Relationship Minute: Disagreements

Sometimes it can be challenging to “agree to disagree,” especially if the disagreement is with your partner or feels fundamental.

Maybe you have held onto the belief that you and your partner need to agree on everything to have a good relationship. Then a disagreement arises and threatens to completely deflate you, leaving you to wonder if you have any shared values at all.

But this is your partner, not your clone, and you’re bound to see the world differently from time to time. What’s important is separating your self from your views.

Even if you don’t agree with your partner’s views, can you still see, value, understand, and accept them as a human being? What do you know about your partner that might inform these views?

Let’s use this disagreement as an example: You think Fozzie Bear is the best Muppet; your partner strongly favors Kermit.

What do you know about your partner that could help you understand why they hold this belief? Maybe they have always felt drawn to frogs, or have a special childhood memory attached to “The Rainbow Connection.”

Just because you understand does not mean you have to agree.

You could say, “I can see why you think Kermit is the best Muppet. He has many admirable leadership qualities and he did some good reporting for Sesame Street, so I really understand why he appeals to you. And I still think Fozzie is the best—Wocka Wocka for life. Even though we don’t agree on this, we can agree that we love each other.”

Change the goal from agreement to understanding.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Weekly check-in

Having a meeting once a week for your relationship can make a huge positive impact. Scheduling a conflict conversation may seem absurd at first, but it can prevent minor spats from popping up throughout the week if you have time set aside to be more thoughtful and intentional as you approach what is causing conflict.

We call this weekly constructive conflict hour “The State of the Union Meeting” but if that feels too formal, you can think of it as a weekly check-in.

Agree that the goal of these conversations is to get on the same page and increase the feeling of being each other’s teammate. If it helps, set an agenda.

This meeting has three vital sections: 

  1. Warm-up. Start the conversation with appreciation for each other and celebrations of what’s going well. This sets the tone for the rest of the conversation, which will be about conflict so it’s important to start from a positive place. 
  2. Understanding. Before you come up with solutions, you have to understand each point of view and agree on what problem you’re solving together. Take turns as Speaker and Listener. Resist the urge to persuade your partner of your viewpoint, as it is generally counterproductive. 
  3. Compromise. Now that you understand your partner’s perspective, you can solve the problem together. If you bring a perpetual problem to the meeting, try to find a temporary compromise and agree to revisit it later. 

Important note: Take breaks if you find that you and/or your partner are becoming flooded. A positive (win-win) outcome is much more likely if partners aren’t overwhelmed in the process.

Be gentle with each other and ease into it, especially if you don’t already practice regular check-ins. Start with an approachable issue to build the habit—don’t tackle your biggest, most raw conflict up top.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Is that right?

Listening to your partner, whether it’s during a Stress-Reducing Conversation or any time, is a great opportunity to practice attunement, empathy, and understanding.

The key is to keep yourself from making assumptions. Maintain curiosity.

Let’s say, for example, that your partner says, “I saw the most annoying thing on Facebook today.”

You could make an assumption and interrupt them with, “Oh, did your aunt post another Minions meme? You should unfollow her.”

Or you could get curious: 
You: “What was it?” 
Your partner: “It was a compilation of gender reveal videos.”You: “Oh! What was annoying about that to you?” 

Your partner:“They were all for the same baby.”
 You: “Wow! I could see how that would be annoying. So you saw this video and you felt agitated because multiple gender reveals feels indulgent? Is that right?”

Your partner: “Not quite. I just think you don’t get to call it a ‘reveal’ after the first one. And they were acting surprised every time.” 

You: “Ah, so it was performative and that was annoying?”

Your partner: “Yes, and they were all really elaborate.” 

You: “Do you think it was a waste of money?” 

Your partner: “Yeah! So maybe that’s why it annoyed me, too.” 

Get curious. Dig deeper. Confirm your perceptions with your partner.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Gridlock

Gridlocked conflict does not simply occur spontaneously. There are five phases a conflict conversation generally passes through on the way. According to John Gottman, those stages are:

1. Your dreams stand in opposition

2. Entrenchment of your opposing positions

3. Increased fears of accepting influence from your partner

4. Vilification (Four Horsemen)

5. Emotional disengagement from each other

All couples will face some forms of perpetual conflict. But those recurring issues do not need to become gridlocked. What you need to create movement or even a little wiggle room, is the willingness to explore the other person’s side of the conflict and what dreams are beneath their position.

For example, let’s say the conflict is about letting the dog sleep in the bed. One partner wants the dog in the bed and the other does not.

“I want the dog to sleep in the bed.” 

  • What it might be about: comfort, security, nurturing, protection, a feeling of family, care. 
  • What it’s not actually about: where the dog sleeps. 

“I don’t want the dog to sleep in the bed.” 

  • What it might be about: cleanliness, order, boundaries, respect, comfort, intimacy. 
  • What it’s not actually about: dog hair in the sheets. 

So what’s underneath each position in a gridlocked conflict? Is there room for understanding? Room for movement?

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Nice or neutral?

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Nice or neutral, never nasty,” as advice for how to treat other people. But the reality is that even “neutral” can be invalidating and erode trust.

When responding to a bid, for example, you can turn towards, turn away, or turn against. We advise couples to turn towards as often as possible, rather than away or against. Neutrality, in response to a loved one expressing pain, is a form of turning away and can be even more devastating to the relationship than turning against.

Turning against is at the very least being clear and offering an opportunity for continued engagement and repair. Turning away is silence.

Neutrality in the face of conflict sends the message that your comfort or being right/”polite” is more important than an acknowledgment of the feelings being expressed. And that is a betrayal.

Why not say, “I am on your side”? What do you stand to lose if you stand with your partner? Brené Brown’s Engaged Feedback checklist suggests, “I know I’m ready to give feedback when…I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.” Can you relinquish a “neutral” stance in order to really engage?

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Inner worlds

Attunement in adult relationships is the desire and ability to understand and respect your partner’s inner world.

Attunement builds (and can rebuild) trust. Consider ATTUNE as an acronym:

Awareness
Turning toward
Tolerance
Understanding
Non-defensive listening
Empathy

How can you practice attunement to build a greater understanding and respect for your partner’s inner world? Every individual is a complex and unique galaxy unto themselves. You could know someone a lifetime and only be attuned to one small piece of their inner world.

What do you assume you know about your partner that you might be wrong about? What deserves more exploration? What does your partner assume about you that might need clarification?

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Difficult conversations

If you are needing to have a difficult conversation with a loved one or process conflict in your relationship, preparation is the best way to make sure it goes as well as possible.

Here are questions to ask yourself before you get into difficult conversations: 

  • Am I ready to have this conversation? According to Dr. Julie Gottman, “processing” means talking about the specific conflict or incident without getting mired in the emotionality of it again. 
  • Am I calm enough to have this conversation? Are you able to differentiate between your own emotions and the events that occurred? 
  • Am I willing to seek to understand the experiences of this event outside of my own? 
  • Am I willing to speak from my experience without trying to persuade? 
  • Am I willing to ATTUNE to the feelings of others and what the event meant to them? 
  • Can I be fully present for this conversation (am I in a space with limited distractions)? 

94% of the time, the way a discussion starts determines the way it will end. Taking a pause to prepare yourselves before the conversation begins will allow you to go into it with mindful intention. Come ready.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.