When in times of conflict, be it when discussing politics, religion, or other opposing views, sometimes we just throw up our hands and say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” The phrase helps us to stop arguing and respect—or at least tolerate—the other’s views and move on.
But, is this phrase ideal to use within a marriage? Do we only want to tolerate?
The exact phrase first appeared in print by John Wesley, who wrote “agree to disagree” in a memorial service for George Whitefield in 1770. The two were spreading their religious views in Britain (and Whitefield also in the U.S.), but they didn’t always agree on doctrine. This phrase “agree to disagree” allowed Wesley to show respect for someone he didn’t always see eye to eye with. For these two, who weren’t really friends but fellow religious promoters, it makes sense. They didn’t share much other than a passion for their life’s work. So it is really irrelevant whether they needed to get along or even agree. In marriage, however, things are quite different.
In marriage, you live together. You share every aspect of your lives together. Agreeing to disagree isn’t a good enough compromise, because you want to have more than just a cordial existence. Of course, you are two different people, with different upbringings, life experiences, and personalities. But there is a reason you two came together—love.
When two people love each other, they do more than just co-exist. They strive to live together in harmony. To be truly happy. Love means also valuing what the other person wants and values. So the result is that sometimes, you have to let go of what isn’t important about your own arguments in order to uphold what truly is important.
According to article “What Makes Marriage Work?” on the website Psychology Today, authors John Gottman and Nan Silver explain that just because you have conflict in your marriage doesn’t mean it’s doomed to failure. In fact, it’s your ability to resolve conflict that determine your marriage success. This conflict resolution shows that you both are realistic and also open about your feelings. Because we all know what happens when one or both marriage partners bottle up their emotions or opinions—eventually they blow up.
Most couples fight about lots of the same things, with sex and money and parenting topping the list as the biggies. But there is also the small stuff, like whether it’s ok to open the other person’s mail, to how to load the dishwasher, and everything in between. Perhaps you don’t agree on whether to have a TV in the bedroom, or you can’t come to terms on where to spend the holidays. Whatever your current conflict—we promise it won’t be the last one—there are some tips to get past it and reach a healthy compromise.
Here are 5 ways to get past conflict or disagreements in marriage:
1. Set Aside Time to Talk it Through
Once you realize that there is an issue, don’t let it fester. Say, “Can we talk about XYZ tonight after the kids are in bed?” That allows you both to cool off a bit, think about what you want to say, and not fight about it in the meantime.
2. Prepare by Writing All of Your Main Points
When approaching a conflict, sometimes your thoughts will be jumbled. That’s totally normal.
Each of you would do well to sit down for 5-10 minutes and write down your thoughts as they come out. Just the act of writing will help you to better organize what your worries or values are on a particular topic, so you can better vocalize them. You may even write it as an email to your spouse to be opened later. At the very least, both of you should prepare a pros and cons lists.
3. Really Listen to Your Spouse
Usually when we go into a talk on conflict, our minds are made up. We don’t want to budge on our views, either out of principle or stubbornness. It’s important to realize that this is your marriage partner—not your enemy. You both want what is best, even if you each approach it differently. So when it comes time to talk about the issue at heart, really listen to your spouse, without interrupting. It’s ok to ask questions for clarification, if necessary. As with all marriage communication, be patient and use a gentle tone.
4. Point Out What You Like About Your Spouse’s Point of View
When you have both stated your views and concerns, now it’s time to start discussing. A big part of this is to point out what you like about your spouse’s point of view. Perhaps the issue is that the wife doesn’t want any more children, but the husband does. For now the main issue is birth control—the wife wants to take permanent measures. She states her reasons. Then the husband explains that since they have just had a baby in the last year, perhaps they should wait another year and use temporary birth control in the meantime. “You never know, you might change your mind when the baby is older.” The wife pointed out that she hadn’t thought that way before, and is willing to consider that particular view. Common ground.
5. Give a Little and Get a Little
Next in the discussion—which may end up spreading out into more than one session, is giving a little and getting a little. This is known as good old negotiation. In business, it’s about getting the most of what you want. In marriage, it’s about making sure everyone is happy and feels loved. Ultimately, with opposing views you can’t have all you want, and your spouse can’t have all he or she wants, either. So after discussing everything, and hopefully finding some common ground, try to give up a little of what you want, and your spouse should also do the same.
In the end, you are two different people—but you can still be on the same team. The important thing is to remember your main goals, let go of what isn’t important, and hold fast to what is.
This isn’t just a college; this is your spouse. When both of you put in the effort to work together, the result will be more than just agreeing to disagree—it will be a beautiful relationship of love and respect.
Malini Bhatia is the founder of Marriage.com, a website dedicated to providing value in every marriage. Marriage.com provides resources, information and a community that supports healthy, happy marriages. Malini has global experience in international management and communications, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 11 years and two daughters.