First Things First: How to agree to disagree with your spouse

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If you've been married for a minute, you know disagreements are going to come up between the two of you. But have you ever had one of those disagreements where not only were you on opposite sides of the issue, neither one of you was willing to budge?

Guess what? You're in good company. Plenty of marriages have experienced this; they may just not be talking about it because what does it really say about your relationship if you can't figure out how to come to some type of compromise? Asking for a friend, right?

It's actually possible to agree to disagree without experiencing distress in your marriage. Meaning, both people have accepted the other's point of view without agreeing on it and they are moving on.

For some couples this is a very far-fetched idea.

The key to couples learning how to agree to disagree is learning how to be good listeners and knowing how to value and express appreciation for their perspective, even if you have a completely different point of view.

Typically, what happens in marriage when spouses disagree is one person shares their perspective. Instead of really listening to what the person is saying, the other spouse is focusing on words or phrases they want to respond to. So, they don't really hear all that their spouse said. And, while responding, the same thing happens with the other spouse, which creates this dangerous downward spiral leaving both people feeling unheard and not valued.

What if you both agreed to hear each other out?

Scott Stanley, Howard Markman and Susan Bloomberg have been researching couples for more than three decades. One of the things they learned is, it's hard for couples to slow down long enough to hear each other before jumping in with a response. They came up with an effective way to help couples hear each other called "The Floor."

Here's how it works.

One spouse has "the floor," which could be an index card, a piece of paper, anything that is a visible reminder of who has the floor to speak at the moment. That person chooses one topic - only one topic - to talk about from their perspective.

The other spouse is the listener. Think of this as being an investigator. The goal is when your spouse is finished sharing with you that they feel heard. You've asked questions in a way that makes them know you are listening and even if you don't agree with them, you value what they have to say.


Here are some other strategies to help you when it's clear you need to agree to disagree:

' Make sure your spouse feels heard.

' Guard against allowing the disagreement to create resentment or bitterness between the two of you.

' Accept that it's possible neither of you may be wrong; you just see the situation from different perspectives. It's like being at the scene of an accident and two people telling what happened from two completely different angles. Neither is wrong, just different.

' Make extra effort to love through the disagreement. In other words, don't punish each other for not seeing things eye-to-eye all the time.

Don't forget, differences are like ingredients in a recipe. If you only have one ingredient, it will be a very bland dish. The different ingredients allow your tastebuds to experience the dish in an entirely different way. The same is true in your marriage.

If you're experiencing great difficulty getting past something that's causing stress or distress in your marriage, a third party may be able to help you.

It's not always easy to disagree without being disagreeable. Keep in mind, the one you love is far more valuable than proving your point or being right. Highly happy couples will tell you there are plenty of moments where they have agreed to disagree about certain things, but they never lost sight of the fact they were on the same team and their marriage was more important than whatever threatens to come between them.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Email her at