Solving Disagreements Without Arguing

Written by Andrea Shair

I bet everyone wishes they knew the answer to this one. Before diving into the topic of conflict, one thing to understand about conflict is that it’s absolutely normal and to be expected in the marital relationship. Conflict doesn’t happen because you’re married to the wrong person; conflict happens because you’re human.

One of the pitfalls to a conflicting conversation is that we tend to believe that our ideas, logic and reasoning make the most sense. We tend to be a little short sighted and think that only our perspectives must be valid. Sometimes in these situations we often fail to realize that our spouse actually has the exact same opinion regarding his or her own ideas.

In the case where our ideas and opinions differ, Dr. Gary Chapman explains that “Their logic will not agree with your logic and their emotions will not mirror your own. Our ideas and perceptions of life are influenced by our history, our values, and our personality.” In marriage you can expect there to be differences of values, opinions and ideas because each spouse has a different family of origin.

Differences

When we encounter these differences (and realize our opinion is not the only “right” opinion) it can lead from frustration to irritation to marital blowouts. In these moments there are two ways your marriage can proceed. One, you can let conflict ruin your day, week, month, year and marriage. Or two, through the conflict you can discover how to better love, nurture and encourage one another. From my own personal experience, I know which option I’d rather pick—number two.

In the first year of our marriage, my husband and I had our share of standard arguments. At times, I was surprised that my husband didn’t understand me at all. From his perspective, I drove him bonkers by how illogical my thinking seemed to be. So we’d hammer back and forth both trying to get our point across. One time in the middle of one of these blowouts, he listed all the things I did that made us argue. I was shocked! After hearing his list I burst out laughing because everything on his list was exactly the same as what I would’ve said about him. This was a major breakthrough for us that day—we learned to listen.

Solving conflict in wisdom all boils down to listening and understanding. Let me ask you a couple of questions: “Are you listening to understand the heart of what the other is saying?” “Or are you merely listening to refute what they say so that you can prove your point right?” Understandably, it’s hard to be a good listener in conflict but that really is the key to not having an argument. It takes laying aside your prideful thoughts and the notion that you’ve got the best way figured all out. It also takes recognizing that there are multiple (and equally valid) ways to look at something. There are more options than your idea!

I have in mind an excellent question to suggest next time there is a “conflict” to address. Instead of saying, “Honey we need to talk” which immediately raises our defensive guards, try “Honey, I want to listen.” Then instead of sharing first what you wanted to address, ask the other person for their viewpoint on [insert potential conflict item] and just listen. Ask clarifying questions. Really try to understand why that view is significant to them. Maybe that’s enough to clarify the conflict you thought you had. But if not, then you share next as the other listens. Once both sides have a good understanding of the whole issue, there are three places you could possibly meet:

1. “Meet on their side” is to agree and comply with the other person fully. You do this out of love and respect in laying aside what you want. You do not hold this as an item to be resentful over later.

2. “Meet in the middle” is like a compromise. But it’s not so much that you have to “give in” to a mediocre solution, rather it’s discovering the best solution for both individuals.

3. “Meet later” is agreeing to disagree without a loss of love or acceptance for each other and maybe deciding on a later date to re-visit the issue. It could be that in a week or in a month the issue just resolves on its own.

In looking back at our first year of marriage, I am thankful that we had some arguments that helped us learn more about each other. We weren’t at each other’s throats all the time but we definitely had to work through our differences. When I look ahead to the upcoming months of marriage, I am excited to go deeper in our understanding of each other.

Take the next step:

Amelia’s story of differences.
Article: The real difference between hearing and listening. 
Want to speak to someone about your relationship?

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3 Responses to “Solving Disagreements Without Arguing”

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    Wendy, I’m glad to hear that you found useful information in this article. You mentioned that your daughter and her husband were facing some tension, are you at all familiar with the Weekend to Remember marriage enrichment conferences? They are run by Family Life and happen across Canada and the US throughout the year. The conferences are designed to give couples tools to help with communication, problem solving, dealing with past hurts, and a host of other things. Many couples find that they can really help. You can find a list of upcoming conferences here. The next couple of conferences are in Mount Tremblant, Quebec (conference is in English) and Blue Mountain, Ontario. I wonder if that’s a resource that could help? The Weekend to Remember is billed as marriage enrichment not marriage counselling. There’s usually a mix of couples who are facing a specific issue in their marriage and couples who just want their marriage to be even stronger. There’s additional information here.

  • Great article. I started to read it because our daughter and her husband are struggling in their marriage, but I found a few gems for my husband and I as well!

  • B. Miller Brenda M says:

    I really like the suggestion to say, “Honey, I want to listen,” rather than, “Honey, we need to talk.” In my own marriage, I know that the latter immediately raises alarm bells in my husband’s heart and mind, and he becomes defensive, expecting conflict and a negative encounter. This is not without reason. I have not always been the most understanding of his opinions and choices, to say the least, and often I have been outright critical and condemning of his viewpoints, rather than attempting to understand his perspective. In the past year or so of our marriage, I have been much more accepting and less critical, but my early years of criticism and condescension have led to a fear of conflict and a desire to avoid some areas of discussion. The suggestions in this article are greatly appreciated, and I believe they will go a long way to helping me bridge the communication gap I have helped to create in our marriage. Thank you so much, Andrea!

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