Every day in my office, I help couples who struggle with conflict and disagreements with their spouse. That’s not new to me as a marriage therapist for over 25 years.
What is new, or perhaps intensifying is a growing expectation or belief that we should all think alike. Disagreement is seen as intolerable and to be avoided at all cost. It means the relationship is in trouble, headed for divorce. “How can we stay together if we don’t see things the same way? How can he see it differently than me? He must not love me. There must be something wrong with her”.
Compromise and agreements seem to be a dying skill.
But I think this is symptomatic of a larger, overall social problem that is related to what i see in my office.
We see it on Facebook…you get unfriended if you express an opinion because differences are no longer discussed, or acceptable, let alone tolerated.
Social media targets us with ads and information that MATCH our views, which means we are exposed to fewer and fewer differing perspectives.
This leads to isolation and fear of people who are not like us…xenophobia.
So, don’t you dare disagree with someone or express your opinion or else you’ll get cut off, be given the silent treatment virtually, and in reality. Or worse yet, be bullied, ridiculed and rumors spread about you.
We see it in politics. Congress comes to a stand still and even shuts down the government because of a refusal to dialogue, respect differences and compromise.
Candidates and politicians fuel the fear of those who don’t think, look, or act “like us”. They are not just different, they are our enemy.
These extremes, this intolerance is poisoning our society, our friendships, our families our marriages.
Every disagreement is seen as personal, as a threat, as unacceptable.
Honestly, it terrifies me because Hitler came to power by creating this devisiveness and polarization.
It is not only possible, but essential to disagree AND still talk to each other, still listen to each other, still love each other. Disagreement and connection are not mutually exclusive. They go together. You cannot be in a relationship and have no conflict, think alike and agree all the time. This is a skill to be learned. We need to navigate our differences, manage them, embrace them and learn from them.
Learn from each other and deepen respect for one another especially when you disagree.
We’ve all been “unfriended” for expressing an opinion about things, right? I’m sure I’m not the only one.. That’s fine. I want friends who are willing to embrace differences, respect my right to have an opinion just as I respect theirs AND still be friends.
I don’t want to live in a world where I’m expected to think like everyone else…or else…. do you?
The next time you and your spouse or friend disagree, stop for a moment and seek to understand. Become curious about what led to their view or opinion, what experiences make this issue important to them, what feelings or needs they are trying to meet or what values they hold dear that they are trying to express. This is the first step toward disagreeing AND remaining connected.