Sometimes, we don’t see eye to eye in romantic relationships. Disagreement about the inner workings of the relationship or personal views may cause conflict.
We may believe that conflict resolution is only possible if both parties reach a unanimous agreement. However, in healthy relationships this is not the case. It’s possible to successfully navigate issues while holding differing opinions.
In fact, disagreeing is beneficial to relationships if done correctly. Conflict brings to light areas of our relationship that needs attention. If both parties are dedicated, disagreement provides an opportunity to address problems, and strengthen intimacy.
It’s important to learn how to agree to disagree in a relationship constructively.
Keep reading for handy tips!
Get Comfortable with Conflict
We may believe that conflict within a relationship in unacceptable. This may lead us to suppress our dissatisfaction to “keep the peace”.
This behavior may result from our earliest childhood relationships. If our parents dismissed our feelings, or didn’t allow us to express them, we may avoid conflict.
But suppressing our feelings doesn’t make them go away. In reality, we do ourselves and our partner a disservice.
It means we don’t get to genuinely express ourselves. As such, our partner never learns about our needs. This negatively impacts relationship growth.
This doesn’t mean we should seek out conflict; we should embrace it when it arises
We should avoid aggressive communication. That is, the use of intimidation, demands and threats to convey a message.
When we feel threatened, we may try to control the situation, or use personal attacks. But doing this is guaranteed to hurt our partner, and eventually destroy the relationship.
The goal of disagreement shouldn’t be to degrade our partner’s character. We should try to hear their point and communicate ours.
Disagreements should be constructive. We should focus on the issue, not the person. Enter, assertive communication, the process of using clear, direct language to express ourselves.
Say our partner believes in grounding our children as a punishment, and we don’t. Here’s an example of both an aggressive and assertive approach:
Aggressive: “Grounding is a dumb punishment. Do you even know anything about parenting?”
Assertive: “I disagree with grounding our children. I understand that it’s a practice you grew up with, but I feel uncomfortable with it. I want to work together to brainstorm alternatives.”
We can’t make our partner agree with us. But we can express ourselves in a way that’s clear and non-combative.
Don’t Take It Personally
Sometimes, we’re so invested in our own beliefs that opposition feels like a personal attack. However, provided the disagreement is communicated assertively, we shouldn’t take it personally.
In healthy relationships, we can give our partner the benefit of the doubt. They likely aren’t trying to hurt us. Our ego may get bruised, but we shouldn’t internalize conflict.
Instead of taking things personally, we should try to understand our partner’s perspective. We don’t have to like it or agree. Working to understand helps us build tolerance, both for discomfort and others’ views.
It also reminds us that our partner is a whole person, not the idealized version we may put on a pedestal. We get to know them authentically and accept them completely.
During a disagreement, we may focus on formulating a response instead of listening. When we do this, we miss out on valuable relationship growth.
If we don’t learn from it, the disagreement will reoccur. We should practice active listening:
- Allow the other person to speak without interruption
- Take time to think before replying
- Try to understand the other person’s emotions
- Be calm
- Ask questions for clarity, if needed
- Don’t dismiss the other person’s feelings
Agree to Disagree
Sometimes, a disagreement has no resolve. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
If our opinions don’t threaten the relationships’ foundational values (e.g., whether to have children, adherence to monogamy, communication, etc.), that’s okay. There’s no need to agree on everything.
In these cases, we can agree to disagree, and leave it at that.
This helps establish individuality between ourselves and our partner. It also gives us the chance to practice self-validation.
We may rely on our partner to confirm that our feelings are valid. But our feelings and opinions are meaningful, even if our partner doesn’t agree.
It’s not always disagreement that harms relationships, it’s how we respond to it. We can either act defensively to protect our ego, or approach conflict with curiosity and care.
The former leads to an unhelpful “us versus them” mindset. The latter provides a chance for connection and growth.
So, agree to disagree, but do it respectfully.