On Opposite Sides: What to Do When it Feels Like You’re Sleeping With the Enemy – Part Four
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been exploring what otherwise harmonious couples do when they find themselves on opposites sides of intense, potentially hostility-provoking issues. In part one, we emphasized the importance of disagreeing respectfully – focusing on the content of the argument, not the person making it. Part two prioritized listening for understanding over seeking evidence for your argument. Part three suggested you respect each other’s right to remain individual, independent thinkers, while also being effective romantic partners. In this, the fourth and final installment, I advocate prioritizing action over belief, then making agreements where necessary.
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For all the reasons we’ve already discussed – how distasteful we may find it, how alienating it can feel, what we think it says about us, and how it may threaten our concept of ourselves – it can be challenging when our one-and-only has views that differ from ours on issues of personal import.
The underlying assumption of the recommendations made so far, is that despite your love for each other, you’re unlikely to change each other’s beliefs. Disagreeing respectfully, listening for understanding, and respecting each other’s right to your own views can prevent these limited but significant areas from tearing at the fabric of your otherwise successful union.
I’ve enjoyed reading the discussion on the first three installments. We’ve heard from many who can’t imagine successfully navigating this particular challenge. They feel lucky that their partner’s views are in line with their own. However, we’ve also heard from many in long-term committed relationships with partners with opposing views. It’s been inspiring to hear how they’ve learned to accept and respect their differences. That’s an admirable first step.
The potentially troubling thing about values and beliefs for us principled, opinionated humans, is that our actions stem directly from those values and beliefs. When you feel strongly about a political, spiritual, or social value, you may invest your time, money, or influence to advance those positions. You’ve heard that actions speak louder than words. Well, those actions have consequences. In a romantic partnership, those consequences impact you both.
When your fortunes are tied, so to speak, even when you’ve learned to accept each other as you are, negotiating your varying commitments can be complicated. You may be raising children together. You may be sharing finances. In these situations, acceptance is an important first step, but it may not be sufficient.
As an example, maybe when you married, neither of you were particularly religious. But when you started having children, one or both of you started to recognize the importance of your religious traditions. Or you weren’t particularly political until your partner wanted to invest your finances in causes opposite your beliefs. The potential landmines are many.
Some keys to your success navigating these challenges will involve awareness, respect, communication, and negotiation:
- Awareness – recognize where you and your partner differ;
- Respect – value each other’s perspectives equally;
- Communication – where your actions impact each other, don’t make assumptions. Err on the side of over-communicating;
- Negotiation – make agreements where you both feel like you’re getting the better end of the deal (see How to Compromise Without Sacrificing Your Needs in a Relationship).
If you’re willing to be open and get creative, even these seemingly impossible obstacles can be overcome. Here are some interesting examples:
- In my manager’s childhood home, her parents encouraged their children to participate in multiple religious disciplines, and they talked about their experiences at the dinner table. Her parents didn’t have opposing religious perspectives, but they were open to exposing their children to different views and supporting exploration;
- When considering financial investment in political priorities where you’re sharing finances, you may decide to invest equally in each other’s causes, or not to invest in either, or to alternate financial support each year, or to invest time instead of money.
I’m sure you’ve come up with a lot more interesting and creative ways to approach these situations over the years. I’d love to hear about them in the discussion below.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of what to do when you find yourselves on opposite sides of the issues as much as I have. When you commit to someone long-term, you can never anticipate all the curve balls life will throw your way. So the trick to long-term success isn’t avoiding all the bumps. It’s having enough tools in your toolkit to navigate the bumps you encounter. When you stumble-upon those issues that make you feel like you’re sleeping with the enemy, hopefully these tools will help bridge the divide: disagree respectfully, seek understanding, respect your individuality, and make good deals to mitigate differences.