What Is the Difference Between Disagreeing and Arguing?

What Is the Difference Between Disagreeing and Arguing?

When we tell people we never argue, they don’t call us liars to our face, but there is often a strong whiff of incredulity in the air. It’s not that we agree on everything, but these disagreements don’t descend into arguments.

Now this may be a semantic thing. One definition of argument is reasoning: “I would argue that the existence of…,” and one definition of disagreement is a dispute. But for us, disagreement just means that we don’t agree, whereas an argument involves negative emotions, accusations, defensiveness, blame, anger, tears, estrangement, recrimination, threats, ultimatums, etc. Surely we’ve all had arguments in our lives.

Understanding the difference between these two terms becomes a really critical issue when building a conflict-free successful relationship.

A disagreement can occur between two people in a relationship without in any way damaging the relationship. Assuming your core values match and you have learned about acceptance of your partner and honoring and even celebrating the differences between you and your partner, then when the two of you have differing opinions about something or see things in a different way, it will not be a cause for problems between you. If one of you wants to paint the door red and the other thinks it would be better in green, or if one of you wants to go to a New Year’s party in town and one wants to go out of town, whatever these disagreements are, you can settle them without actual conflict.

There is a process we have shared in our forthcoming book “How Two: Have a Successful Relationship” that outlines step by step how you can find mutual solutions and have a good time while doing it. It is important to always remember you are on the same side and no solution will work unless it works for both of you. Most importantly, you must have the belief that this is possible and the intention to do so.

An argument is an entirely different matter. These kinds of exchanges come from behaviors that cause rifts and estrangements in the relationship. Fueled by this isolating behavior, which instead of creating intimacy and bonding causes the two partners to be defended and feel that they are on different and often opposite sides, an attitude of war rather than peace is developed. Arguments are often caused by list making and keeping score. They occur in relationships where the partners have not developed communication which supports mutual solutions. There is usually an absence of the practice of active listening and often a contest type energy about who is right.

This type of behavior will undo the closest of lovers, and the arguments will tend to get more intense. The residual feelings set the couple up for arguing more and more frequently. To learn how to avoid or correct this type of relating, read or listen to our chapter on Our Process (sign up above) and change your patterns of acting and reacting. To succeed in this, both partners must be committed to and want to come to a place of mutual solutions.

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5 Comments on “What Is the Difference Between Disagreeing and Arguing?

  1. Thank you for making this important distinction! When a discussion starts to turn into an argument (negative feelings start coming up) — one could just take a breath and say “We’re on the same side here right? This relationship is about getting both of our needs met, honoring and cherishing and loving each other, becoming more intimate, bonded and closer through solving problems together”. I’m really thankful that you guys have helped me to see that this type of relationship is possible!

  2. My 25 year old daughter, my husband and I are having trouble differentiating clearly, an argument vs disagreement vs a “fight”. In a family relationship, how does one clarify the difference?

    • Dear Denice,
      Thank you for contacting us with your question. As we are sure you know, this is one of the most challenging and important topics we can handle within any relationship, especially family – children and marriage.
      Our approach has been to look for mutuality when handling decisions and looking for solutions, and resolving what appear to be conflicts. We have a process we describe for doing this, and we would recommend you to review this link in that regard:

      When working with family and children it is particularly important to make this process an adventure in finding a new way to deal with communication. To that end, be sure to set the scene, find a time when you will not be interrupted, and set a tone of peaceful encounter – you are not trying to handle a problem – you are trying to find out how each of you feels and what your real needs and desires are in the situation so that you can find a mutual solution, one that incorporates each person’s needs. Listen to each other completely without interruption. When you speak( and each person has to be informed of how this interaction will proceed) express yourself without accusation or blame and share in the first person how you feel.
      Until you gather some experience with this way of communicating, it is necessary to take it on faith that a mutual solution can always be found. Then again, if you don’t try, you will never find out.
      If you go to our website https://philandmaude.com/ and use the search button to look for our process, arguments and disagreements, mutuality, and other related topics, you will find that this is a strong theme in our writing going back many years, and hopefully there will be more blogs you will find ideas in.
      We wish you the very best of luck.
      Look for our newsletter every Sunday morning starting at 6:30 AM PST – if you don’t see it look in spam or promotions as Gmail puts things often in strange places 🙂

      Again, it is so good to meet you. Please let us know if you are able to apply any of this and how it goes.
      Be well,

    • Hi Denice,

      I think the best approach is to look at the emotions that come up. All of our positions are undergirded by emotions, though they are not always immediately apparent. Finding and naming them gives a lot of clarity to both you and other people.

      Make sure you stick with the first person here. “I feel hurt” or “I don’t feel heard” is different from “You make me feel hurt” or “You aren’t listening to me” because you remove the blame aspect, and by speaking about yourself, you make it personal, intimate, sharing.

      It’s when the feelings become hostile and make you feel that you are on different sides that it becomes an argument. Nearly always, there is a way to work through differences and reach a resolution that works for both of you.

      Best of luck,

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