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Agreeing to disagree in marriage

a couple looking happy
Posted February 15, 2019

Is it okay for your partner to have different preferences and opinions to you?

Remember when you first met, and you couldn’t believe how much you had  in common? Now, it seems like you are complete opposites!

During the burgeoning stages of a relationship, we tend to look for similarities that bring connection, but as the relationship matures, we discover that we are two very different individuals after all!

Around 70 percent of marital conflict is ‘perpetual’ andessentially unsolvable, according the world’s preeminent marriage researcher, Dr John Gottman. This is simply because we are individuals, and are bound to think differently from our partner on some things.

But for most couples, it takes years to reach that ‘state of grace’ where we can accept our differences, says author Leon F Seltzer, author of The Evolution of Self.

When our partner disagrees with us, our first reaction is often to take it very personally. ‘You may find it almost impossible not to experience them as invalidating you, personally attacking you, or striving to defeat you’, says Seltzer.

In that moment, they become the enemy and must be defeated. The key to learning how to live harmoniously, even when we disagree, is to ‘move from menancing disagreements to safe ones’. Seltzer says that our defence mechanisms are formed early in life, and when we feel ‘menaced’ we revert to child-like
emotional states.

‘What’s required in such problematic situations is that your adult part immediately embrace that anxious, befuddled, or indignant child part, and reassure it that [a] contrary viewpoint doesn’t represent any kind of threat—though to your “kid self” it undoubtedly may feel like it’. Your partner’s different opinion has nothing to do with you—it simply means they are ‘different—but safely different—from you’.

In other words, reassure yourself that a rejection of your point  of view, is not a rejection of you. When couples are able ‘to truly accept their inevitable dissimilarities—and to take them in stride’, it not only creates a more harmonious marriage, but helps ‘the relationship reach its full potential’, sums up Seltzer.

When you need to agree

There are times when you have to find a way to agree, in order to make important decisions. Here are some tips for finding a way through …

  • Listen and try to understand each other’s point of view: Listen before you speak. Making your partner feel heard is more important than ‘winning’.
  • Don’t try to ‘argue’ your partner into your way of thinking: Instead, engage in thoughtful conversation about what helped form your opinions, and each of your feelings about the issue.
  • Commit to praying: Not only does God give us wisdom, praying together is a great equaliser.
  • Find a way to compromise: There is not much that can’t be negotiated. ‘Demonstrate love, honour and generosity by moving in the other’s direction,’ says marriage therapist Teri  Reisser.