When you argue with your partner, what tends to be the common theme? Is it screaming, hateful talk, or the cold shoulder? Or something you would prefer just tiptoeing around (although it’s on eggshells)? I’ve previously written about how a discussion is not a monologue – but what other tips are there for how to have a healthy disagreement in a relationship?
My husband Nathan and I are digging deeper into the topic of a healthy marriage, and in doing so, more great tips have come up. I’m thankful that, although I may share nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned along the road, there is never an end to what I can learn and share with you. This past week, we dove in to disagreements and how to have a win-win.
So, since this is a blog and some of you love the written word over audio, I want to go over a few highlights from the podcast and elaborate on them here. Plus, I was inspired by what we talked about and wanted to dig deeper.
Why Do We Disagree?
I’ve heard couples say they never argue. And I immediately think one of two things. Yeah right, or…yikes. Disagreements are a part of life. Especially in an intimate relationship, where oftentimes opposites attract, not seeing eye to eye is par for the course.No two people will agree on every single thing in life - it's the beauty of having an individual and unique mind of your own. Click To Tweet
But there is a difference between having a disagreement, arguing, and fighting. Here are my quick definitions of each:
- Disagreement: Two people don’t see eye-to-eye on something, and discuss their differing opinions and feelings regarding it.
- Arguing: You take that disagreement and try to convince the other person why you are right.
- Fighting: You take it a step further and attack, belittle, put down and otherwise try to pummel them to the ground. Remember – in war, you don’t argue or disagree; you fight and attack.
Now, clearly, I’m a fan of disagreeing and not the other two. However, we’re human. We don’t get it right all the time. And I have yet to find anyone who never gets lost in emotion and loses it at some point. Especially if it is a hot topic and it’s with the person they care about most. Chances are you’ve had an argument, and possibly even a fight with your honey.
There is a Right And Wrong Way to Disagree
If you disagree and take that as an immediate jump to arguing and/or fighting, you may have heard things like this:
If you weren’t so…
Last time this happened…
You are just being…
So what’s wrong with these starting statements in a disagreement? It immediately puts the other person on the defense. Like you’ve heard me say time and time again on the podcast, “when you point a finger at someone else, there are three more pointing back at you.” Using absolutes is just plain wrong. Life isn’t black and white, and there are exceptions to the rules. Using absolutes of “never” and “always” immediately puts the other person on the defensive.
And never, ever (see my absolutes here?) take authority on someone else’s emotions. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous you feel they are being – it’s their emotions, their drama, and their perspective.You are not the expert on someone else's heart. Respect another's perspective. Click To Tweet
It is incredibly frustrating and confusing to have someone else tell you how you feel and what to think.
Their feelings are theirs alone, and they are seeing the world through their eyes. Even if you feel like it’s not merited, give respect to the fact that it’s what they feel at that moment. The key to healthy emotions is allowing yourself to actually feel them…and then let it go.
How Is This Healthy?
Feel your own emotions, no matter how “ridiculous” they are. The statement “That makes me feel super self-conscious and bad about myself” doesn’t point a single finger at someone else, but acknowledges that it didn’t feel good to you. And quite honestly, those feelings are so personal, it has nothing to do with what’s going on “out there” and everything to do with your own self esteem and self image. And that’s okay. It’s still legit, and it’s still an emotion you are going through, regardless of whether or not it’s your own personal struggle or your response to something truly hurtful from someone else.
Allow for your partner to voice what they are feeling without preparing your rebuttal. So many times, when people disagree, we immediately jump to the defensive, ready to justify our actions. However, the defensive is necessary when you are preparing for an attack. If you are in a safe place with your partner – a place where you are allowed to feel your emotions, disagree, and are validated on your own perspective (regardless of agreement), then there is no need for defending.
Don’t live life on the defensive – it’s a very reactive way to live. People will live up to your expectations, so when you are bracing for attack, quite often you get it. Try shifting your perspective to one of people being open and loving, and see if they live up to it.
Give Your Relationship a Clean Slate
You are going to mess up. You’ll react, do stupid things, and not always have other’s best interests in mind. You will get caught up in our emotions, react in a negative way, and sometimes just flat lose the patience to be understanding of others. Heck, oftentimes we don’t understand ourselves! It’s called “processing” your emotions for a reason. It’s a process, and it’s not always fast. Our emotions can retaliate before our logic has a time to catch up, and that’s where we have to allow for grace.
Bring a “clean slate” rule into your home. Let go of grudges and resentment. Don’t bring the past into the current situation. What’s in the past is over with. Only address what you will do moving forward. Don’t cast a dark shadow on the future by only referencing the past.
Not a Broken Record
Sometimes you will see the same issue crop up time and time again. It’s hard to keep from bringing in the past when you see a negative pattern. You do want to nip these patterns in the bud before it becomes a habit or lifestyle. Your spouse coming home day after day simply plopping down in front of the TV starts to breed anger and resentment…and a lot of ammo for absolutes. “You always sit in front of the TV. You never ask me how my day was or even care about me. The TV is more important.”
Again, though, speak through your own lens and your own emotions, not for someone else. You cannot speak for someone else’s intention. Them coming home to plop in front of the TV may have nothing to do with you at all, and everything to do with them having an exhausting/draining day dealing with people at work all day.
Be up front about anything you see as a negative pattern, but make sure you address it from how you feel. And if you are confronted with your partner pointing out something negative for your relationship, keep in mind the intention behind it. What is your expectation for your relationship, and what negative behaviors/habits are you contributing?
If your ultimate goal is a connected relationship, then you are working together on the offensive; no need to defend. Just address the issue, what offensive play each of you can take to build each other up, and move forward together.
You are on the same team. Don’t let the issue become bigger than the relationship.Click To Tweet
You are playing on the same team, not opposing sides. Don’t polarize yourself so much that you become isolated – you are in this together!
Quick Tips For Hot Topics:
- Give space for each other to think and process.
- Take the accountability off of each other and put it in writing. Write out your plans and your goals so you can look to that paper for the accountability vs. your spouse looming over your shoulder shaking their finger.
- With Finances – come to an agreement on what is mutually beneficial for the family as whole. Does what you spend ADD to the family, or is it one more thing adding tension/clutter
- Extended family – you have to draw the line – you are not duplicating your family of origin. You are creating a new family entity. You may draw from the past, but not to the detriment of what is. Your family will be different, and that’s okay.
- Give yourselves grace to practice. You aren’t going to get it right all the time. Allow for grace in your growth – as individuals, as a couple, and as a family.
What is your intention with your disagreement? Is it to truly find love in the relationship or get the upper hand?
- Catch yourself when things get heated. Before you point that finger of blame or immediately fly to the defense, take a breath and remember who you are talking to. This is your heart and who you chose to take on this world with.
What are your biggest disagreements? What tip above is most needed in your relationship?