In the ever-persistent fantasy, two soulmates meet, marry, and live happily ever after in perfect agreement about all major life issues.
That’s the very definition of “soulmate,” is it not?
The reality – as can be attested by anyone in a relationship for any length of time – is that people will disagree. And no matter how unified a couple is, some of the topics they disagree on can be quite divisive. When that happens, it’s important to find ways to preserve your unity even within the disagreement. Here are four strategies to discuss difficult topics in a way that brings you closer together rather than pushing you further apart.
Give advance notice
Nobody responds well to an attack, and even if it’s not your intent, bringing up a sensitive topic without advance notice can feel like one to your spouse. A “warning” doesn’t have to be serious or heavy – just a quick mention of the topic will do, enough to let them know you’re trying to find a way to discuss it in depth while respecting the fact that they may need time and space to prepare. Some people might be ready to talk immediately, while others might ask to visit the topic in a few hours. Respect their request.
Try: “Hey, I’d really like to sit down and talk about the budget sometime soon. What would work for you?”
Choose the right time
We all have certain times of the day when our mood – and emotional energy – tends to be better than others. You know your spouse better than anyone; choose to approach them during a time you know is good. Avoid times when you know they’re worn out and their emotional capacity for the day has been exhausted. It’s even better if the two of you can agree on a time to tackle the topic so it becomes more of a team effort.
Try: “I know we really disagree on a consequence for the kids, but right now we’re both tired and frustrated. How about if we talk about this in the morning over coffee while they watch cartoons?”
Practicing empathy will send the immediate message to your partner that you’re not looking to do battle, but rather trying to work through your specific issue with both of your best interests at heart. Lead the conversation by appreciating their perspective or position. This will not only help you by giving you genuine empathy for your spouse, but it will also help them to feel that they don’t need to be defensive.
Try: “I understand you love your parents and are in a really difficult position right now, trying to figure out how to balance that with our family’s needs. I’m sorry you’re facing this. Let’s figure this out together.”
Respect their autonomy
Sometimes, despite their best efforts, two people don’t come to agreement. Especially in a marriage, it can be hard to reconcile the fact that our spouse has such a diverging view; it can even make some people question the legitimacy of their union.
Remember this, though: while marriage is an incredibly significant relationship, the two people in it will always be autonomous. Just as you are entitled to your individual opinions, so is your spouse. And while there may be serious points of contention that come up again and again, they should never be used to belittle or insult your spouse.
At the end of the day, marriage is not about controlling your partner into like-mindedness. It is a complex relationship that requires an enormous amount of respect and open communication. When difficult issues divide you, find ways to unify; even if that means you both decide to pursue professional relationship counseling and even if a mutual agreement isn’t possible.
Above all else, commit to treat your differences with respect. Because that is the actual definition of soulmates: the continual coming-together of two souls… even when difficult issues threaten to tear them apart.