Monday, May 14, 2012

How to Settle Disagreements Without Arguing

Before we were married, my husband and I discussed how we would handle disagreements. We both agreed that we didn’t want to fight and argue. It is inevitable that disagreements of some kind will occur whenever any two people spend a lot of time together. Married couples are no exception. However, contrary to popular opinion, disagreements do not have to turn into arguments.

When disagreements arise, arguing not only causes friction in a marriage, but is often counterproductive. It's safe to say that no one changes their mind during an argument, and very few change their minds after or as a result of an argument. Bear that in mind before you let the next disagreement degrade into an argument. When you argue, each of you becomes entrenched in your position, trying desperately to convince the other person that you are right. This makes it very difficult to even listen properly to the other person since you are too focused on making them listen to you. Being in an argument also makes you emotionally vested in your own position, making it easy for pride to keep you from admitting that the other person may have a point. Add to that the fact that people often say hurtful things when defending themselves during a verbal altercation and you have a recipe for serious conflict and estrangement. Having an argument pits the two of you against each other and brings in emotions to cloud the issue. Thus, finding a solution is made more difficult.

Here is our plan for settling disagreements without arguing (and it works because we have never had an argument).

1.      Resolve to stay on the same team
As I wrote in a previous post, a husband and wife should see themselves as teammates. When a disagreement arises, the problem (not the spouse) is the opponent. It should be tackled together. The focus should be on working together to find the best solution, not on convincing the other person that you are right.

Remembering to stay on the same team can also help you avoid taking offense unnecessarily at your spouse's choice of words. If you know that your spouse is on your side, it is easier to realize that they may not have meant what they said in the way you took it. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and don't be quick to assume they are trying to hurt you. When you read things into what they say (that they may not have intended), you may find that you react defensively rather than logically. Avoid this pitfall by always assuming the best of your life partner rather than the worst.

2.      Don’t argue about things that don’t have to be decided now
Too many people fight about decisions that don’t have to be made right away. If you’re talking about where your kids will go to college and they’re not even in preschool yet, you’re spending way too much energy on a problem that doesn’t need to be solved yet. There’s plenty of time to decide that later. Obviously, not every issue is that extreme, but you see my point. If the decision doesn’t have to be made right now and you find yourselves at odds, don’t worry about settling on a solid solution right this minute. By all means discuss it, if you can do so calmly and rationally. But a final decision is something both of you can think about and pray about, and then decide later.

Note that this is not the same thing as simply ignoring problems. You do have to face issues and make decisions together as a couple. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. Avoiding important issues may be as damaging to a relationship as having an argument. However, when a decision does not need to be made yet, fighting over it now is not going to settle things in the best way and only causes stress and conflict. Don’t force the issue now when some time in thought may be just what both of you need to get the proper perspective.

3.      When a decision must be made now, discuss it calmly and rationally
When you have a decision to make, discuss it in a calm and logical manner. Whenever a discussion becomes non-rational, it degenerates into an emotional outburst and an argument ensues. An argument is simply a case of a discussion being done irrationally.

To prevent a discussion from turning into an argument, first concentrate on really listening to what the other person is saying rather than worrying about trying to be heard. If both of you do that, you will both be heard properly. Listening well is probably the most important thing you can do to avoid arguments and solve problems properly. Remember, "listening" involves more than just hearing – it is an active process which involves understanding what the other person is trying to say.

Also, try to prevent emotion from clouding your judgment. Don’t become so vested in your position that you can’t listen to and fairly evaluate your spouse’s ideas as well. Consider that you may be wrong or that your spouse may have valuable insights also. Once you both understand each other’s ideas thoroughly, you are in a much better position for making a good decision.

Another thing to do is to find out what it is that you and your spouse really want. Sometimes what we really want isn’t what we say we want (or even what we think we want). For example, maybe a husband insists on a trip to the mountains rather than the beach in July because he doesn’t like crowds or because it’s cooler rather than because he just loves the mountains. Considering his concerns about the beach may help in finding a good solution that both of you like.

4.      Consider the major pros and cons of various options and make a decision together
Working together, weigh the various options to find the best solution. Consider as many aspects of the issue as you can. Consider hidden costs and risks in making your assessment. And, yes, your feelings and your spouse’s feelings on the subject are valid things to consider. If it’s very important to one of you, that is definitely something to think about. It’s also important to consider what each of you knows about the subject. If you’re making a decision and one of you is more knowledgeable on the topic, take that into consideration. On the other hand, just because one of you is more knowledgeable on a topic doesn’t mean you can disregard or belittle the input of your spouse. When you can’t decide on the best course of action, consider the possibility of a third option or a compromise that will satisfy both of you.

In all of this, be sure to evaluate your own ideas as rigorously as your spouse’s. You don’t get to ignore the flaws in your own plan. When your spouse has a good idea, be humble enough to recognize that, even if it means admitting that your idea wasn’t as good. Remember, the goal is to reach the best solution together. When you do that, you both win.

In most cases, an agreement can be reached through these 4 steps. When that doesn’t happen, you have to go to step 5.

5.      When a decision must be made and no agreement is reached, someone must make the final decision
Since there are only two of you, if you cannot agree on a solution and a decision must be made now, one person must make the decision. You should decide ahead of time who will make the final decisions in such circumstances. I believe that the husband is the leader of the home and should make the decision in such cases. If my husband and I ever come to an impasse, we have already decided that he will make the final decision. This circumstance should be very rare, however, if disagreements are handled properly. In our marriage, we have never yet had to use this step in making a decision.

One thing that my husband always points out when we talk about this is that the fact that the husband makes the decision (in these extreme cases) doesn’t mean that he should simply go with his idea. A good leader will not flaunt his position or run roughshod over those he leads. A good husband takes his wife’s ideas and concerns into consideration when making a decision. As my husband says, a man should consider that:
1.      His wife may be more knowledgeable in this area
2.      Her concerns may be valid, even if he doesn’t share them
3.      One of his main duties in life is to make his wife happy
Thus, he may find that choosing his plan may not be the best course of action. He should take all of this into consideration and make the decision that is best for the couple (or the family), not simply the decision that suits him best. (I am so glad my husband thinks this way. I have an amazing man!)

In such cases where the husband makes the final decision, the wife should uphold the husband’s decision as if it were her own. Even when the man makes the final decision, the decision was really made by the couple (they both decided to do it this way, remember). Complaining behind his back or trying to undermine his decision should both be shunned. And if the decision he makes doesn’t work out, don’t ever say “I told you so.” All of these responses are detrimental to building a good marriage.

So, yes, it really is possible to handle disagreements without arguing. This plan has worked for us, and I believe it will work for anyone. It does, however, take some purposeful planning (well in advance) and proper thinking so that a husband and wife can handle disagreements by working them out rationally as a team. The need for rational and logical discussion (on the part of both husband and wife) in any case of disagreement cannot be overemphasized. Also, remembering the fact that husband and wife are on the same team is vitally important. Keep these tips in mind, put them into practice, and you should find that you can settle your disagreements without arguing. May God bless your marriage!


Linked up with WLWW, Yes They're All Ours, NOBHWFMW, To Love Honor and VacuumTPT, Warrior Wives, and The Alabster Jar.

9 comments:

  1. These are great tips. As you say, it requires having a plan ahead of time and remembering to follow these tips in the heat of the moment. :) Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I wish I could take credit for the wisdom you share on this topic. I think I had a little bit to do about how you turned out but I have to scratch my head and wonder where most of your good sense came from other than that which your retained from your mother. Wish someone had shared these thoughts with me a long time. I guess it is never to late to learn wisdom even from your kids. I love you, Lindsay

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  3. These are great tips! and vital to any healthy marriage. Mutual love and respect can go a long way in dissolving many arguments that come up.

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  4. These are great tips. In the firs 8 or 10 years of our marriage, we never argued either. We seldom had strong disagreements at all. Through various circumstances and trials, we really came to see that the #1 thing we need to keep from arguing in our marriage is walking in the Spirit. And sometimes we had to table a discussion that was not being productive and say, "let's come back to this next week and pray about it in the meantime." We'd mark on our calendars to revisit the discussion on the date specified and, sure enough, we were both emotionally and spiritually prepared to discuss in the Spirit.

    Coming from Thought Provoking Thursday.

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  5. Good points...I would add "Don't argue about theoretical questions either", like "If I was horribly disfigured in a car accident, would you still stay married to me?" It just never goes anywhere good! :)

    Elizabeth@Warrior Wives
    www.thewarriorwives.com

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  6. Excellent tips!!! I really like the idea of remembering you are on the same team! Our enemy is really satan -- who just wants to lie, kill and destroy!! Great reminder!

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  7. This has been a long-running topic of much aggravation and discord in our house. Many times I have tried to strongarm decisions over things which were either only nominally important or of which I may have had no real interest in the first place. I suppose what dogs me most is when my opinion is solicited and then my spouse seems to choose whatever is the diametric opposite. Is she doing it to spite me? Probably not, but I would just as soon she stop asking if she isn't going to really entertain it.

    Other times I have tried to explain a scenario (or series of scenarios) which would follow your flowchart above, but never anywhere near as eloquently or convincingly. I have forwarded this to my wife in the hopes we can reconcile so many years of argumentative behaviours and start anew, perhaps with the first and most important adage above - we are on the same team.

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    1. So, ConfederateSon, how is that working out? How is your marriage now? I only ask because I'm in the same boat. Hope yours has gotten better for you both!!! God bless!!!

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