Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Manuel and Daria have been a pretty good team. Manuel is living with a chronic condition. Daria has been ever at his side, working with him to understand his diagnosis and its treatment, giving him emotional support and encouragement, being an advocate for him when he needed one. In turn, Manuel is aware of how much Daria does for him, and tries to be a support for her, too.
So, imagine how surprised both of them were when they found themselves in complete disagreement.
Manuel recently spoke with his doctor about taking a different approach to his treatment. His doctor explained to him that this is a new, promising treatment. But he also made it clear that the treatment has not worked for everyone and that it may have some unpleasant and potentially life-threatening side effects, though they are highly unlikely. Manuel thinks the potential benefits of the new treatment—reduced symptoms and a simpler regimen—are worth any risks.
When he told Daria about his interest in this new treatment, she listened with an open mind. And then she did her own research. She soon determined that, in her opinion, this was not the direction Manuel should be moving in.
Stuck at a stalemate
They had a discussion, like they always do. But this time, the discussion got heated. Voices were raised, which is something they virtually never do with each other.
They both agreed they didn’t want this issue to affect their relationship. They sure didn’t want to be angry at each other.
At the same time, they were both hoping to find some kind of middle ground that would help them to feel like they had reached closure in their disagreement. Hopefully, a decision they could both feel good about.
After more discussion, Daria and Manuel realized that either Manuel would switch to the new regimen or he wouldn’t. There was not going to be a middle ground.
Finally, Daria said, “Manuel, this is your health and you are the ultimate decision maker. So I think we just need to agree to disagree.”
Have you and your partner ever reached a stalemate on an issue? It’s not so easy to give up the idea that it’s possible to have a resolution you can both feel good about, is it?
Here’s how Daria and Manuel figured things out:
Let go of the need to be right. That’s the first step. Hanging on to the belief that your opinion is more valuable than your partner’s leaves your partner in the position of either giving in or fighting for his or her own opinion. Giving in can result in resentment and placing blame. Fighting to be right just leads to more conflict. Not needing to be right can help you have a more open mind, and help your partner be more open to what you have to say.
Lay out your case. Do whatever information gathering you need to do. Clearly state your concerns. Describe any evidence that supports the way you think. Avoid making accusations or implying that your partner is not capable of making a sound decision on his or her own. What’s the best approach? Speak with love and respect for your partner. State facts. Review past experience and how it has impacted your opinion. Take ownership of your opinion. Say “I think” and not “you should.” Avoid talking out of potentially inflammatory emotions like fear—and stirring up more of them.
Listen to your partner’s case. Keep your mind open. Let your partner finish talking about his or her opinions and concerns before you jump in with your own. Here’s an idea: How about if you let your partner speak first? What a great way to set the tone for a caring, open discussion. Right?
Assure each other that you understand. As difficult as it may be when your partner has an opinion that is totally the opposite of your own, make an honest attempt to understand your partner’s position. Keep in mind that your partner may have a different perspective on the situation than you do. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. You can be a solid team but not always speak in the same voice.
Keep in mind that your partner may know something that you don’t. It’s only human to assume our own perspective is the right one. It’s also human to think that your well wishes for someone you love entitle you to tell them what they should be doing. Listening with an open mind may help you identify any blind spots you might have, or lack of knowledge or understanding.
Accept that closure may mean acceptance of no closure. That’s where you and your partner agree to disagree. And decide to be okay with that. We honor people we love by allowing them to think the way they think, and to have control over their own lives. A difference of opinion is just that. Don’t give it any meaning beyond that. It’s not about trying to frustrate you or show you disrespect. Don’t make it personal. As the saying goes, shake hands and agree to disagree.
Show your support. That might mean helping your partner to make the best of a decision you don’t agree with. Again, this is how we honor someone we love.
You and your partner. Being a team doesn’t mean always being in complete agreement. When you don’t have the same opinion, agree to disagree. The resolution may require accepting that you can’t always agree. Recommit to being a team. And then move forward together.
How do you and your partner handle issues you can’t agree on? Help others in our community benefit from your experience and advice by commenting below.