Alright, it’s time for another post from Alayna, and I have to say that I think this one is pretty great! She definitely took a step up from my post on disagreements last week. I think she’s got some great points here:
Once Tobias was telling me about a friend of his who told him that he couldn’t remember he and his new wife ever disagreeing. I wasn’t jealous at all. In fact, I cringed and told him I was a little worried about how their first fight (cuz they’ll inevitably have one) would go, and remarked that I was glad we had gotten our first couple thousand out of the way before we tie the knot (you’d think I was exaggerating, but I’m not…very much). As Tobias pointed out last week, the way we disagree matters. There are actually more important things than arriving at an agreement as speedily as possible. Here are some ways that have helped me keep perspective when I’m in the middle of an argument with my fiancé.
1: Keep the focus on solving the issue rather than on the issue itself. I like to have a mental picture of me and Tobias at a crossroad trying to figure out which way to go, rather than me screaming at him across a median trying to convince him to join me on my side of the highway. This encourages a team approach rather than me vs him. I’ve found that it can be helpful if things are rapidly escalating emotionally, to take a step back and remind Tobias that we’re going to figure this out. This gives me a chance to gain perspective and it might help him occasionally, too. Do everything possible to ensure that you and your significant other are prioritizing the relationship and each other above the current disagreement.
2: Keep small issues small. There will be enough big issues people can fight over, that we don’t need to escalate small ones into bigger issues. I’d like to say I am really good at this, but many times I’ll find myself in the middle of an argument with Tobias and I’ll realize that I’ve completely lost track of the severity (or lack thereof) of the issue we’ve been fighting about. What I have found to be helpful is pausing the argument to remind both of us that it’s not a big issue. Make sure to say this in a way that doesn’t minimize the other person’s opinion.
3: Compromise. Contrary to what some people think, compromising is not a sign of weakness. It is not a way of saying that someone has lost faith in their opinion, so they’re willing to meet halfway. I have a friend who told me she was too worried to even discuss compromising with her fiancé because she was worried he would see the middle ground as her new opinion and let her continually compromise until she had reached his side. That relationship didn’t make it to the altar. Make sure you’re with someone who values you over the disagreement and compromising shouldn’t be an issue. The goal of compromising isn’t necessarily to meet halfway. Divide opinions into big preferences and small preferences. And then when compromising, do as much as possible to have each person get as much of their big preferences as possible and let the others fall where they will.
4: Don’t be afraid to not always compromise. Not everything is equally important to both people (note big and small preferences from above). I remember once about a month into our relationship, Tobias and I had a disagreement about what kind of entertainment was acceptable. I felt very strongly that a certain type wasn’t, and Tobias disagreed. For me, this was a big deal and it was a smaller deal to him, so I requested that we not compromise on this issue. He agreed. A couple months later, he told me that he had since changed his mind on the issue and was now mostly agreeing with me, but for a couple months he was respecting that something was a bigger deal to me than it was to him, and was willing to make the necessary adjustment. We’ve since had another disagreement where it was a bigger deal to him than it was to me, so I gave it to him. The key here again is to do everything possible to ensure that people’s ‘big deals’ get met. I will add that it is easier to agree to completely give up a small deal to ensure that someone else gets their big deal if people have already made compromising a habit and are not prone to manipulate others. Something can’t magically be a ‘big deal’ just because you’re tired of fighting or you think the other person won last time.
5: Find a way to deal with issues where you can’t compromise because you have to either choose one option or another. We use a 1-10 scale that allows us to rate how important something is to us. We then go with whoever has the higher number. Yes, this does take honesty and respect and love for each other. If Tobias tells me something is a 6 to him, and I know it is only a 4 to me, I could say it’s a 7 so I win. But since I love him and want him to be happy, I don’t. He does the same to me. We’ve only had to use this twice that I can remember and we’ve both come out on top once. This does only work if you have a trusting and mutually loving relationship, but then if you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be in it anyway. This has also been extremely insightful for us because we’ve gotten to see how issues that one of us didn’t think was that important, was much more important to the other. Through these discussions, Tobias and I have both learned a couple things that are important to the other and have done what we can to ensure that these needs are being met. It’s helped with quite a few disagreements since. If you and your significant other have a different way to deal with these issues, that’s great, but it really does help to have something in place before a disagreement occurs. The first time we did this, my number was higher and I actually felt bad about that cuz I felt like I was making him lose. Tobias had to remind me that we had agreed previously to use that system and we weren’t going to back out then.
6: Keep the end game in mind. On one of my favorite shows (and I’m far too embarrassed to state which one it actually is), I’ve seen the same couple break up and reconnect over and over again. In this last episode, they had an issue that they might break up over and, while I like them as a couple, it didn’t faze me at all cuz I’m pretty sure that when the final episode of that show eventually airs, they’ll be together. This works the same for disagreements. And I’m not actually referring to remembering that the relationship is more important than the issue (although that is true and it does help). For me and Tobias, we take a more complementarian approach to our relationship (which you may recall from the original presuppositions post we did a few weeks back). This means that when it comes to bigger life decisions, Tobias does have the final say. Before you get offended, keep in mind that he has yet to abuse this and I have yet to feel like I can’t state my opinion or have a wish be granted because of this. This actually makes it easier for us, because Tobias is more likely to listen and consider what I have to say if he knows that I’m not going to take a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to it. He can focus more on what I’m saying and less on defending his position, because he knows that if he still thinks his way is best, we’ll go that way, and then he has all the time in the world to explain why he feels that is important. This recently came up when we were arguing over apartment complexes. I’m very thrifty and was attracted to the cheaper prices that downtown living offered. Tobias was a little more worried about safety and wanted to stick with apartment complexes that were a little more expensive that were in a safer area of town. I agreed, but didn’t fully give up on the downtown life idea. When we got to the more expensive complex (which is definitely how I was referring to it in my mind), he pointed out that the 2-bedroom apartments weren’t that much more expensive than the 1-bedroom apartment and it might be the better buy. I felt like he was quickly and carelessly adding a lot of “not much more expensive” to the point that it was adding up fast, which got me focused on the downtown apartments again. I got so wrapped up in getting my own way that I completely lost sight of supporting Tobias, and he in turn got so wrapped up in trying to convince me that safety was important, that it felt like he wasn’t actually listening to my financial concerns. While driving down the highway, it suddenly hit me how off-track I was and I requested that he pull off into a parking lot cuz I had something important to tell him. He did, and I told him that I would go with the apartment complex that he wanted, I just wanted him to consider a couple of my issues before he fell in love with a certain complex. That calmed both of us down to the point that he was able to admit that he might not have been prioritizing finances as high as he should. He agreed to stick with the one-bedroom apartment and to do his best to cut costs where possible. We accomplished more in the next 60 seconds of conversation than we had in the previous hour.
Disagreements will always happen and will always be hard. But they can also be good. Prioritize people over issues, don’t blow small issues into bigger issues, and find a way to compromise and deal with situations where you can’t. It won’t look the same for each couple, but it can help all of them. Then, instead of dreading your first disagreement, you can learn and actually thrive through disagreements.