5 Healthy Ways to Disagree but Protect the Relationship

As a counselor, I work with couples struggling in their relationship. Oftentimes, the reason they need a mediator is because disagreements have turned to defending their opinion instead of protecting the relationship. Living together and doing life as a unit is bound to create complications and differences of opinion. Solutions are abundant when couples work together for the sake of the unit. Here are five healthy ways to protect the relationship as you work through disagreements.

1. Remember that your spouse is not the enemy.

When you feel passionate about an issue it’s easy to see the other person as the obstacle to getting what you want. If your focus is on winning the disagreement, the connection in the relationship is no longer the priority. Disagreement can then turn into a competition of wills.  Fear of losing can lead to words that hurt. One day a couple came into my office. They were both convinced the other was the problem. Neither would budge an inch in considering that they were BOTH wrong in some ways. I was unable to help them because they would not let go of their defensiveness for the sake of the relationship.

2. Create a set of decision guidelines.

Identify guidelines you both agree with as a couple. They will act as a framework for making decisions. When a conflict arises, you can consult these guidelines to determine which way to go. Some examples of guidelines might be: 1) We won’t spend more than $___without consulting the other person. 2) Major life choices have to be in the best interest of the children. 3) You have final say on yard choices and I have final say on household choices. 4) We won’t spend more than 10 hours a week on personal hobbies done without the rest of the family.

3. Don’t accuse or blame the other person.

We are all wired to self-defend when feeling attacked. So, anytime one person accuses the other person they will fight back, make excuses, shut down, or walk away. The person will be seen as the problem instead of the issue being the problem. A better way is to share how their actions are affecting you. For example, if the other person is not cleaning up after themselves, you could say, “When the house is cluttered it feels chaotic to me. I need our home to be a place where I can escape to and relax. Would you mind putting things away instead of leaving them out?

4. Discuss difficult conflicts in a public place.

It’s amazing how respectful we can remain when we are out in public. It prevents us from getting heated and accusing. Being in a restaurant or sitting on a bench at the park will force you both to choose your words more carefully. Being respectful in presenting issues is less likely to make the other person defensive and helps them hear what you are trying to communicate.

5. Decide which hills to die on.

This is a military term describing which piece of ground is worth the risk to human life. In marriage, there are some issues that just aren’t worth the conflict. Sometimes you have to choose to let the other person have it their way. When feeling like you are at an impasse, decide whether or not this is really an issue worth fighting for. Does it really matter how the dishes are stacked in the dishwasher, how the toothpaste is squeezed, or how often the socks go missing in the laundry?

Tell us! What are some helpful ways you have discovered to protect the relationship during a disagreement?