Should Spouses Ever Agree to Disagree? Why It's Okay and How to Do It Well

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Let’s agree to disagree. This is a line we feel good saying. It “proves” how mature and open-minded we are. It also prevents conflicts. Or so we tell ourselves.

In reality, we usually have a very hard time with disagreement of any sort. This discomfort may rear its ugly head in many ways—from passive-aggression to deep-seated resentment and worse.

So, before we can actually agree to disagree, we must first do the work. We must learn to appreciate why we should accept the value of this social interaction.  

Noted relationship researcher John Gottman refers to these types of disagreements as "perpetual problems."  All couples have them.  You will probably never come to agreement, and the problem may never go away.  The lesson is learning to dialogue about them so they don't create more resentment every time they come around.  

Why it’s OK to Agree to Disagree

1. “Being right” is usually not the healthiest goal

Of course, some circumstances require a clear consensus. However, beyond the heat of the moment, it’s rarely important to “be right” all the time. Agreeing to disagree leaves room for that all-important grey area.

Being cooperative, understanding, and willing to compromise is more important than "being right."  

2. You deepen respect for each other

When you shift from competing to accepting, it’s an act of respect. You behave like teammates rather than rivals. After all, you’re not rivals. Remember?  

When you feel that your position is being heard and taken into consideration rather than dismissed out of hand, you feel respected.  Mutual respect is one of the bedrocks of any healthy marriage or committed relationship.

3. A few things can be true at the same time

In more cases than we like, there are multiple truths. Agreeing to disagree is often just accepting the reality of nuance. When you don’t mesh on major, black-and-white issues, you know it immediately. In most cases, however, there is plenty of grey between the black and the white.    

4. It’s an opportunity to learn

Learning to truly hear an opposing viewpoint sets you up to learn. You can learn in a general sense. In addition, you learn more about your partner—their preferences, values, and mindset.  

When we commit to a partner, we might think we know everything about them. Not true.  You have new life experiences together, and issues arise that you didn't think about prior to marriage and commitment.  Also, life experience itself can change our viewpoints and opinions.   

How to Agree to Disagree Well    

1. Never stop honing your communication skills

Whether you agree, disagree, or agree to disagree, communication is the form of delivery. Effectively dealing with conflict is impossible without healthy communication. This is priority one and will help guide you through some very rough patches. Treat communication as an ongoing process—individually and as a couple.

2. “Agree” in advance on methods to take breaks or move on

To avoid lengthy, ugly conflicts, you and your partner can set general ground rules for debate and discussion. It’s okay to take breaks. It’s necessary to check our tone and volume. And it’s absolutely fine to agree to disagree. Talk calmly before tackling issues about which you disagree vehemently. Set yourself up for success with advance preparation.

Dr. Gottman is a proponent of taking breaks, especially when one or both spouses become "flooded," which is a physiological state of arousal, e.g., elevated heart rate, that signals a fight or flight response.  Unless that spouse requests a break, the argument will escalate to a point of cruel words and actions the are hard to recover from.

3. Don’t air differences out on social media

After every argument these days, it seems everyone has to pull out their phone and go into a passive-aggressive mode. Here’s a novel idea: Use social media to praise your spouse. In those moments when you and your partner are at odds, keep it in-house. There is absolutely no positive reason to air out your relationship strife in public—especially when you’ve agreed to disagree. It’s hard enough to disagree without adding an element of humiliation or distrust. Don’t sabotage the truce.

4. Appreciate the big picture perspective

Will this disagreement matter in five years? How about in five hours? Agreeing to disagree is usually a short-term decision. Only our ego tells us otherwise. As mentioned above, it really helps to wean yourself off the need to be right.

Agree to Go to Counseling

We can all agree that disagreement often sucks. Can we also agree that it’s appropriate to ask for help?

Disagreements are inevitable. Accepting this and adapting to it is no easy task. Working together in couples counseling can remove many of the obstacles. Even just agreeing to try therapy is a powerful step. It’s proof that you can step outside your comfort zone and acknowledge that you’re willing to improve your relationship.

All couples have conflict.  There is nothing wrong with conflict.  It can, in fact, strength your marriage, but only if you possess effective conflict management skills.