Disagreeing Agreeably

Just this morning Andy said to me “Honey I think we’ll agree to disagree agreeably on this one”. That’s a good statement to hang on to in marriage – especially the ‘agreeably’ bit.

I’m watching re-runs of Downtown Abbey at the moment. I just love how the English are so courteous and yet manage to speak candidly. But then I would think that, right? I'm English :) 

In an episode last night, a comment was made that struck a chord with me. Carlson, the Butler, said to Mrs. Hughes, the house manager, “I don’t like it when we’re on opposite pages. I find it disturbing. I like to be on the same page with you”.

Over 26 years of marriage Andy and I have found ourselves on opposite pages - often. And I've never liked it. In fact, I used to think that if we disagreed, we had a serious problem.  But Andy reminds me “if we always thought the same then what’s the point of one of us being here”.  And of course he’s perfectly right. He’ll like that :)

Because we are so different we have challenged one another’s ideas and thinking, and ultimately grown in the process. It’s taken a while to get it right, but we’re allowing each other the freedom to influence one another.

However it does help to have good strategies, right? Dr Susan Heitler, in her book The Power of Two talks about using the AAA principle. It’s a strategy for expressing disagreements which enable those of us with differing viewpoints to keep our conversations harmonious. And I like it.

Here’s an example of such a disagreement between a couple:  Jeremy loves talking politics – his wife, Brenda, does not.  A conversation may go something like this :-

J :  “You should get more politically engaged. I think it’s essential to being a responsible member of society”.

B: “Not in my house. I hate political discussions”.

J :  “And that’s our problem right there”. The conversation stops and silence ensues.

Now let’s put Dr Heitler’s AAA principle to the test: (I repeat) Jeremy says to Brenda:  “You should get more politically engaged. I think it’s essential to being a responsible member of society”.

1. A = Agree.  Listen for an aspect to agree with. It can help to start with ‘yes’.

e.g. Brenda: “Yes I agree that people need to be politically informed".

2. A = Augment. (or Amplify). Elaborate on a specific word or idea you agreed with, seeking to find some level of understanding.

 e.g. Brenda: "Particularly when it comes to voting.  Look at Brexit."

3. A = Add. Add your input to the discussion. (avoid using ‘but’).  This gives a win-win outcome and says “your input and mine both matter”.

e.g. Brenda: "I’d be open to share my political thoughts, I’m just worried what will happen to our relationship if I disagree with you”.

Rather than shutting down the conversation, not only does Brenda show respect for Jeremy’s position but she also gives him a reason to understand why she thinks differently.

So as Andy and I find ourselves on different pages again this morning I’m reminding myself that agreement isn’t the goal in marriage – the goal is understanding. And I’m getting to understand him a little more everyday.
“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions”. Proverbs 18:2


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