There are people who love finding someone who disagrees with them so they can have a debate and try to prove the other person wrong. I am not one of those people.
On the contrary, when someone disagrees with me, I worry that they’ll think I’m stupid or that they won’t like me. I worry that a disagreement will turn into a conflict that will destroy our relationship.
I grew up thinking disagreements and conflicts were a sign that something was wrong and that they should be smoothed over as quickly as possible. As a result I’ve spent a lot of time hiding what I think or being as vague as possible to let people think I agreed with them so they will approve of me.
This didn’t improve my relationships because I felt so unseen in them and lived in fear of being found out. It also harmed my relationship with myself because I wasn’t acting in integrity and was showing myself that I didn’t matter as much as the other person. I still feel that nervous clenching in my stomach when a disagreement comes up, but I’m also learning to trust that disagreements don’t have to be something to fear and avoid.
I don’t believe we can only build healthy, mutual relationships with those who agree with us, but what does it really mean when we disagree?
Let’s start by looking at what it doesn’t mean.
Disagreement doesn’t automatically mean someone is wrong.
There may be some things that can be neatly categorized as true or false (even if there is often disagreement about which things fall into this category), but much of what we disagree about is more nuanced than that. So many of the areas where we disagree are based on individual perspectives and opinions. We often take these disagreements personally because when someone disagrees with something we believe, it can feel like they’re discounting our background, experiences, and values.
Disagreement doesn’t mean that we have to change or that we have to force the other person to change. In many cases it is actually an opportunity to see where our unique life experiences have led us to where we are.
Disagreement doesn’t mean you can’t have a close relationship.
I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone I agree with about absolutely everything…and I know a lot of wonderful people. We don’t have to be exactly the same in order to have a strong relationship. In fact, our differences can bring a lot of richness and depth to our relationships if we let them.
Of course, shared opinions can tie us together, but relationships are built on so much more than being right. You can admire someone’s mind even if you don’t always agree with what it thinks. You can appreciate someone’s heart even if you don’t always agree with what it chooses to care about. You can value a person for the wholeness of who they are.
Relationships aren’t based on who is right or wrong, but rather, they are built through bravely showing up as who we are and allowing others space to do the same.
It is also important to acknowledge that all disagreements are not equal. At some times and with some people there may be a significant clash between our values that impacts the level of relationship we choose to engage in with that person. You do not have to go against your values or sacrifice your integrity to maintain a relationship.
Disagreement simply means that you disagree.
If you disagree, then you disagree. It doesn’t have to mean more than that. For any disagreement there are multiple Stories we could believe about what that disagreement means. We could think it means that we are wrong or bad. We could think it means the other person is wrong or bad. We could think it’s a great opportunity to learn more about a different perspective. We can see it as a duty to change the other person or a chance to show them respect.
Of course, the other person might not agree with your interpretation of the disagreement. Some people won’t accept that you can disagree with them and will try to change you. That doesn’t mean that you have to change. You can listen without agreeing. You can share without obligating anyone else to agree with you.
Disagreement can be an opportunity to practice boundaries. You can have boundaries around what you are willing to discuss and what you are not. You decide how people can speak to you and how they can’t. You can choose whether you want to pursue a closer relationship or whether you’d rather not. The other person gets to decide these things too.
How do you feel when someone disagrees with you? How does that shape your words and actions? Is there anything you’d like to change about your relationship with disagreement?
In this post, I’m primarily focusing on disagreements with someone we want to be in relationship with. I’m not telling you to engage with everyone who disagrees with you, to stay in relationships that don’t feel right to you, or to tolerate disrespectful treatment. Please take care of yourself. Instead, the point is that disagreement doesn’t mean relationship is impossible and conflict isn’t something to avoid at all costs.
I’m also not trying to tell you how you should feel in the face of disagreement. How you feel is how you feel. I still often feel very nervous in the midst of disagreement. The important thing is to be aware of how you engage with disagreement. You do not have to diminish yourself to fit others' opinions.