Why Disagreement Don’t Always Need to Be Fights
We all know at least one couple who make us sick. Usually, they’ve been together since Michael J. Fox was a child actor and act like they are still on their honeymoon. They holds hands, make the goo-goo eyes at each other and act so sweet to each other that it makes the rest of us reach for the insulin.
But we’ll tell you a secret about them that you may not know. From time to time, they’ll argue. All couples have disagreements, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’re all individuals, and we all have our own opinions and every so often, we’ll disagree on something. It’s a mathematical inevitability. However, not all disagreements have to turn into fights. If you know how to argue in the right manner, there is no reason why disagreements can’t be positive things for your relationship in the long run.
But how do you do it? Well, first, you have to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy communication. Most people proceed from false assumptions on this front, so let’s get a few things straight. Here’s a list of all the bad assumptions we hear from our clients about their perceptions on communication:
- Agreement = good communication and disagreement = bad communication.
- My partner would agree if he/she would JUST listen to me.
- Yelling, or raising my voice, will make my partner listen better, which will then help them understand and agree with me.
- Name calling or use of threats is the ONLY WAY to make my partner take notice of me and listen, which will then help them understand and agree with me.
- It is better to not talk about difficult things with my partner so we won’t disagree and cause conflict.
- The concerns or problems I have will just go away on their own.
Any of these sound familiar?
If they do, read on. It’s time to unlearn what you know and start approaching communication from a different perspective.
Let’s start here:
- First, before you jump right into a discussion, we recommend that you check in with your partner to see if it’s a good time to talk. For example, if your partner just finished a 12 hour shift at work, it’s probably not the best time for a serious chat. Just because something is eating at you does not mean your partner is up for discussing it at that very minute. That doesn’t mean you should wait until your partner takes a day off from work to talk. Just let your partner settle in a bit and let them know you have something you want to talk about.
- Focus on ONE issue or concern at a time. Often people start with one issue and then start adding in other issues including things from the past that are sometimes not even related to the main issue. Be careful and mindful of this…it’s a very slippery slope. When you start bringing up issues from the past, especially if they had been resolved, you’re not working toward solving the problem. You’re working toward trying to be right. You have to ask yourself whether it is more important for you to be right or to solve the problem. Most of the time, these are two different experiences.
- When bringing up an issue or concern to your partner, use “I statements”. This allows you to own your feelings and decreases the chance of your partner becoming defensive. For example, say “I felt ______ when you said or did________.”; instead of “YOU made me so (angry, sad, etc)!” No one “makes” you angry. You make a choice if your partner does X, you’re going to be angry. And being angry never solves anything. Ditch the anger and get to the heart of the disagreement instead.
- If the issue or concern has to do with your partner, focus on their behavior that is problematic. Please do not attack them as a person. After all, if your partner was so bad, why are you together?
- Make requests for change, not demands.
- Try to discuss issues and concerns as they come up or in a timely manner instead of bottling them up and using them for an attack later.
- Remember that everyone has their own beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and “truths” regarding an issue or concern. So, when listening to your partner, get curious about their “truth” instead of trying to convince them that your “truth” is more “true” or important. More often than not, you’ll find you’re both saying the same things, just in different ways.
- When listening to your partner, remind yourself that you did not (and cannot ever) cause your partner’s feelings. Thus, there is no need to get defensive. They are just revealing and expressing their perceptions, feelings and “truths” to you. Don’t invalidate their feelings by telling them they have no reason to feel that way. The fact that they feel a certain way is enough for it to be valid.
- Ask questions, if needed, to help you understand your partner’s perception of the issue or concern.
- Then once you understand, sum it up and let them know you got it! Remember, understanding their perception and “truth” does NOT mean agreement on your part. You just want to make sure you have it straight.
Practice using these tips on daily basis with neutral conversations (i.e. your day at work, your dreams in life, where you want to go for dinner, etc.). Please do not wait to try them out during your next argument. Remember, practice makes perfect, and helps you form good communication habits. If you communicate in a positive fashion all the time, disagreements will be much easier to handle.
Drs. Chuck and Jo-Ann Bird