By Lean Seltzer
Let’s agree to disagree.
Certainly, you’ve heard the phrase before, perhaps so often that it’s ceased to have much meaning to you. But the fact is that in a long-term, committed relationship, when circumstances oblige you to confront significant differences with your partner, nothing could be more crucial than agreeing to disagree.
In my 30-plus years of doing therapy, I’ve found that helping couples learn to truly accept their inevitable dissimilarities—and to take them in stride—serves not only to protect marital harmony in situations of potential conflict but, even more, to help the relationship reach its full potential.
Not that such a near-paradoxical accord, adaptation, or accommodation is easy to accomplish. Most of the time it can be extremely challenging—for most couples, reaching the point where they’re able to comfortably agree to disagree can take not months but years, if their relationship ever achieves that enviable state of grace at all.
Well, if you operate the way most people do, when your partner takes exception to your viewpoint—or introduces one sharply contrasting with yours—you may find it almost impossible not to experience them as invalidating you, personally attacking you, or striving to defeat you. And if this is how you perceive them in the moment—not as your lifetime companion but as your willful adversary—then you’re compelled to strike back, defend yourself, or even exit the situation entirely, whether mentally, emotionally, or physically. After all, in that instant of disagreement their words have managed to morph them into your enemy. How could this not be the case if, somewhere deep in your gut, you experience their contrary point of view as somehow puncturing your own? (And incidentally, there’s an awfully good chance they’ll be reacting to you similarly—i.e., experiencing your position as aiming poison arrows at theirs.)
This, of course, is when you’re most likely to summon all your mental energy to prove them wrong. For it may feel as though it’s absolutely critical to defend your position. In that moment of perceived threat you may feel (without really understanding why) as if your viewpoint represents something intimately connected to your essence, so that making any concessions would be to sacrifice the innermost core of your being.
And to the extent that you identify yourself with your mind—that you unconsciously regard yourself as equitable to it—then the thought of changing your mind, or simply detaching from it, can feel untenable, even hazardous. So it can be exceedingly difficult to avoid taking your partner’s disagreement personally, especially when you can’t help attributing a certain authority to them; they are, after all, your “match.”
Additionally, when your partner takes exception to what you’re saying, it can feel like a total withdrawal of their loyalty and support—all the more so if you’re dependent on their approval. Yet what’s imperative to understand is that on most occasions your disagreements merely mean that the two of you happen not to see something the same way—or that your wants or needs on a particular matter differ. Not being each other’s clones, naturally you’re not going to share all the same preferences.
No big deal, right?
If in that moment of disagreement you actually feel abandoned by your partner, it can be a very big deal. You can feel completely out of harmony with them—frustrated, demeaned, disregarded, disconnected, alienated, and/or betrayed. At least that’s what the child part of you may be experiencing—and it can be intensely uncomfortable and disconcerting.
Move from Menacing Disagreements to Safe Ones
For the rest of the article, check out the article in full at Psychology Today.
If you would like help with your relationship, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.