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Learning the Art of Respectful Disagreement

November 21, 2012
“Staff Tips and Strategies” and a drawing of a family in green

Lori Gunner Kolle, LCSW-C, Clinical Director

Living together as a couple can be wonderful, but even good relationships have times of disagreement and stress.

Money, family and childcare responsibilities, and division of labor can all cause potential conflict.

One way to keep a marriage strong is to learn to disagree respectfully with your partner, says Lori Gunner Kolle, who stresses that good communication includes learning how to fight fairly.

Tips to Improve Communication:

  • Express your feelings openly. To make yourself fully understood be clear and direct about what’s on your mind. Use “I” statements such as “I feel angry when…or I am disappointed when…”…followed by your request “I would love it if you…, ” or “I would appreciate it if…”
  • Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings. Let your partner know you heard him or her and recognize their feelings. This is a step towards open discussion.
  • Keep a caring and respectful attitude. Take responsibility for what you say. Find something in what your partner is saying that you can agree with and if possible compromise on.
  • Stick to one issue at a time. Changing the subject or listing past grievances detracts from reaching a solution to the conflict at hand.
  • Take time-outs if you need them. If you are feeling overwhelmed or want to head off inflammatory words, take a break. It’s fine to say something like “I don’t want to say something I will regret. Let’s talk about this tonight instead.” It’s important to make sure you finish the discussion when you said you would.

Some behavior during a disagreement is likely to aggravate the situation – name calling, interrupting, criticizing, blaming and sarcasm will only make your partner feel defensive. Making regular eye contact without glaring, breathing calmly and staying open to negotiation and compromise will help you communicate better.

Part of developing and maintaining the art of respectful disagreement and healthy communication is to follow Kolle’s simple relationship recipe – have a conversation a day, a date a week and an event a month.

JSSA provides a variety of services to help couples – pre-marital and couples counseling including those couples with a special needs child; workshops on the emotional, financial and legal aspects of separation and divorce; and collaborative divorce coaching.