When We Disagree

When We Disagree

By Susan Vogt

Susan Vogt is a freelance speaker and writer on marriage, parenting and spirituality www.SusanVogt.net. She and her husband of 35+ years, Jim, live in Kentucky. They have four adult children. She is author of Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference and Just Family Nights and has given permission for this article.

Unless one spouse is exceedingly passive or afraid to displease his/her partner, married couples will have disagreements. This is not bad; it is an expression of self-differentiation and identity. The challenge is to make these times of disagreement – emotionally difficult as they sometimes are – times of growth, not undue hurt.

Following are five ways to approach your next disagreement. I call them the “5 C”s”

1. Concede

Although you may not be willing to “just give in” when you both feel emotionally involved in an argument, this works when one partner is NOT strongly committed to a position and it is more of a preference. For the sake of family harmony you might decide to freely bend your will to let your partner have his/her way this time. The conceder must be willing to not harbor resentment. For example, although both of you may want to visit your own relatives over Christmas, maybe it is more important to go to your spouse’s family this year because of a recent death in the family.

2. Compromise

This classic negotiation format is well known but often neglected in the heat of anger. Each mate gives up something for the sake of the relationship. For example, I’ll come and watch your softball game this week if you’ll join me in some recreation I enjoy (maybe a book club) next week.

3. Chance

Sometimes ways to compromise or take turns are not obvious or practical. If an evening of recreation cannot be split, you might just flip a coin, pick lots, etc. The key is for the loser to practice the self-discipline of gracefully letting go of his/her preference and not sabotage the decision by holding a grudge while ostensibly agreeing to it.

4. Co-Existence

When neither partner is willing to accede to the spouse’s wish (even part-way or for a time) agreeing to disagree may be the best solution. Spouses keep their own opinion or desire and allow the other to do the same. This works when the decision is relatively minor or there is not enough time to fully explore options. Caution: Co-Existence is not appropriate when one spouse’s decision interferes with the partner’s freedom to decide. For example, couples cannot agree to disagree on whether to have a child, whether one should stop working, whether to move, etc. Life values and moral questions that impact each other must be resolved mutually.

5. Create a New Possibility

Spouses work together to brainstorm new options that neither one had thought of previously. This takes some energy and creativity but often is the most life giving option. Example: Instead of choosing whose relatives to visit at Christmas, invite everyone to your home, meet at a cabin in the woods, hold a video conference, etc.

Which one is best?

One way to know which of these options to use is for spouses to independently rank how strongly they feel about getting their way on a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being, I don’t much care to 10 being grounds for separate bedrooms)

If one spouse is close to 10 (feels extremely strongly on the issue) and the other is closer to 1 (doesn’t much care) Conceding would be the gracious way to go. (The only exception to this is if there is a pattern where the same spouse consistently is at 9 or 10. This is just manipulation or selfishness and needs to be confronted.)

If both of you are near the middle (4, 5, 6) consider Compromise or Chance.

If both of you feel strongly (7, 8, 9, 10) consider Co-Existing or Creating a New Possibility.

If neither of you care much (1, 2, 3) then you probably aren’t having an argument.


Consensus is an additional option available to groups trying to come to a decision when there are conflicting opinions. After all sides of an issue have been aired and dissenting views heard, the leader takes a sense of the group and suggests the direction that seems to have emerged with the most support. Although it may not be everyone’s first choice or preferred way to go, if everyone can live with the proposed decision without serious reservations, a consensus is declared in order to let the group move forward. If there ARE still serious reservations the group continues to talk and test compromises until consensus can be reached.

This model is adapted from the Growth in Marriage for Newlyweds program developed by Family and Children Services of Kansas City and the Association of Couples for Marriage Enrichment (ACME).

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