On Opposite Sides – What to Do When It Feels Like You’re Sleeping with the Enemy – Part 2
In part one of this series, we established that even in harmonious relationships, you might find that you and your partner are on opposite sides of the types of issues that divide countries (apparently). You might have come together on passion over commonality. Or you may have evolved differently over time.
However you got here, here you are. So how do you navigate the issues without letting them erode the bond between you? Part one covers the importance of disagreeing respectfully. Let’s continue with part two of our exploration.
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Seek understanding, not evidence
As discussed in part one, when you stumble upon these hot-bed topics that touch deeply-held values and beliefs, your civilized methods of disagreeing may ultimately escape you. Your ability to communicate effectively, especially to listen empathetically, might be the first skill impacted. Rather than listening to understand where your partner is coming from, either you don’t listen and you talk over one another – one of you may get half a sentence out before the other jumps in to counter the incomplete thought. Or you’re half listening and preparing your own argument, looking for little bits of their thoughts that affirm your point of view.
These types of tactics can be frustrating for both of you. They typically only escalate disagreement rather than resolving it, and they don’t create any mutual understanding. They don’t create any foundation or platform for moving forward. Instead, they keep arguments in place rather than diffusing them.
So how do we seek understanding during deeply alienating disagreement? While disagreements can be uncomfortable, they create a powerful opportunity for greater acceptance and intimacy – which are an important part of a strong relationship – if we’re able to prioritize understanding over asserting our own principles. Understanding requires curiosity. It involves asking questions that elicit what is important to your partner about the issue or what is informing your partner’s perspective.
Understanding might be a noble goal, but the question remains, how does one achieve it? What types of questions reveal the quality information that leads to understanding, and maybe even compassion?
It’s not those questions that often first come to mind in those moments, questions like “Why on earth do you feel that way?!?!” Or “What could you possibly be thinking?” I exaggerate, but in those moments even if we’re not as condescending as that in our word usage or tone, our partner may still hear the sentiment, which only leads to obstinance and defensiveness.
My recommendation is to avoid “why” questions altogether. Instead, I encourage you to ask “what” and “how” questions that encourage self-examination and evaluation which can lead to greater clarity for both of you. For example, what is important to you about that? How did you get to this place? How do you think about this in relation to that? What are the exceptions to the rule? How do you feel about how you think about that? How does this perspective impact you?
If you and your partner are in a repeated pattern of contentious disagreement, it may be necessary to help your partner understand where you’re coming from or your curiosity may be interpreted as interrogation. You might acknowledge “I know I’ve been argumentative in the past, but I really want to understand where you’re coming from.” That could put your partner at ease and open them up to real discourse on the issue.
So far in our “sleeping with the enemy” series, we’ve covered disagreeing respectfully and seeking understanding of your partner’s perspective rather focusing on convincing them and seeking evidence to affirm your own perspectives. I hope this is opening up new ways to navigate these potentially divisive issues. Be sure to check back next week as we continue the series with respecting your partner’s right to their own perspective.
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