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How to be better at managing disagreements with your partner

Robert and I don’t really have big disagreements. We align well on big ticket items like money, commitment, work, spirituality, politics and adventure. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t annoy me or that we don’t argue. It has taken us decades to better share the housework, for example.

We have also needed help managing disagreements.

We are different. We see the world differently. He is not my twin or body and mind double.

He also has some annoying traits. But, hey, so do I.

My work has taught me that many couples think if they disagree, then they can’t be together.

But often the best outcome for a couple is not having the same opinion on an issue. It’s listening to, and validating, each other. And then, it’s often possible to make an agreeable plan. Seek to understand and acknowledge your differences, while staying respectful and keeping each other safe.

The Gottman Institute says: “It isn’t agreement that makes couples happy. In fact, the happiest couples disagree on about 69% of issues, and possibly even core values.” Our limbic system, the emotional and attachment part of our brains, is stimulated when we are heard and acknowledged. “In other words,” says the Gottman Institute, “when we’re aware that our inner reality is mirrored, known, and welcomed, it deepens our sense of belonging and security”. 

What should you do when you disagree?

  1. Validate the difference. Seek to understand and ask for more details. Ask: What is it about this view or action that makes sense to you? Not: WTF, that idea is crazy!

  2. Seek to support your partner even though you may continue to hold different views. Remember there is not a perfect way, belief or action.

  3. Look at your key commitments to each other. Making clear your commitments to each other is a good thing to do. You likely have shared commitments that are unspoken, such as supporting each other’s growth and development.

  4. Compromise. We’ve all been in the middle of an argument that has been overwhelming and lost perspective. In this situation, try to remember that it’s better to bend than to break. Compromise is the stuff of happy relationships.

I recently had a client (we will call him Max) who wanted to spend a considerable amount of money on an investment. His partner (Luke) was aghast. Luke was mostly very scared about financial failure and losing money, especially in this pandemic.

Max and Luke have had careful discussions, agreeing to really listen ,explore and look for ways they could align. The outcome has been that Max was given clear spending parameters and monthly reporting duties to keep Luke informed. Max also provided Luke with a spreadsheet of the timing of the anticipated return on the investment and what they could do in a worst-case scenario. The exercise has brought them closer. And both of them ‘won’. And, Max admitted that he understood more about the investment so he learnt heaps.

Talking to a therapist can also help couples realign their values and understand each other’s perspectives. Contact me if you would like to book a couples counselling session.


Quotes are from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide by John M Gottman & Nan Silver

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