Respect for each other’s point of view can make your marriage better!
My husband was on the debate team. I was on the cheerleading squad. While he was sharpening his mind, I was perfecting my round-off. Alternately, he had his sports, baseball and running. I had my academics, English and business classes.
He had won the National Merit Scholarship Award and got a full scholarship to college, then another full scholarship to law school. I worked twenty hours a week and doubled up on semester hours to graduate early because college was a financial challenge for my parents.
So, we took slightly different tracks in getting to our professional careers where we both found equal levels of success — he as an attorney and me as a banker. By the time we met and married, we were pretty darn sure of who we were. We found that we had the same overall outlook on life and the same core beliefs and moral values. Those things laid the foundation for our strong marriage.
However, on general issues, we sometime diverged. And that’s okay, right? After all, these weren’t marital issues; they were idealistic issues often related to current events.
With marital issues, our different ideas often led to deep conversations, a stronger connection, and greater love and understanding.
But on topical subjects, those differences of opinion at times could not be reconciled. Those conversations led to frustration and sometimes anger. My ideas were as fully informed and valid as his, but it was the difference in our personal perspectives on a particular issue that caused heated discussions that at times led to hard feelings.
We love to read, and we read many books and subscribe to a number of periodicals. We are intelligent, informed, articulate and passionate. We have great discussions, and they’re invigorating when we’re on the same page; but when we aren’t, the fur can fly.
By the time we met, we each had fully formed identities. Keeping your personal identity intact as you find your identity as a couple is crucial to marital fulfillment. But trying to do so as you recognize your differences is not easy, and no matter how much you love each other, arguments arise.
How you argue can make the meeting of the minds messier. I’m up to discussing different points of view with anyone, but I usually wait until things escalate to start arguing. Conversely, my husband states his position, plants his flag on that hill, and waits for someone to challenge him.
Now, I have to tell you my husband is brilliant. I won’t bore you with credentials, but he is. On top of that, he is a debater.
Brilliant + Debater = Intimidating
I’m also really smart, plus I’m a woman who has her feminine wiles.
Smart + Sexy = Formidable
We come at things from different strengths but are equally effective in holding our own.
I can absorb facts and opinions and draw my own conclusions. I don’t need anyone to tell me what I should think about a certain subject. (Some call it mansplaining).
And so, my man and I might enter into a discussion, which could turn into an argument when one of us just had to make the other not only see our point but agree with it. At times, neither of us could get there.
When that happened, I was ready to let it go. I had made my point, I was sticking to it, and nothing he said would change that. I also believed that, even though our opinions differed, he was entitled to his as much as I was entitled to mine.
The subject was ultimately inconsequential and didn’t remotely affect the quality of our love and life, so there was no value in arguing about it. I was ready to move on. Depending on the time of day, I was likely to suggest we open a bottle of wine and start enjoying our evening. But the debater in my husband just couldn’t let it go.
When I would say, “Let’s just agree to disagree,” while getting down the wine glasses, he would stand two feet away and press his point. “Open the wine, please,” I would say. He would continue to press his point.
I have to admit that this was one of the biggest hurdles to get over in our happy marriage. He was used to being the best and the brightest; and frankly, I thought of myself that way, too. But because I didn’t see our discussions as contests, I didn’t have that same need to win that he did. By always going for the win, he was not respecting our differences of opinion and instead was trying to dominate, as he would in a debate, believing I would concede if he just kept trying.
After this pattern repeated itself one too many times, I said as much to my husband. But when he persisted, I said much more. I told him I wasn’t his debate opponent. He was not going to win on points he thought he scored. I told him that as smart as he was, he wasn’t always the smartest person in the room. I told him that continuing to debate inconsequential matters did not put me in a loving mood — just the opposite. And I told him if he continued, I wouldn’t be happy staying in the marriage.
It wasn’t a threat; it was a declaration of my feelings. I had long believed, and still do, that no one should be in your life unless they make it better. His need to dominate in this arena certainly didn’t do that.
But I knew I was also giving him the opportunity to assess his position and decide if being “right” was more important than being in a loving marriage with me.
The man came to his senses. The tone of those topical discussions changed for the better. Oh, he backslid, but when he did, I would only have to say, “I’m not debating this with you,” and he would reign it in. It took some time, and it wasn’t always easy for him.
Marriages don’t become stronger by letting things slide. That’s how resentment builds up. But if you respectfully discuss your differences, look for ways to compromise that don’t dislodge your principles, and at the very least, agree to disagree, then fresh air sweeps into your marriage and blows away resentment before it can become too dense to dislodge.
At a later time, we were discussing a world event and found we had different ideas on its meaning and impact. After a while, when it became evident that we were both solid in our positions, we agreed to disagree and let it go.
The following week, an article about that very event appeared in two different and respected news periodicals. I read both and was struck by the fact that one article discussed it from my point of view, and the other discussed it from his point of view.
I showed him both articles and said, “You see, both of us made good points. We just had different perspectives, like these articles. Neither is right, neither is wrong. Both are valid, both make their case.”
It was a moment of awareness and growth, a moment of reaching another milestone in our marriage. Differences of opinion were okay as long as we respected the other’s position.
We could agree to disagree, and in doing so, make each other’s life — and our marriage — better.