“Just because we fight all the time, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with our relationship. It doesn’t mean we don’t love each other.”

How many times have you heard—or said—some version of this? How often has this been used as justification for all manner of neglect, disrespect, abuse and even violence between relationship partners? Many of us have been conditioned to translate a fact—there is no such thing as a perfect relationship—into an untruth: That hurtful and malicious fights and arguments are both normal and acceptable in relationships. We disagree; because something is common does not make it acceptable. If two people who claim to love each other fight all the time, something is wrong. If you can’t see that, perhaps you don’t know what good, healthy love is.

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Are we saying that couples in healthy relationships never disagree? Absolutely not. However, we are saying that people in healthy relationships don’t treat each other as enemies when they disagree. They are able to hold opposing views without hurting or diminishing their partner. In our more than six years together, we have had plenty of (as in, daily) disagreements. Outright arguments? Less than a half dozen. Actual fights (this includes verbal attacks and emotional violence, as well as the silent treatment)? Zero. How is this possible? We both sincerely believe that if one of us loses, we both lose. It’s the choice between being dancers who both want to lead, or warriors in battle. With the former, it’s failure if either of you falls; with the latter, one of you must go down—every time.

The first and most important key to not allowing disagreement to devolve into adversarial confrontation is tending to the condition of the relationship between you and your partner when you are not in conflict and are generally content with each other. Is it healthy—defined in the Grown Zone as a demonstrated mutual commitment to honor, esteem and respect? Is yours a lifestyle of tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, loyalty, safety and trust (what we refer to as relationship sustainers in our book, Loving In The Grown Zone)?

If the foundation (the relationship) is solid, the house (the marriage/partnership) can withstand disagreements. If the foundation is faulty, then the union is in danger, no matter how much (or little) you disagree. To determine what kind of relationship you have, and thus, what kind of work you need to do before you can resolve any disagreement, consider this:

In a healthy relationship, disagreement never equals division. You never position or treat your partner as the problem; the problem (financial stress, changing sexual needs, misbehaving children, etc.) is the problem. Your partner is your ally against it, not your enemy. In a healthy relationship, while you may not agree on the solution, you remain united against the problem. If you can’t, then the problem is much deeper than an inability to communicate effectively; the foundation of the relationship itself is in trouble, lacking the sustainers necessary for it be resilient in the face of your differing points of view.

When disagreement always lead to arguments, the arguments are never about the disagreement. To prevent lasting damage to the relationship, you need to clear space, time and opportunity just for you to safely and openly discuss your feelings, not to agree with each other or even to solve the problem, but to truly hear and be heard by each other. (Again, if you can’t do this, you have much more to deal with than just a communication problem.) The underlying issues will nearly always be about fear, insecurity, distrust, anxiety or hurt, not the apparent topics of disagreement. It is your and your partner’s job to make each other feel safe, so that you can face your problems together. You must draw on your sustainers—your reservoir of honor, esteem and respect—in order to do this. (If it’s not there, more effective communication won’t help.}

Disagreements are normal and healthy in a relationship. Arguments, especially violent, intentionally hurtful ones, are not. It is healthy for you and your partner to be able to safely express disagreement with one another. It is unhealthy for you to routinely become adversarial. Just because arguments are common in marriage does not mean they are acceptable.

The role of disagreement—merely the expression of differences, and therefore, individual uniqueness—in a healthy relationship is to be a catalyst for learning about one another and growing together. There is no greater gift than sharing life and love with someone who is healthy for you, but different from you. You will always challenge, fascinate and inspire one another to do what we are all created to do—learn, grow and love. When you can’t agree on what the answer is, you can move forward and find out together.

In the meantime, you will be amused, energized, challenged and enlightened by your “arguments” and you’ll both get better at engaging in disagreement over time. Instead of becoming battles to win or avoid, your disagreements will be new exciting challenges to your abilities as dance partners—with no reason to view missteps as anything but loving, well-intentioned and forgivable. In time, as long as your relationship is defined by honor, esteem and respect, you won’t ever even dream of changing partners.

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