How to Disagree... But Still Love Them

When I joined an overseas student exchange program many years ago, I learned an important truth. One particular sentence I came across during our cultural orientation stuck with me over the years:

“It’s not right, it’s not wrong – it’s just different.”

The purpose of our orientation was to prepare us for the inevitable culture shock we were going to experience once we set foot on foreign soil. More importantly, we were taught to accept the cultural differences without judgment.

That particular line resonated with me so strongly because I’ve been able to put it to use in many other situations well after my exchange program ended.

As I thought about the meaning behind the sentence, it occurred to me that the same truth applied to dealing with just about any person I had a disagreement with – significant others included.

Unpleasantly Surprised

Getting married is a lot like stepping into unknown territory. In a way, you’re immersing yourself in a new culture and a way of life that’s radically different from what you knew before.

Your spouse is another person with his or her own set of values, beliefs and principles, and they’re likely to clash with your own at some point in the relationship.

And when that happens, your differences in opinion won’t only make you feel like your spouse is from a different country, but another planet altogether.

Chances are, your marital version of culture shock might have triggered thoughts such as the following:

“How could he continually leave his dirty laundry lying around the house? He must be CRAZY to think I’ll always be there to pick up after him!”

“She keeps maxing out her credit cards every month – how can she be so calm about it? Does she think money grows on trees or something??”

So how can you come to agree to disagree about your “cultural differences” and accept that your perspectives are simply different?

Bridging The Gap

To gain a mutual understanding of your perspectives, you need to bring both sides of the story together. Your partner needs to know where you’re coming from, and vice-versa.

The best way to start is by sharing your feelings about a recent argument you had with your spouse. Let your partner know (without accusations or judgment) exactly what you felt when they rejected your point of view.

Furthermore, let them know why you experienced those feelings in the first place. Whether it was something they said or did, explain to it to them as if you were observing it from someone else’s point of view.

Consider the example below:

“It felt like my opinion was less than nothing because you didn’t even bother to listen to my side. You just kept repeating and reiterating why you believed you were right. Worse, I felt like I had to defend myself and my beliefs since you wouldn’t let up with the criticism.”

But you shouldn’t stop there – the other half of the solution is also letting your partner have their turn at sharing their own thoughts in the same way.

I’m going to be honest: It’s going to be hard to hear out your spouse. You might feel the urge to fire back at this point, but you don’t have to obey this instinct and hold your tongue instead.

(If you need help preventing a tense situation from escalating, it would be wise to go over our previous post:

Digging Deeper

After you’ve both shared your sides to the story, it’s time to address an important question:

What is it that made you feel so strongly during the argument in the first place?

You have to remember that we’re all unique individuals with our own quirks. Like characters in a story, each of us has a backstory that plays a part in the conflict.

However, there is no “good guy” or “bad guy” in the relationship - only two people who simply think differently for one reason or another.

Thus, your mission is to uncover these reasons because they influence whatever perspective you have about key issues in your marriage. This is the only way to create middle ground and foster a great sense of understanding between you and your partner.

A good place to start would be your childhood and adolescent experiences, as well as previous relationships. These shape a person’s outlook on life in a powerful way, and in turn influence their position in a given argument.

If you’re fighting about financial matters, perhaps one of you grew up in a household where there was enough money to go around, while the other did not.

For couples constantly arguing over sex, you need to look into how your previous relationships have affected your views on physical intimacy. For instance, one of you might have had an unpleasant sexual experience in the past.

Whatever your past may be, they need to be taken into account because both of you may be projecting your feelings from your previous experiences. Once the pieces of the bigger picture come together, you’ll find it much easier to accept your differences.

This is an important milestone in a relationship as it keeps you from attributing the conflict to a perceived personality flaw that your partner has.

What’s more, you’ll be able to forgive each other’s mistakes, and make a commitment to handle future conflicts in a more constructive way.

The ultimate overall benefit of this approach is this: while you’ll never agree on certain issues in your marriage, you’ll still be able to live with your differences and grow as a couple.

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4 comments on “How to Disagree... But Still Love Them”

  1. What if the arguement has been over a relationship that your spouse has or is having with a coworker that has gone beyond a normal friendship and full of dishonesty and you have asked for them to stop and they don't no matter what ultimatums have been given, even with telling the other person to back off and they don't, doesn't that just show disrespect and humiliation from the person that is suppose to love you, and what about when even though your spouse says he loves you but doesn't look at you when he says it? And ignores your request to make some time to talk?and hides their phone, and locks you out of having access to everything you did have access to after 14yrs, and has been on coincidental trips together...and still says nothing is going on other then a good friendship?

  2. Yeh I hear ya my wife has done the same thing, she past it off as just friends too. In have continued to not push for answers as it upset her, I'm still not sure if where heading in the right direction to get back together but I have never given up, I try to continue to show her love, they say do this and eventually it will come back but it is really hard when its a one way street. In long to be intimate again with the one I love. Good luck

  3. Lucy I am in the same situation. All our arguments are because of his relationship with an employee. I have access to his phone but he deletes text. I try to trust but it is hard.

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