What to Do When I Disagree
Repair happens when we build bridges of validation that connect us, deepening our sense of belonging and security.
“Jason was so upset!” Cecily’s face looked ashen on my computer screen. My client had requested a private meeting and asked for support for an event in their relationship that had filled her with fear and confusion.
“On the way home he kept repeating:” You are such idiots! “He went on and on about my sister and her partner, discrediting their views on social distancing and reopening schools. He attacked their media influencers, saying they were” brainwashed by propaganda! “
“I sat there stupidly and have been silent since. But now I really need your help! What can I do? Jason doesn’t know that I actually agree with you! And I can’t pretend I agree with him.”
Working with others over the past few weeks, I knew Cecily was not alone.
When cultural divide affects your relationship
Some of my clients had shared their concern that the division in our current culture posed a threat to their partnerships.
“I was just trying to fly under the radar hoping our differences weren’t pronounced, but with things boiling over there I’m really scared. Can Jason and I ever get on the same page? Are we on that Road to disaster? “
She continued, “Having seen other things at eye level in the past, he sure assumes we can agree on issues surrounding the pandemic. But I actually like some of the same news sources as my sister. I have a few Had great conversations with her and other friends in this camp and I think her views are wise. “
“So now I think Jason and his camp are the misguided. And I’m surprised he got his point so clearly. I can’t imagine that I could ever change his mind. “
As I listened to Cecily, and recently I heard others like her, I realized that she was pursuing the wrong goal.
Do you have to be on the same page?
When differences of opinion arise, we often have a strong instinct to resolve things by reaching an agreement. We may need to be on the same page for the relationship to be okay.
Because of this, some people never feel comfortable taking sides for fear of being misaligned with their partner. Others feel that they cannot be in a relationship with someone who thinks differently. However, these aren’t good strategies for creating a healthy relationship that requires both people’s thoughts, feelings, and needs to be expressed and held in value.
“Let’s redefine your goal,” I offered to Cecily. “What if the goal is not to agree but to see and be seen?”
We know from Gottman research that it is not an agreement that makes couples happy. In fact, the happiest couples disagree on around 69% of the questions, and possibly even on core values like politics and religion.
What happens in the brain when we are seen?
What really helps us to stay relationally connected is to experience how we are seen and heard and accepted at the same time. This stimulates coherence in the limbic system, which is the emotional and clinging parts of our brain. In other words, when we are aware that our inner reality is being mirrored, known and welcomed, it deepens our sense of belonging and our security.
“What really scares you now is that Jason doesn’t” see “you,” I explained. “And since you know he does not welcome your views, it will be registered as a threat to your limbic system, so you can feel the alarms going off.”
The repair of your relationship will take place when the two of you are seen, heard, and still accepted in relation to your different positions on things.
I helped her initiate this relationship change by preparing to start a conversation. I always recommend starting with the simple “sandwich” approach to connect difficult topics. Put your challenging message between two positive statements.
In Cecily’s case, she wanted to open this important dialogue with Jason by confirming it and letting him know that she could see where he was coming from.
I helped her form an “I See You” statement that asked, “What about his views that make sense to you? You do not have to agree or represent these views. But you know Jason better than anyone. You can imagine why these views appeal to his core values and
why should he feel so strong that he is right and others are wrong? “
Cecily was able to form an “I See You” statement, respectfully acknowledging what she knew about Jason. This would create a connecting bridge. It would give Jason the reflection of his attachment system that he needed to feel accepted.
“Now,” I trained her, “you can reveal your truth. You want to give some reasons for your views, but you don’t have to explain why you think and feel the way you are doing.
Remember, you are not trying to win an argument or get him to agree with you.
You want to bring light to a neglected place right now. Your goal is to keep him updated on yourself and your thoughts on current events.
The power of “and” & “we”
The magic word for the transition from your statement “I see you” to your clarification of the truth is “AND”. “And” is a common word. In contrast to “but”, the other person’s point of view is not disregarded. “And” is powerful linguistic cement. It’s able to hold two opposing views together in the same sentence, which is exactly what we need. Hearing Cecily’s truth, coupled with agreed positive outcomes in a statement, would show this couple that this relationship can also hold two opposing views together.
Cecily structured her simple clarification of the truth: “I understand why you think” abc “and I actually think” xyz “.”
She completed her sandwich message with the positive confirmation: “Even if we disagree, there are points that are valid on both sides and I think we can accept one another even if our views do not agree.”
This last statement makes another crucial confirmation. It sets us apart from our views. It is said that regardless of our opinions, we will be accepted.
I then suggested, “If you want, you can go ahead and ask Jason if there is anything in your point that he can validate. Remind him that you don’t expect him to agree – but if he does think about it.” What he knows about you, can he see why you would take that point of view? If he’s open, you can invite him to use the following questions to delve into a deeper dialogue. “
How to create an interview
Here are some questions we can all ask ourselves when conducting an interview. Remember, the purpose is to inform or update each other of your views. To stay out of the arguing zone, it is important to only listen to your partner’s answers with skillful reflection and confirmation. Be sure to listen to each other completely and not respond with a contentious position unless reasoning is a relational style that you both tolerate and enjoy well.
How do you feel about the pandemic issues? (These can range from easy to difficult; they can come and go and vary. Examples: fear, worry, anger, fear, confusion, frustration, hope, worry, confused, lonely, distant, full, sad, optimistic, torn,) Be sure to let your partner know that all feelings are valid.
Who, if anyone, do you think has the best grip on the issues? And why?
What makes sense to you about the guidelines of the people you want to follow?
Which of your deeper values do these ideas address?
What do you hope as a result of these plans / guidelines?
What do you think could be missing from your side’s policies, if anything?
What do you wish our community / society / world would have done differently?
Is there anything you wish you could have done differently?
What are you planning to do in the future?
How can I help you? (Even if I can still hold different views.)
When we consider that no person, ideology, or system is perfect in all respects or will satisfy everyone, even if we have strong feelings and opinions, we can let go of rigid viewpoints. We are all under a lot of pressure, but when we build bridges of validation that connect us, we also create the only hope we have to influence one another. Another important insight from Gottman is that “in order to have influence, we must accept influence”. And in order to work together, we have to consider where others are from. We can begin by having respectful space for those in our lives whose views may differ from our own.