Relationships: What it Takes to Agree to Disagree
You and your partner have talked an issue to death.
You’ve made your case. They’ve made theirs.
So you say the words. “Alright, let’s just agree to disagree.”
Seems like a good idea. It’s clearly a happier alternative to escalating emotion and heated conversation. And you really want to mean it.
Yet, when you walk away from the conflict, do you still feel more than a little bothered that your partner can’t see things your way? Are you really not okay to let it go?
Maybe agreeing to disagree is more than just an agreement to do so…
What it means to agree to disagree
To protect your relationship from unresolved hurt, frustration, and resentments, agreeing to disagree is an actual communication skill: more a process of acceptance, validation, and growth, than a one-step solution to avoiding an argument.
In essence, allowing room for standing disagreement means that you and your partner acknowledge that a long-term relationship comes with inevitable differences. You may manage differences of opinion, differing beliefs firmly rooted in your individual backgrounds or dissimilar ideas that evolve throughout the course of your relationship.
Learning to productively take all of that in, accept it, and then willingly accommodate each other is a big deal. Thus, how you agree to disagree deserves time and consideration so that communication remains intact and respect remains a priority.
So what does it take to do this well?
Consider the following:
• More awareness less reaction
What is your automatic reaction to your spouse’s unwillingness to agree with you? Examine your emotions. Are you feeling rejected or abandoned? Why do you feel attacked or dismissed?
If you agree to disagree and subsequently resent your partner, you are doing you and your marriage a disservice.
Often disagreement triggers feelings of disrespect or even panic for couples. If you find your reaction to your disagreement is an overreaction, marked by extreme negativity, sharp commentary, or strong offense, something else is going on.
Despite your initial instinct to defend your position, it is important to remember that your partner is not your enemy.
Sometimes becoming more mindful is enough to help you feel and act less defensively. Some couples need more help to genuinely agree to disagree. Depending on your marriage, it may be wise to take some time, on your own or with the help of marriage counseling, to determine why you feel that your partner’s differing perspective somehow attempts to poke holes in your own.
• Deep breaths and deeper understanding
Concede that you are and your partner not the same person. Allow that you don’t need to be. Slow down your conclusions and judgments regarding your partner’s perspective. Listen closely.
This is not just an effort to understand your partner on a cognitive or objective level. Instead you try to slow down your own criticisms or urge to debate in order to mindfully appreciate your partner’s perspective. Why? Because he or she is your partner. The relationship comes before the discord.
Allowing for your partner’s individuality, experiences, and uniqueness (just as you did when you began your relationship) creates more freedom for you both to respectfully and vulnerably coexist.
Thus, compassionately understanding each other is not dependent on always sharing the same viewpoints, biases, or concerns.
Rather, understanding becomes a gift of support that validates you both. Regardless of your differences, you recognize the legitimacy of each other’s viewpoints and how you arrived at them. Then you can relax in the idea that neither of you expects the other to squelch firmly held beliefs to ensure deep connection.
• Recognize that harmony and lack of conflict are not the same things
The truth of the matter may simply be that your personal integrity will not allow you to agree, or even remain silent, when confronted with your partner’s opinion. That’s okay. You needn’t fear that conflict will damage the harmony between you.
Harmony in a relationship or household is not fully dependent on compliance. Consider instead that diplomacy and open-mindedness are avenues to amicable disagreement.
Diplomacy backs away from refusals and division to calmly reassure dedication to the relationship and peaceably living together. In addition, the open-minded possibility for compromise allows you to keep communicating in honest ways, revisiting the topic periodically to see what still works for both of you.
Sometimes the best option is to agree to disagree. Other times, you may realize a shift has occurred and certain points are more able to be aligned. In either case, harmony is assured and no pressure exists to make the other person capitulate. The occasional conflict can be seen as a growth process, and your connection is not put at risk.
What to do next
Truthfully, conflict with someone you care so much about can be tough to navigate. You want to be liked, admired, respected, and valued. When you can’t agree on a topic or decision, your relationship may feel less secure. You may also find that knowing how to agree to disagree in your marriage may prove to be a real challenge.
Of course, you and your spouse know that communication is key. It always is. However, that doesn’t mean you know how to do it well when you reach an impasse. If you find that agreeing to disagree is proving too difficult, it’s wise to seek guidance.
Work with a counselor who can show you how to come together without having to indiscriminately meld your minds to do it. Marriage counseling is a safe, productive place to lay things out and benefit from a counselor’s more objective perspective.
About the Author
Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with couples struggling with powerful issues such as infidelity, careers, intimacy and communication. He also specializes in treating addictions, anger, anxiety, stress, depression and work life balance.