Differences in values and points of view can often lead to conflict in relationships. Being exposed to a different point of view on an issue that is important to us can feel like a threat that needs to be battled. When partners begin to fight about these differences with the intention of persuading or convincing their loved ones of their point of view, an ineffective and exhausting battle of tug-of-war begins. This battle is ineffective because neither partner is demonstrating openness to understand the other’s perspectives, nor is there any room for respect for and acceptance of differences.
A reminder to all couples: all of your values do not have to overlap in order for you and your partner to have a successful relationship. A great marker of a successful relationship is one where partners can accommodate, understand, and respect each other’s values and perspectives, without necessarily agreeing with them.
Understanding and holding compassion for your partner’s perspectives can be challenging. In order to bridge the gap between yours and your partner’s positions, psychologists and relationship researchers John and Julie Gottman suggest that couples work on understanding what is behind their partner’s position on a particular issue. The goal is no longer to convince or persuade one another to adopt each other’s perspectives, but to share how you see things and why you see things in that way.
Here are some questions that you and your partner can take turns asking each other, as per the Gottman’s “Dreams within Conflict” exercise.
- What are the ethics, values, or guidelines that are part of your position on this issue?
- Do you have any childhood history or background that is part of your position on this issue?
- Why is this particular value or position so important to you?
- What feelings do you have about this issue?
- Is there some underlying purpose or meaning in this for you (“this” being your position on this issue)?
- If you had some ideal dream that really fit your position on this issue, what would that ideal dream look like?
- Is there a fear of what it might mean or what might happen if this dream doesn’t get to come true?
Notice that these questions are not designed to challenge or dominate your partner’s values or perspectives, but to gain an understanding of how these perspectives came to be and what these perspectives mean to your partner. From this vantage point, it’s easier to understand each other, even though your positions and values are different.
It is important to note that sometimes there are significant differences between partners’ values and preferences that are irresolvable and considered “deal breakers.” For example, one partner may adamantly want a child, while the other partner does not. In these scenarios, the goal should still be to understand what’s behind each other’s points of view so that neither partner is seen as being “at fault” of the irresolvable differences. If you and your partner are having a difficult time navigating these kinds of differences, couples therapy can be a helpful way to open up non-defensive lines of communication.
To learn more about how we can support you with communication, contact Nikki Sedaghat at firstname.lastname@example.org for individual counselling for relationships or relationship counselling.