What To Do When There's One Major Issue You And Your Partner Can't Agree On (And Everything Else Is Perfect)
If all is smooth-sailing, easy-breezy-beautiful, best-ever perfection in your relationship, congratulations. If, however, everything is stellar except one major issue that you and your partner can't agree on, what do you do? First off, that depends on what the major issue is. If you and your partner can't compromise on where to live or can't decide what TV show to watch, NBD. I mean, BD, but not be-all, end-all BD, because those types of conflicts can be resolved. So let's all take a collective sigh of relief.
However, don't get too relieved, because if your core issue disagreement is about something that one or both of you consider to be a dealbreaker, the relationship might have to come to an end, according to just about every expert I consulted. Even if everything else about it is excellent. Because if you want kids and he doesn't, or you absolutely have to raise your children Jewish and she absolutely has to raise her children Catholic, you have reached a dead end. Unless you're willing to bend — or your partner is — there is no amount of conflict-resolution in the world magical enough to resolve such an issue. Major drat. To find out more, I asked 21 experts to weigh in on what to do when you and your partner just can't agree. If you're having this problem, here are 21 possible solutions, so there is a good chance one of them will work. Here's to hoping.
1. Decide If It's A Dealbreaker
Dealbreakers include wanting to have children, finances, religion, and intimacy, life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle, which are "essential topics to agree on in a relationship." If there's no sign of compromise on the horizon, it may simply be time to reconsider. "If neither party agrees to compromise, the relationship simply might not be a good fit, because it could be holding each partner back from living the life that is best suited for them. Core values are simply nonnegotiable," says Rogers.
But if it's not a dealbreaker, you're in for some good news: If, instead, it's a big issue, be open-minded and try to compromise, she says. It may take some time, so be patient. "Both parties can't expect the other to agree overnight — but both members of the relationship can absolutely expect some sort of compromise from each other."
Keep in mind the 80/20 rule. "If seriously every other thing in the relationship is perfect, then this sounds like a relationship that's totally worth it," says Rogers. "Most couples in healthy relationships have to compromise on a plethora of issues. So ask yourself, 'Is this one issue worth compromising on, for the sake of a happy and healthy relationship?' If it is, then talk it out. If it's not, leave before the relationship progresses."
2. Consult A Professional
Though it can be a major issue if you want to live in a city and they want to live in the suburbs, it may not be time to throw in the towel just yet, professional matchmaker Samantha Daniels advises Bustle. She says it's wise to call in backup in such situations. "It makes sense to consult a professional in these circumstances, who is an objective third party." You're the opposite of impartial, and your decision-making skills will be compromised, since you'll be biased. "Sometimes when you are deep in it, it Is hard to see the forest for the trees, and hard to find a solution," she says.
3. Attempt Some "Gentle Persistence"
"If you can’t agree on how often to have sex, it can create an unending fight that will eventually erode the whole relationship," Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, tells Bustle. But if this is an issue that is up for discussion, Tessina suggests a technique she calls “gentle persistence.”
"Most of us only know how to persist in a nagging, complaining, whining or angry way," she says. "Gentle persistence, in contrast, is based on a belief that the other person is a reasonable person who wants to cooperate, but somehow … hasn't heard you, and misinterprets or doesn't understand that's what you want." So bring up what you need to discuss, and plead your case, as it were, but do it … gently. And patiently.
"Such persistence may need to be repeated over a period of days or weeks, if the other person is very reluctant to listen or has a difficult time understanding what you mean. If you can resist the impulse to nag or complain, it is very often successful," Tessina says.
4. Choose Your Battles
Relationship coach Jessica Brighton tells Bustle that communication is key when you see eye to eye on all but one thing. To paint a picture, let's say all is well except for the fact that that you're bothered by how open your partner is with their mother about your relationship. Even if she's medaling in your relationship, and it's a big point of contention, you don't have to throw deuces quite yet.
A little acceptance is key here. "Recognize that she is not going away anytime soon, and the dynamic between [them and their] mother is unlikely to change," Brighton says. "The key to a resolution becomes communication and the concept of picking your battles," she says. "You need to have an extensive conversation to discuss your feelings and where each of you stands on the issue. If you determine that you are still unable to find common ground, then a compromise and agreeing to disagree may be your best plan of action."
Brighton notes that nothing is perfect, but it's necessary to focus on the positive and reframe your outlook if you want to stay together. "We all have to deal with negative issues and unpleasant situations in the other avenues of our lives," she says. "Why deal with one more in your personal life? If you determine that the positives in your relationship outweigh the negatives, I suggest you embrace the positivity and happiness that your relationship brings you and focus less on the one negative issue." Smart.
5. Normalize The Problem
Disagreement within a relationship is totally fine and healthy, and should be seen as such, relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. "Conflict is normal," she says. The matter between you and your partner "may be a perpetual issue, which is an issue that you and your partner will never agree on, and that's OK," she adds. "What matters is how the two of you manage this difference," she says — namely, "in a way that both people still feel accepted and respected."
Once a certain level of normalization and acceptance comes in, you both have to be able to compromise, she says. "I help my clients identify what is the most important thing in an issue — that is their non-negotiable (what they need) — and then identify the areas that they can be flexible on." It might not all feel hunky-dory and super groovy, but that's OK too. "Compromise doesn't feel perfect," but it's possible to work out non–dealbreaker issues, she says.
6. Find A Solution Stat
Don't let schisms such as these fester, relationship trainer Daniel Aims tells Bustle. "Decide how big of an issue it is, and if it's necessary to resolve, or it's something you can move past," he says. If you have to resolve it, and can't just agree to disagree and move on, flag it and get to work. "If it needs immediate attention, and [needs] to be addressed before moving forward in your relationship, then working to come to a conclusion on it should be a priority, so the issue doesn't pop up again during conversation later on in the relationship," he says.
If you can't work it out between yourselves, don't hesitate to take Daniels' advice, which Amis echoes. "Outside counsel, such as a relationship coach, couples therapist, or a trusted friend or family member may be beneficial to call on if the issue is that pressing," he says. Whatever you do, work it out — sooner rather than later.
7. Make An Appointment
"Safety is the one critical ingredient here, where both halves of the couple feel safe enough to have those potentially difficult conversations," Shlomo Slatkin, who founded the Marriage Restoration Project with his wife, Rivka, tells Bustle. "One of the ways to create safety is to first ask for an appointment from your spouse. As in, literally say to your partner, "I'd like to have a conversation with you about XYZ, is now a good time?" says Slatkin. "Making sure that it is a good time to talk will set the stage for ultimate connection (which is the goal), even around a potentially difficult issue."
Once you have an appointment set and you sit down to have a chat, give a new communication language a shot, Slatkin suggests. "The best way to actually go about having the discussion," he says, is to try "the process of the Imago dialogue, which includes mirroring the party that is speaking, validating and empathizing, as well as nonviolent communication."
8. Try To See Your Partner's POV
It can be a challenge, but it might be worth an attempt to see things from your partner's stance, relationship counselor Michelle Farris tells Bustle. "If you want to stay in the relationship, but there's one area you absolutely cannot agree on, change your goal," she advises. "Instead of seeking agreement, spend that time understanding your partner's point of view instead." This may sound annoying, but it'll actually help you in the end: "You'll be less frustrated, because you change the focus from seeking a solution — which promotes a winner/loser scenario — to hearing why your partner feels the way they do," she says.
And you'll feel closer to your partner at the same time. "Taking the time to listen increases intimacy and deepens your communication," Farris says. "Taking the time to clarify what's being said has a big impact on the quality of your communication," she says. "You'll learn more about each other, which can spark new flames — who doesn't want that?" she says.
9. Be OK With Disagreement
"Agree to disagree," zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. You don't have to unite with your partner on everything, and if you say X and they say Y, so be it. "Most couples feel that they must be twins emotionally," she says. "Disagreements are a sign of a healthy relationship, when respected. It shows that the couple is not enabling or, enmeshed." If at all humanly possible, see where you end and your partner begins, focus on the things you love and allow that conflict to be just what it is: conflict. How's that for zen?
10. Ask Yourself If You Can Let It Be
There are two questions to ask yourself, relationship coach Jase Lindgren tells Bustle. "The important thing is to mentally step back and ask yourself two questions: Why do I need us to agree on this? Is it possible for us to still be happy together if we don't?" From there, you may have your solution already. If the answer to the second question is yes, then move the eff on and leave the problem in the past.
"If your answer to question two is no, then you may need to reconsider your own position or the relationship itself," Lindgren says. "Many people falsely believe that a good relationship means you agree on everything important." Not so, as many relationship experts echo. "Instead, remember that you fell in love with your partner because they were different from you and added to your life, not because they are a copy of you." Love your differences — and your partner's penchant for 8 a.m. clattering in the kitchen.
11. Recognize Your Partner As An Individual
"The best plan of action is to step back and consider that your partner is an individual human being, as are you," clinical hypnotherapist, author and educator Rachel Astarte, who offers transformational coaching for individuals and couples at Healing Arts New York, tells Bustle. Though doing so isn't akin to waving a wand and making everything automatically peachy, it can go a long way toward healing.
"Understand your partner's struggles and how he or she came to hold the beliefs that he or she does," Astarte says. "Ideally, your partner will do the same for you. Find the common ground." This, in and of itself, might solve or at least placate the problem. Throughout, remember that you and your partner will never be 100 percent in alignment on everything, and for that, we should all be thankful, because that would just be downright boring.
"What matters more than anything else is that we keep the respect for each other's individuality alive," she says. "In that way, we build a very strong foundation for a relationship." It's worth having a look at the way your partner sees things, as Farris suggests. "I find that it's helpful to see the problem topic from your partner's perspective, through the eyes of love," says Astarte. And, as other experts have suggested, don't forget how valuable your partner is to you, and why you fell in love with them in the first place. "What brought the two of you together is mutual love and respect for one another as human beings," Astarte says.
12. Make A Trade
"If one of you hates romantic comedies and the other one loves them," never fear, New York–based relationship and etiquette expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. She calls compromise "wonderful," and adds that "when it takes the form of deal-making, even better." So if you're dying to watch When Harry Met Sally for the umpteenth time and your partner really wants to watch a shoot-em-up action film, make a deal.
"One action flick for every romantic comedy is one way to solve the movie genre disagreement," she says. "The first $500 of disposable income goes to shoes one month, and his man cave the second month. And Thanksgiving is at one person’s family’s home one year, the other’s the next." Well, that solves that.
13. Do Not Scratch The Itch To Be Right
"We are so hung up on wrong and right on all issues," Rob Alex, who created Sexy Challenges and Mission Date Night with his wife, tells Bustle. We are not going to agree with everyone all of the time, straight up: "Sometimes we just disagree, and that is fine," he says. "We often instruct couples that when you can give up the need to be right, your relationship will start to thrive."
But how? Like Farris and Astarte suggest, "the first thing you need to do is to try to look at the issue through you partner's eyes," says Alex. "Try to be objective, even if you are totally on the other side of the fence." And tiffs can just be opportunities for great conversation. "Instead of arguing on differences that are issues, build some great conversation around them," he says. And don't bother trying to make your partner take a U-turn. "Don't try to change the other partner's mind," he says. "Just listen and hear what they are saying. They might just have some amazing reasons as to why they feel that way."
You'll be happier, and you'll learn things about your mate. "Couples that can do this often find out great information about each other," Alex says. "Try this next time instead of getting mad at each other. Difference can be great in a relationship." Last, he says, give your partner some space. "Allow lots of room to grow — not only personally, but as a relationship also."
14. Make A List
"You and your partner should sit down together and create a list," dating coach Fionna Faulk tells Bustle. "In this list, you will each briefly identify all the reasons why the issue is important to you, and on the other half of the page, you will list all the reasons you feel siding with your partner on this issue would be important to them." Sometimes, getting it all down on paper makes things more obvious, and can help to calm any feelings of anxiety or panic.
"When you're finished writing your answers, share them with each other and you'll find your path toward a resolve to be much clearer," Faulk says. At this point, maybe try some of that Imago dialogue that Slatkin suggests. Can't hurt.
15. Let This Be A "Teaching Moment"
"It would be quite dull if you agreed on everything," Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist , tells Bustle. When you contradict your partner, it's "an opportunity to learn about respect in your relationship — people can and will disagree, the key is to do so respectfully and mindfully," she says.
And that, my friends, is where the "teaching moment" comes in. "Your difference in opinion can also become a teaching moment, in which you can stop and listen to their point of view, and maybe even learn something new, at least about a different perspective," Durvasula says. So "listen, and indicate you don't agree" if need be, but above all, always be kind: "There is no need for insults or mockery of their stance or opinion," she adds.
16. Get Creative
Even if your challenge lies within dealbreaker territory, there might be an answer. "The two major issues I have seen that are the hardest to resolve are kids (whether to have them or not) and monogamy vs. non-monogamy," Carlyle Jansen, author of Author, Sex Yourself: The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms , tells Bustle. "But I have seen couples get creative in finding solutions to those."
How, you might find yourself asking. Simple. Or — simple-ish. Three resolutions to the first issue are "not living together, or living in a duplex, or co-parenting with others while maintaining a relationship," Jansen says. And "don't ask, don't tell agreements" can work for the second issue. But don't get too excited just yet: "Those are the two issues I have seen people break up over the most often, despite an intense love and everything else being great," Jansen adds.
Some other creative workarounds: "Either not bringing up the issue (e.g. political differences), or not discussing/spending time together with friends/family (i.e. only one person interacts with those people), or doing one person's preference for a period of time and then switching to the other's (e.g. where to live)," says Jansen. In other words, a little thinking on one's feet might be just the ticket out of this mess. Or maybe not. This is definitely a case-by-case basis.
17. Ask Questions
"There will be unsolvable problems in the relationship," relationship counselor Crystal Bradshaw tells Bustle. "Relationship guru Dr. John Gottman, who has spent over 40 years researching couples, has said that 69 percent of couples' problems will stay with them." Once that's established, ask yourself some questions: "Where does the issue stem from? Was it present in a previous relationship? Is there a pattern?" says Bradshaw. "It's important to remember that when you are in a relationship, you are dealing with two realities, two different perspectives. You are also dealing with two personality types."
So what to do? It's all about the way you communicate. "When you find that you two are standing on opposite sides of an issue, you have to remember that you are part of a team, and that you need to work together, and your language needs to reflect that and not be attacking," Bradshaw says. Use "'I' statements instead of 'you' statements, and express how you see the issue, and don't blame your partner for how you are feeling," she advises. "You need to have a dialogue together, not at each other."
And now for some more questions. "Ask your partner open-ended questions, like, 'Can you tell me why this topic is so important to you?' says Bradshaw. "I tell my clients that under a complaint is a need, a request. So try to see what that is, and help your partner articulate it. If your partner is complaining that you are always involved in a hobby, what they are likely saying is they want more time with you." Oh, wait! That's sweet. So perhaps sometimes a kind sentiment is hidden in an annoying nag.
"I tell my clients to dig deep when they are not agreeing on something," she says. "What is the disagreement really about? What is it that you and your partner really want, but are struggling to communicate?" To get to the bottom of a debate, the more questions, the better.
18. Figure Out If It Is Solvable Or Perpetual
"A solvable problem means that there is some way to compromise, or some alternative way to deal with it that you can both live with," marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin tells Bustle. If you're dealing with something solvable, reach out, as other experts have suggested. In this scenario, "you may need the help of a therapist or objective third party to get to that solution, but you both agree that there is likely a solution that doesn't involve one person just doing what the other person wants," Boykin says.
"There are also perpetual issues in every relationship," she adds. "I like to think of these as the quirks we deal with in order to love and live with another human being. Often it's a bad habit or a way of doing something that is contrary to the way you would do it, but it's not hurtful or malicious." And these, folks, are the things that are better left untouched. "Perpetual problems are annoying, but they're also things that can be overlooked most of the time," she says. There's a reason they're silly to bring up: There's no actual fix. "They don't have a real solution, other than learning to peacefully accept that this is an area where you are different, and so you must learn to respect that difference," Boykin says.
19. Take Certain Steps
"First, recognize that within every challenge, there are benefits," personal and professional coach Karen Garvey tells Bustle. "When you discover the benefits, two things happen: You can now take action in response to the benefit, and … feeling connected to a more positive perspective (rather than simply feeling frustrated or angry) allows you to be more open-minded and creative in your response."
Here's what she means. Step one, find the benefit: "For example, if the challenge is that your partner spends time with his ex, ask yourself what benefit his choices may bring to you," Garvey says. "Are you being driven to discover if you feel insecure about yourself, or if you simply don't trust him? Acting upon your new discoveries bring benefits." Step two, take action in response to the benefit, and feel more connected to that positive perspective: "You can now communicate more clearly how his choices make you feel, and/or realize that your self-love can use some boosting; then set out to improve your relationship with yourself," she says. A secret win-win situation! My favorite kind.
20. Put It On Hold
Relationship coach and transformational speaker Sherica Matthews keeps things short and sweet: If you're having an ongoing conflict with your partner, "table the discussion for a while (about six months) and see how life unfolds itself," she tells Bustle. "You will often find that your disagreements will usually work themselves out." If, in six months, you find that you're still just as worked up and steamed about the problem, then it's time for some mega soul-searching. Ultimately, "if you cannot come to an agreement, you must decide if this disagreement is greater than all of the other positive things that this relationship has to offer," Matthews says.
21. Reevaluate Your Opinion
When all else fails, go inward. Ask yourself if this thing — whether it's an inability to agree about home decor, thermostat level or what kind of music to play in the morning — is really that big of a deal. The age-old question, "How important is it?" is one of my favorites, and a great one for this situation.
"You can decide that they are not as big a deal as you had once thought, if it means losing the person that you love," psychologist Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. "It is being honest with yourself, with your priorities," she says. "If you have exhausted all options of a compromise," it's up to you what to do next. But if everything else really is perfect, and the issue is not a dealbreaker, think long and hard before peacing out.
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