Differences are inevitable between couples but they can learn how to avoid arguments thus making conflict optional.
Lots of people have heard that differences are inevitable but conflict is optional. While in our opinion, that is true, the real question has to do with just exactly how we manage to avoid conflict when those differences in our views, beliefs, preferences, and sometimes even values, show up between ourselves and those with whom we are closely connected. Differences are not only certain to be present in our relationship, but they are a necessary factor in what is generally referred to as the “chemistry” that fuels the attraction to those to whom we find ourselves strongly drawn.
The answer to the question, “Why don’t I attract people who are more like me?” is “Because people who are just like you would not have as much to offer you in terms of learning, growth, healing, and other forms of personal development.” People who are just like us aren’t as interesting as those with whom we don’t share identical traits, predispositions and tendencies.” While familiarity, comfort, and predictability are desirable aspects in any relationship, too much of a good thing can breed boredom, complacency, stagnation, resentment or worse. To maximize the growth and development potential of a relationship, it must also include sufficient differences to challenge as well as comfort, to provoke as well as support, and to enliven as well as reassure.
Differences provide the catalyst for these experiences to occur. Differences, however, can turn into arguments when both parties attempt to coerce each other into agreeing with their perspective or their way of doing things. And arguments if unresolved, can erode the foundation of love and affection in a relationship. A simple difference of opinion can degrade an otherwise healthy relationship if it isn’t resolved to the satisfaction of both partners. Hurts and resentments don’t disappear when there is no resolution, they just go underground, where they quietly breed resentment and mistrust.
Using manipulative tactics to coerce another into agreement generally amplifies the problem and intensifies upsetting feelings . Examples of manipulation include: intimidation, threats (explicit or implicit), making demands, yelling, going silent, blaming, interrupting, guilt-tripping, intellectualizing, or shaming, to name a few.
Underlying nearly all coercive strategies is fear. In general, the fear has to do with a concern that the outcome of the confrontation will result in some kind of a loss if one is to fail to adequately prevent the other from prevailing in the situation. It usually has to do with an anticipated loss of protection that would leave one vulnerable to some form of pain or injury.
When faced with a threat to our ability to influence or control our place in an important relationship, ancient fears can be activated that awaken memories or trauma from previous experiences in which others who possessed greater authority than ourselves may have exploited our vulnerability or dependency on them in ways that were hurtful or damaging to us. We all learn to develop strategies for protection out of these early losses in order to avoid the prospect of being in a similar position in the future. Arguments represent an attempt on the parts of both parties to defend against the possible domination and potential exploitation of another. Our thinking goes something like: “As long as I am disagreeing with you, I am more protected from the possibility of being harmed by you, and also more likely to be able to win you over to my side.”
As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Have you ever seen one person dance the tango alone? Probably not, and you’re not likely to. Neither are you likely to observe an argument in which only one person is arguing. “Just don’t argue back” is the simple answer to how to avoid an argument. The problem with that answer is that it’s almost impossible for most of us to not argue when someone close to us, strongly directs a point of view to us that we don’t agree with.
Simply clamming up and saying nothing generally doesn’t seem like a sufficiently strong response to affirm that we are not holding the same point of view. Which raises the question, “Why then is it so important to go on the record and announce that we don’t see things the same way?”
If we don’t make it clear that we are not in agreement with our partner we are likely to fear that he will assume that our silence implies agreement. Consequently, it can seem as though unless we take an opposing or at least alternate stance, the other person will assume and operate as though we are both on the same page and this belief can lead to serious complications. The problem with disagreeing with another’s point of view is that the process of connecting to each other’s world and deepening mutual understanding is aborted and all learning stops as coercion and defensiveness become dominant concerns in the dialogue. Until and unless the intention of the conversation moves from control and defensiveness to understanding and connection, an argument will inevitably ensue.
Many of us are so accustomed to proceeding down that slippery slope that it’s difficult to even conceive of having differing points of view with having arguments. Holding this perspective creates a self-fulfilling prophecy which makes arguments inevitable. For such people the motivation to learn and develop the skills inherent in conscious dialogue is minimal or even non-existent, since such an outcome seems like a fantasy, rather than a reality. Yet our experience and the experience of many couples who have successfully created fulfilling partnerships can attest to the fact that such possibilities are very real and attainable.
In part II of this two part series, we will reveal 5 steps that will enable you to avoid arguments, even in situations that are highly provocative, without compromising yourself or your values.