process. It seems as though the art of civil discourse has been tossed to the curb in our society. Model for your children how to disagree without being disagreeable.
Possibly one of the greatest things about our country is, people are allowed to not only have an opinion, but they are also allowed to openly state that opinion without fear of being killed for it by the government. That’s not the case in many other countries where dictatorships exist.
Modeling how to respectfully have a conversation with someone who has differing opinions will show your children not only that it’s possible, but that it’s educational. Show them how to ask questions and to be curious about why someone believes what they believe. Let them see you listening to the person’s perspective and even saying things like, “I appreciate your thoughts on that. I’m not sure I agree with them, but I appreciate your perspective.”
While you may not want your children to watch the debates live, you can watch it with them later. Doing so and asking them what they see, how people treated each other when they disagreed, what they learned about the issues, how they know what is true, etc., is a great educational experience.
Most children, until the middle or high school years, are likely to parrot their parent’s opinion. Start early teaching them why it’s important to decide what you believe. Let them know it’s also important to have people in your life who don’t necessarily see things exactly the way you do. Having people in your life who have differing opinions makes your life richer.
What it means to have the right and privilege to vote, and why it matters…
The freedom to vote has been a long road for many people and there are still struggles today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 61.4 percent of Americans eligible to vote actually did so in the 2016 presidential election. The irony of this is that voting is actually how you have a real voice in the process of selecting our leaders. Even if your candidate doesn’t win, you still have a say.
Last, but not least, let’s talk about relationships as you guide your child through election season.
The way you engage with the people you love matters and can impact whether they feel safe and secure in their relationship with you. As many are experiencing right now, even family members don’t necessarily agree about who to vote for, and that’s ok.
Sometimes this can make family life really stressful, especially for children. At the end of the day, remember, relationships are more important and long-lasting than your political perspective. When your children see you respectfully disagree, share your own opinions, listen objectively to other points of view with extended family members, friends or even your spouse, they’re learning what it means to have civil discourse about elections at a moment in time when everybody believes there is a lot at stake for the future of our country.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
I have good news and bad news if you disagree about parenting. First, the bad news. Marriage researcher, therapist, and author, Dr. John Gottman has found that there are several issues couples will NEVER 100% agree on. Parenting is one of them. One of you is probably all about tough love while the other is more permissive. Maybe one of you is all about the bedtime while the other is a little more lax in that area. Or perhaps one of you makes them eat everything on their plate while the other gives them more options on what they eat.
It’s been that way since you’ve had kids and it’s probably not going to change.
Now, for the good news. Your child needs both of you—differences and all. When a couple learns how to work together through their differences, the marriage is stronger. Just as importantly, your children are better off for it. Kids need stable, loving parents—not perfect ones that agree on everything.
I know that sounds good and all. But how does that work? Let me say that I understand your challenges. My wife and I are the proud parents of seven kids and we couldn’t be more different in our approach to parenting. She’s more black and white when it comes to discipline. Actions lead to consequences. I’m the, “Let’s talk this through and understand it better” parent. She’s the parent who wants the four oldest kids to clean the kitchen together so they learn how to work with each other. I’m the divide and conquer. Two of you clean today and two of you clean tomorrow because I don’t want to hear fussing and arguing.
When my oldest daughter doesn’t tell the truth about something (I’m sure that’s a surprise that a 13-year-old doesn’t always tell the truth), often our instinctive approach is very different from one another.
Why is it so important that you recognize the differences?
- Marital Tension: Your different approaches, at times, cause dissension within your marriage. You can feel like your spouse is either too hard, too lenient, too strict, too passive, too trusting, or too controlling. Tension also may grow when you feel like your spouse is not supportive of your parenting efforts.
- Leads to children manipulating parents: Children can pick up on division. And they will feed off of it to get their way. (We’ve seen that happen a few times.)
- Division: Families are meant to be a unit. When couples do not learn how to work together as parents, it can lead to division within the family—and that is unhealthy for everyone.
- Poor Training of Children and Confusion: Kids don’t know boundaries, expectations, or structure. It becomes more difficult for them to learn right from wrong.
How do couples manage parenting when they disagree?
Discuss differences behind closed doors: Children don’t need to hear you disagree about parenting, how to discipline, what activities to participate in, where to allow the kids to go, etc. Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, says that 95% of issues don’t have to be solved on the spot. Don’t feel pressured to solve everything immediately. Become adept at saying, “Your (mother) and I will discuss this and let you know.”
Don’t throw the other parent under the bus: Avoid statements like, “I think that’s a good idea. Let me check with your mother.” Now she’s the bad guy if in fact you decide it’s not a good idea. “We would, but your father doesn’t like that kind of thing.” Or, “You know your mom wouldn’t go for that.”
Sincerely talk with one another from a team perspective: Figuring out how to work together is powerful. Listen and understand one another. Often you can meet in the middle. Sometimes you may lean more toward one spouse’s perspective or the other. Sometimes you can end up doing both. My wife and I have learned that I can generally get my children to acknowledge where they’ve gone wrong and how to correct it. And I’ve learned that without the consequences that she’s encouraging us to enforce, they are more likely to repeat the same behavior. We’ve often gotten the best of both worlds.
Present a united front: Once the two of you can agree on a parenting choice about an issue, then be on board with the plan, even if it wasn’t exactly the one you wanted. Make it your goal that the kids never know whose idea it was in the first place. I love it when my kids think a consequence was their mom’s idea, but really it was mine, not because I want them to think she’s the bad guy. Our goal is to show them we’re a team, not a team against the kids, but a parenting team working in the best interest of our family.
Don’t be afraid of making a “wrong” decision: It happens. There’ve been times we’ve come down too hard and times we were too lenient. There were times where we allowed them to participate in something that in hindsight was not the best decision. And what’s worse is that my wife and I disagreed on the front end and we chose the wrong path. Our children were not ruined for life because of our bad decision. Don’t forget, the best gift we can give them is a stable, committed relationship. Perfection is not part of the definition.
Seek input from parents you trust: Find couples with similar values whose children are in the next phase your children are moving toward and pick their brain. Ask them about their parenting differences and how they’ve made it work.
Support your spouse in their absence: Michele Weiner-Davis, best selling author and marriage therapist tells a story of undermining her husband’s parenting authority by disciplining and parenting her children over the phone when their father was home with them and she did not think he was doing what she thought was right. She learned that this was not healthy for her children, their father, or their marriage. She realized that it was healthier for her to truly trust and leave the parenting to her husband when she was out of town and to support his decisions. When she came to that realization, the next time a child called her for parenting when dad was home with them, she let them know that she supported whatever decision dad chose.
➤➤There are parenting decisions that your spouse will have to make that are different than what you’d do. 🔎 Before criticizing your spouse’s decision, ask yourself this question: “Do I believe he wants what is best for our children?” More times than not, the answer is yes. Show your spouse you believe in them as a parent.
✰ Conclusion: Different is not deficient.
It’s just different. What I hope you both do agree about is that you both love your children and want the best for them. The relationship skills your child learns from watching the two of you parent in the midst of disagreements may just be more powerful than if you agreed on every single thing.
Yes, your kids will pick up on the parental differences regardless of how united a front you present. The strength in the marriage is that the differences do not divide you. The security for your children that you provide by parenting them through the differences will serve them well years after they are grown and gone, living out the principles you’ve taught them.
**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**
What to Do When You Disagree With the Ones You Love
It’s nothing new to disagree with the ones you love, whether it’s about current events, religion, guns, racism, politics, football or something else. In fact, chances are pretty good that you completely disagree on certain topics with someone you care deeply about. The disagreements may be so intense you wonder how you can actually co-exist.
The level of intensity might feel more so at this moment in time in our culture. In fact, many people can hardly believe that the people they love have such different perspectives from their own. The ongoing stress from trying to navigate these issues can take a massive toll on our relationships.
What do you do when you strongly disagree with the ones you love?
Although you might be tempted to confront them and tell them they are just plain wrong, you might want to reconsider. That plan probably won’t go very well for you because it’s likely your loved one will feel attacked. Nobody wants to feel attacked, right?
Instead, start by asking yourself a few questions.
What’s the goal of my conversation with this person?
Do I just want to share information?
Am I trying to understand their perspective?
Do I feel the need to convince them they are wrong?
Am I trying to prove that I have a valid point?
Do I have to WIN?
Taking the time to think about your ultimate goal can help you prepare to constructively engage with them.
It may help to remember that no matter how hard you try, you cannot change someone else or make them see something the very same way that you do. Yelling at them, belittling them, coming across as condescending, stomping out of the room or being sarcastic will only fuel the fire. And it will take you further away from your intended goal.
Plenty of married couples, extended family, siblings and roommates have vehemently disagreed about things, yet their love and respect for each other was never in question. How you have the discussion matters.
Here are some tips you can use to make your conversations productive:
- Look for things you do agree on. It is likely that you agree on far more than you disagree about.
- Kindness and respect goes a long way when trying to discuss difficult topics. Be aware of your tone of voice and body language.
- Avoid imagining how you think the conversation will go or how it has gone in the past. Playing negative scenarios in your head will actually increase your stress. It could also steer the conversation downhill straight out of the gates.
- Be prepared to genuinely listen to their perspective—even if you already believe you don’t agree with them and can’t fathom how they could believe what they believe. When people feel heard, you are more likely to keep the conversation going and avoid damaging your relationship. **PRO-TIP: Paraphrase what you hear and avoid using the word, “but.” Using “but” negates everything that the other person just said. Try using “and” instead.**
- If it feels like the conversation is becoming heated, remember that getting louder will escalate the situation for sure. Plus, it actually makes it harder to hear what is being said. If you’re struggling to think clearly or keep your cool, take a break. Say you need to go to the bathroom or you need to get a drink of water—anything to take a break in the action and allow yourselves time to breathe. Pausing is powerful.
- Avoid using “You always, you never,” and “You should.” Instead, focus on yourself and share your perspective while using “I” statements (I feel, I believe, I want, I need, etc.).
These are particularly stressful times, and when you disagree with the ones you love, IT’S HARD.
This means that many of us are experiencing extended periods of heightened anxiety and are constantly in a fight or flight mode—which is totally not normal. Fuses are shorter and we are probably more easily irritated. And, we may react more quickly, especially if we’ve been thinking or dwelling on the topic at hand. Acknowledge this and think through the fact that how we handle difficult conversations can impact the quality of our relationships.
It’s vital to remember that this is a process. If over time the conversation seems to go nowhere, you may need to set boundaries around this topic in an effort to keep from destroying the relationship. Keep in mind that if you choose to walk away from the relationship, you will no longer have the opportunity to present a different perspective.
I grew up in a time when having a disagreement with a friend was a harmless and fun part of the landscape:
McDonald’s vs. Burger King
Classic Coke vs. New Coke
Grunge vs. 80s Hair Bands
Backstreet Boys vs. NSYNC
Britney vs. Christina
Alabama vs. Auburn
Even now, the boisterous disagreement between the Chick-Fil-A sandwich vs. Popeye’s spicy sandwich was fodder for social media. It was funny seeing videos by fans of both sides extolling the virtues of their favorite sandwich. I, too, became a part of the conversation as I was incredulous that a co-worker had never eaten Popeye’s Chicken. “Never eaten’ Popeye’s?!”
For many of us, we have been able to have these fun yet inconsequential disagreements or debates with our friends. Now, our disagreements have more weight and can result in a change in our relationship with our friends. We are no longer disagreeing about boy bands and colas, but about politics, climate change, parenting styles, and how we deal other major issues of the day.
As a result, those relationships that have sustained and supported us throughout our lives are being tested due to our differences of opinion and differences in actions & reactions.
How do we keep disagreements from derailing our friendships?
1. Take a step back to reassess the relationship.
I take my role as a “friend” seriously. Consequently, I often see my friends as extensions of my family. In this phase of my life, I have chosen to reevaluate, realign, and prioritize the friendships that mean the most to me.
In order to do that, I asked myself the following questions:
- Can we as friends agree to disagree without being disagreeable?
- Is this a mutual relationship or is it one-sided?
- Is this friendship feeding me or draining me?
- What is the depth of this friendship?
- What kind of friend am I?
- Was I overbearing? Did I overshare?
2. Accept that they have different experiences and opinions.
In order to maintain friendships, I realized that I can’t control the actions, thoughts, and opinions of my friends. I can only control my actions, thoughts, and reactions. As a result, I take pride in the fact that I have many friends who are different from me. They are older and younger than I am. Some have children; others do not. We are from different cultures and different ethnicities. The differences that we have make me a more well-rounded person because I learn from my friends’ diverse experiences and backgrounds.
For many of us, our friends are our backbones and support systems. It can be painful to recognize that you are not on the same page regarding an important issue, but it doesn’t have to end a friendship. I love the way St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Seek to Understand rather than to be Understood.” On the other hand, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”
3 Skills for Managing Conflict in Marriage
Just weeks into their marriage, Sam and Ellen* were caught a bit off guard as their different perspectives about certain things became very real. While they had discussed many of the big potential areas of conflict – money, career, children and how they wanted to deal with their in-laws – the impact of the more “trivial” matters on their marriage surprised them.
For example, things like socks on the floor, how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, how to do household chores, how to spend their downtime and even how to get to a certain location had become frequently intense conversations.
It baffled the couple that these seemingly little things could have such a stranglehold on their marriage. The conflicts were affecting their relationship and neither one of them liked what they were experiencing.
In reality, it is nearly impossible for two people with different upbringings to not have differences in perspective about many things. Truth be told, we are creatures of habit. In most instances, it is far less likely that a spouse intentionally leaves socks on the floor or squeezes the middle of the toothpaste tube just to get on your nerves. It’s far more likely to be what they have always done.
So, how can you manage this stuff and keep these seemingly minor issues from becoming major areas of conflict in your marriage?
Parents teach their kids to stop, look and listen before crossing the street. But believe it or not, this is a really useful skill for managing conflict.
- Stop. Before launching into a lecture or hissy fit, consider these things. Ask yourself if what you are about to say or do will be helpful to your relationship. What is your current state of mind – are you stressed, tired or hungry? These things can impact how intensely you feel about something at any given moment.
- Look. First, look at your spouse and remember you are on the same team, not rivals. Then, examine the situation at hand and ask yourself if this is truly a big deal or really a matter of different preferences. Whether it is folding towels, loading the dishwasher or the current condition of your car’s interior, some things boil down to personal preference. Is pursuing a conversation about these things worth the cost? And, in looking at the big picture of living life together, will you choose to place your focus on these areas?
- Listen. Instead of assuming your spouse couldn’t possibly have a reasonable explanation for why they do something a certain way, seek to understand their perspective before telling them why your way makes the most sense. It could help you avoid a lot of unnecessary drama. Even when you truly believe you are right, is it really necessary to prove it?
Undoubtedly, there are legitimate times for some hard discussions.
Moving past those little irritations, however, will require you to think carefully about how you manage those conflicts. After you have walked through stop, look and listen, think about these things:
- Considering how much time we have together, is this matter worthy of our precious time and energy?
- Why does this particular issue get under my skin?
- Am I willing to sacrifice our relationship for this issue?
Most couples say their relationship is what matters most to them. What tends to trip them up is mistakenly making the minor things the major ones. In many instances, it’s better for your marriage if you agree to disagree and get on with enjoying life together.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***