You’ve probably heard the phrase time and time again: “let’s just agree to disagree…”
And sometimes that’s simply what you have to do when matters of opinion are being argued in circles, when you’re at work or with casual acquaintances and you don’t want to rock the boat or cause unnecessary tension…
But in a marriage, it’s a terrible habit to fall into!
While this might be a useful tactic for avoiding political debates with your brother-in-law, taking such an approach to problems in your marriage will only set you up for more conflict down the road.
When you “agree to disagree” about an element of the relationship – be it behavior, finances, raising kids, or anything else – what you’re really doing is backing down from the issue and leaving it unresolved.
This can lead to what psychologists call “hostile detachment,” where a married couple settles into the tension between them, and opts for not speaking to one another instead of dealing with the issues head on.
These are the couples who eat dinner together without saying a word, who take passive-aggressive jabs at each other, but never actually get to the root of any of the hostility they feel toward each other.
This is poison for your relationship.
In fact, Washington University psychologist John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute, found that this very behavior was a leading factor in couples that eventually end up getting a divorce. He says:
“With couples who divorce later, this results from people agreeing to disagree… withdrawing from conflict. They can stay together longer, but then around midlife they start having this realization that their life is very empty.”
That emptiness he describes is basically a lack of connection to your spouse, and that happens because all of those unresolved conflicts – all those times you agreed to disagree – have built into a barrier between the two of you.
All of those times you both just walked away from an issue, a few things happen:
• it built up a little bit of resentment
• it pushed you just a little bit further apart
• eventually that gap between you is so wide because you’ve agreed to live in perpetual disagreement
But even if that’s the way you’ve been dealing with problems, it’s not too late to develop better habits.
The first step is breaking the cycle.
You have to recognize that this is an unhealthy approach to dealing with your problems, and decide that your new method will be to resolve things…
Even if it means having a tough conversation, if it means compromising, even if it means not always getting your way.
The next step – and this is the hardest part – is doing a little bit of backtracking.
The longer this has been going on, the harder it will be, but you can look back over the history of your marriage for times when you and your spouse left a problem alone to rot, and tackle it now.
This doesn’t mean dredging up past arguments or looking for skeletons in each other’s closets, it means finding those nagging issues that are still affecting you both today, and finally admitting that something needs to change for both of you.
Don’t run away from arguments or disagreements.
Don’t just sweep them under the rug and hope they’ll go away on their own – they won’t.
Even if it’s tough, talk to your spouse about what’s bothering you, and be receptive (not defensive) when they talk about what’s bothering them. With some patience and some diligence, you can get to the bottom of your disagreements and work together to find solutions.
This will make your communication stronger (with a little practice), bring you closer together, and make the day-to-day functions of your marriage work so much better!
Agreeing to disagree is one of those habits that seems like a good idea at the time. It seems like a quick solution, an easy way out…
But the easy way isn’t always the best way, and can lead to far worse issues down the road. Don’t agree to disagree – instead agree to work your problems out when they arise. Your marriage will be better off in the long run.