If you read my blog, you probably know that I consider some level of friction necessary in a relationship. If both partners are autonomous, healthy persons, sooner or later some sort of disagreement will arise, and this is normal – we’re different. The problem is not in the arising of the disagreement itself, but in how you manage it.
Of course, if you think the disagreement is completely unnecessary, you can just avoid it, by using this fight avoiding technique.
But if the conflict is relevant, and if it can lead to some positive breakthrough, then it should be addressed. What follows is a short 5 stages blueprint for how to tackle, in a healthy way, a disagreement.
Stage 1: Let’s Talk About It
This is the most important, and, probably, the most overlooked stage in managing a disagreement. By agreeing to discuss it, you acknowledge the difference in opinions or expectations, but you also open the door to a neutral space, in which the said opinions or expectations can be talked about. Too often, we take for granted that our partner understand our needs, or we unconsciously misunderstand their needs, without really understanding what’s going on. So, the simple opening to talking creates the premises for a better outcome.
Instead of the “my way or the highway” positioning, a “let’s stop for a while and see what’s really going on here” approach can dramatically change the situation.
Stage 2: Let’s Talk About It For [Insert Amount Of Time Here]
There is only one pitfall to the first approach and that is to get stuck indefinitely at the “talk” level. The disagreement can be so strong, or the partners can be so opinionated, that they both can go on with a discussion for ever. Obviously, getting stuck in an endless discussion is equally toxic, so some conversation boundaries must be set. It’s hard to come up with a specific time limit, because some people need to talk more than others, but, as a rule of thumb, if you discuss about the same disagreement for more than 1 hour, then some measures must be taken.
The mere fact that you set up some time limit for the discussion will reframe the problem and made both partners talk more consciously about it.
Stage 3: I Concede, But With These Caveats
As the discussion advances, one of the partners will eventually get to a point they’ll have to concede. It’s called compromise and that’s how relationships work. But even this step can be carefully crafted, so it makes both feel safe. Instead of just “giving up” – which, by the way, doesn’t solve the problem at hand, it only postpones it until the next fight – the “surrender” can be offered with some conditions. “Ok, I’ll concede, but here are my conditions”.
Usually, this step marks the beginning of the end of the disagreement.
Stage 4: I’m Convinced, Let’s Do It
By now, the disagreement got to a point where both partners can agree to end it. Either they’re both convinced, or one of them agrees wholeheartedly that the other’s perspective is better (yes, openly talking about issues can shed some new light on things). If that’s the outcome, the fight is over, and life can get back to normal. Probably the only thing that might be done on top of this, is to assess the “lesson”. You know, like setting up a “procedure” for tackling similar issues in the future.
If there’s no lesson, or no breakthrough, then we’re talking about a much deeper issue, for which the fight that just ended is just a surface symptom.
Stage 5: I’m Not Convinced, I’m Not Gonna Do This, Let’s Assess The Consequences
This is the stage in which one of the partners can’t commit to the other’s perspective. Most of the time, this stage is considered “the point of no return”, an actual breakup. “If we can’t agree about this, then we’re done”. Well, it doesn’t have to be like this (says someone who has being doing this a lot). Instead of “throwing the baby too along with the bath water”, some assessment of the consequences of this hard difference in opinions may prove healthier. Yes, both partners may be on irreconcilable positions about a certain topic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all the other parts of the relationship should be affected.
Sticking to an “all or nothing” approach can do more harm than it prevents. It’s much better to isolate the problem from the main body of the relationship – this creates a healthy zone in which the wound can be properly taken care of, and, eventually, healed.