5 Keys to Stay Happily Married with Stark Opposing Views Just because you don’t agree with your spouse 100 percent of the time doesn’t mean you can’t find common ground. Here are five major issues to consider that can help each party move forward. BY SHARON RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
Being able to work hear each other when you have opposing views will increase intimacy.
“ Neither spouse may change their mind on the issue, but for each partner to be heard and acknowledged creates connection and intimacy.”
Do you find that you and your spouse have radically opposing views regarding crucial issues, such as child raising, money, politics, or family values that are causing major friction in the relationship? Whatever the opposition, what do you do when your views or opinions are so diametrically different than your spouse’s that they’re affecting the health of your marriage? Is it possible to reach a middle ground and still stay happily married?
It depends on five issues:
1. Maturity. The number one determining factor of being able to tolerate differences is your level of maturity. The more mature a person is, the more able they are to "get out of themselves" and really listen to and respect their partner’s opinion, without viewing it as a personal attack against them. The ability to keep an open mind without compromising one’s beliefs, respecting the other’s point of view, and being able to agree to disagree, are the keys to having a successful relationship with differing beliefs. People who are immature are typically self-absorbed and believe that their opinions are right—and their partner’s are wrong—end of discussion.
2. Communication skills. Communication not only includes listening to your spouse and expressing your feelings as honestly and kindly as you can, but also includes the ability to be empathetic and compassionate toward your husband or wife. Stepping in your partner’s shoes, while putting your opinions aside as you listen, helps your partner feel validated, understood, and heard. Neither spouse may change their mind on the issue, but for each partner to be heard and acknowledged creates connection and intimacy. "My way or the highway" doesn’t solve differences; it only creates distance, defensiveness, and resentment.
3. Ability to negotiate. If the person's values and beliefs are so different and rigid from their partner’s, it will be more difficult to have a healthy relationship. In addition, if the couple is not able to communicate well, they will have a harder time negotiating their differences. By practicing communication skills as stated above, you can start the negotiation process with your spouse. For instance, if the issue is home-schooling vs. public school, and after you each have communicated your views, the possible outcome of your negotiations could be that the child will be home-schooled for one year with the agreement that the couple will discuss the pros and cons of home-schooling vs. public school after that first year. Keep in mind, however, that good negotiations aren’t all about the outcome; they include being heard and validated during the process.
4. Kindness. When you have differences of opinions, giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt that they’ve got a good idea, although perhaps different than yours, creates good will and trust. When you belittle or judge your partner for what they think, you’re undermining the very foundation of your marriage. Remember, it’s not so much the disagreements that can put a wedge in the relationship; it’s how you go about disagreeing. With maturity and good communication skills, arguments can be resolved with respect and kindness.
5. Unresolved issues. Are there any unresolved issues in the marriage that could be escalating your differences even further? For example, a woman feels like her husband doesn't take her seriously because she's had less education than he has. She frequently feels put down and minimized by him because he’s often self-righteous and condescending. Once they start disagreeing about home-schooling, for example, his know-it-all attitude escalates, and her insecurity about her education also escalates, causing a hostile disagreement. Now, every word is used as a weapon to hurt each other and prove their point. Before they know it, every argument they've had prior to this will be present in the discussion about home-schooling. Therefore, the more you resolve past issues and know your trigger points, the less likely disagreements will turn into hurtful shouting matches.
If you really love someone, but you don't see eye-to-eye, it doesn’t mean your differences are irreconcilable. Use your diametrically opposing views as an opportunity to turn a potentially divisive and destructive conversation into one of hearing, dialoguing, seeing another perspective, and learning about each other.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com and follow her on Google+.