How to Deal With Decisions and Disagreements in Your Relationship

How to Deal With Decisions and Disagreements in Your Relationship

In this series, we’ve covered core values, uniqueness, differences, and acceptance. But how do you handle situations where decisions and differences affect both people?

Disagreements come in different degrees. They range from the practical to the emotional, and can sometimes feel like a sheer 100 ft. cliff in your way. You can’t possibly imagine what a resolution could be.

But once you know that you share the same values with someone else, you can deal with decisions and disagreements without generating rancor. It takes time, trust, honesty, and openness. You have to be willing to listen to the other person and find out what their wants and needs are in the particular situation.

There are multiple ways to solve a problem, and by exploring, you can find a solution that works for both of you because it will fit with your shared values. There is a solution out there somewhere, even though you can’t imagine it in the face of that daunting 100 ft. cliff.

Here’s where the fun comes in. You can find a path toward mutual solutions: a place where both of you are happy, satisfied, and even enriched beyond your original version of the solution. It is a co-creative process of listening, exploring, and searching for the values and important aspects of what underlies each others’ wants, and then finding a path to mutual satisfaction.

To do this, two factors are necessary: belief and intention. You need to believe that there is a place where the two of you can come together on an issue without either one of you feeling you are giving something up or deferring just to have peace. This is nothing like what is often referred to as compromise; that involves one or both parties giving something up in order to move forward. Finding a mutual solution is quite different from compromise.

In addition to all that is the intention to reach that place. Unlike wishing for a pony or a Ferrari, your desires can make it so. Check with your partner and make it a conscious agreement.

Set the Scene

Handling differences in this way may be a new idea for you. When breaking patterns and forming new ones, it helps to be aware of all aspects of what you are doing and to bring your own presence and consciousness with you to the experience. When you and your partner have a decision to make or a problem to solve, approach it with a sense of adventure and the attitude that the two of you are on the same side and are looking to find a creative answer together.

Start by choosing a time and place that allows for a relaxed exchange. (That rules out breakfast time before work!) Make sure you are both comfortable and that you won’t be interrupted or hurried so you can give each other and what you are doing your full attention. Start out by holding hands or being in physical contact, and proclaim to each other that you are on the same side and are looking for a place of mutual agreement. Relax, empty your minds of everything, and prepare to enjoy yourselves!

Speak Personally

Start with each of you, in turn, saying what you want. You can make a tremendous difference here with the language that you use. Make it personal by saying “I” rather than “You.” Don’t say “You closed the window”, say “I’m feeling hot.” Saying “You” is pointing a finger; saying “I” offers insight and removes blame. By speaking your desires out loud, you make them clearer to yourself as well as to the other person, and underlying reasons start to surface. “I want X because….”

When you are sharing about yourself, and not making accusations, each of you will be able to relax and trust that you are working together toward a solution.

Listen to the Other Person

A foundational part of this experience is listening deeply to each other and really hearing what the other person is saying. This means paying full attention to their words, and to their body language too.

Try to understand where they are coming from. Don’t prepare answers in your head while they are talking, as this will stop you from fully hearing them. Open yourself up to what they are offering you instead of coming up with counter-arguments and just waiting for your turn to speak them, or interrupting with your thoughts.

Understanding the other person is greatly facilitated by touch, by sitting in contact with each other. Rub shoulders with each other, hold hands, touch knees. There is some research to back this up. Communication is thought to be approximately 70% nonverbal (Birdwistell), and touch alone can communicate actions with 70% accuracy (Hertenstein).

Don’t criticize each other’s sharing. Just listen and learn. You are both involved in a process that will bring forth unexpected new resolutions. Trust the process and stay open.

Explore Together

Take turns speaking and listening to each other. Speak about what you want and why you want it. As you do this the most surprising thing occurs. You find out much more about what you actually want and you hear your partner doing the same. As you continue to share, you will both find your understanding of the situation changing because for any problem there are multiple solutions.

Knowing what the other person wants, you can propose other possibilities that might work for both of you. The initial positions of you and your partner are just two of them, and by listening to the other person, other solutions, ideas, and possibilities begin to appear that take the other person’s desires into account.

The trick here is to realize that, although you want something, there is usually an underlying desire behind that want, and there are several ways to satisfy that desire. Below that desire is a deeper want, which again can be sated in a number of different ways. You’re not generally conscious of these deeper needs until you look closely.

For instance, you want to go to an afternoon movie. On deeper examination, you realize you want a break from all the things you have to take care of, and looking even further, you realize you want that free-flowing feeling you had as a kid when you went to an afternoon movie. So as long as you get the feeling you’re really looking for – turns out it doesn’t matter what the activity is. This is the kind of thing you uncover when you’re doing this process. You realize what is actually important for you.

By talking back and forth and exploring what you want and why you want it, you will get closer to something that you both desire and an image begins to emerge, a solution or activity that works for both of you. These are not ideas or positions that come from just one of you. They are something different that emerges from your joint selves, from your union.

Take your time at this. Don’t try to rush toward a final outcome. Enjoy the time together talking, listening, and being heard. Enjoy being accepted and not criticized. It feels so good to remember and experience that you are truly on the same side. Keep open to discovery, without pushing for being right or wanting a specific forgone conclusion.

You have not compromised at any point in this because, at every step, you have only offered suggestions with which you would be happy. This entire process, although it can be challenging to find your deeper needs, is very satisfying because you are each offering to the other your true self at the moment.

We use a series of slides in our workshops to illustrate this, and here is the last slide, showing the original ideas, the underlying wants that get revealed through discussion, the shared want that is discovered, and the purple pentagon of the solution that fulfills it.

Trust the Process

It’s likely that this way of interacting is very strange for you and that previous disagreements have been very different. This way is not like that, and it may not feel like you are making progress so much as continuing to be at odds with your partner. This is where you have to trust with blind faith that a mutual solution is possible; you just haven’t found it yet.

When first practicing this process, you or your partner may falter, but that’s OK; the other person can help keep things on track. If you find yourself getting defensive, argumentative, or losing that feeling of connection with your partner, remember this is something you both want. Speak about how you are feeling without blaming. Reiterate to each other that it is your belief and intention to find mutual solutions. Gentle physical contact and facing and looking at each other always helps. Even though you might not see it yet, believe a result is possible, and that the two of you want to reach it together.

Expect the Unexpected

The results of this process are quite surprising, and you will discover a real sense of pleasure at tackling the issue together. As ideas, viewpoints, and feelings are exchanged between the two of you, the results go way beyond either of your original concepts, and you will reach a place that works for both of you that neither of you imagined initially. It is not a product of compromise, but rather something your openness and acceptance of each other has created. You may have changed your position as a result of this process, but you have not been forced to give anything up.

After using this approach on a few problems, you get a feel for it. Literally. A sense of delight and intimacy arises when you create a mutual solution. Your positive experiences accumulate and bring with them assurance and peace, combined with the knowledge that by acting in union you can find answers and resolutions that are far more than either of you have conceived of alone.


Seeking mutual resolutions brings more than just finding what works for both of you. You are creating something together that wasn’t there before; something that grows from the interaction between you. Not only does peace pervade this path toward mutuality, but it also makes clear that you are both on the same side; that there is a “we” that has real substance. The more often you experience finding mutual solutions, the stronger your awareness of the “we” becomes.

We have come to see that this process is not just a tool that is brought out of the box to use on special occasions; it describes the way we interact 24/7. It wasn’t immediately obvious to us because daily life doesn’t have the same high profile as an event resolving differences, but the same elements are there.

This is because the qualities that make for successful resolution of issues are the same as those that we practise in our daily life together. They are fairness, trust, honesty, respect for each other’s individuality, appreciation, total acceptance, looking for the values underlying situations, appreciating and seeking mutuality. It turns out that this process is just a synonym for that clutch of attitudes.

As you continue to apply this process to decision-making and finding solutions, the experience of how this feels and the knowledge you acquire accumulates. You recognize that place where you both feel heard, each of your wants and needs are being fulfilled, and you know the path to get there. This in turn engenders a feeling of profound peace and well-being and a closeness of shared honesty and trust.

When this enters the bloodstream of your relationship, peace truly abides in your heart. The characteristics developed in the practice of our process flow through your everyday life together. You are deeply aware of your positive intentions toward each other, as well as your commitment to knowing your own truth; to being honest with yourself about what you feel and want. Once you have sought and found that truth, you can communicate it clearly. You are listening without defensiveness to hear and share. You reside in the experience that there are no reprisals for being honest, as total acceptance has become a way of being with each other.

What joy it is to live in the reality of peaceful relating. This is not a distant dream of possibilities but a realizable goal that you can manifest if you want to.

Photo credit: Unknown
Photo note: Lawrence and Rita Gelber, promoters of I Declare World Peace.

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3 Comments on “How to Deal With Decisions and Disagreements in Your Relationship

  1. These guiding words on the journey of finding agreement and making decisions clearly adds sunlight to some shadowy stuff that we all might have and sometimes don’t even know we have. I see in myself that it is paramount that I firmly BELIEVE there is a solution, or several solutions, that are not yet visible to me. It is my firm belief that remaining open and willing to look at more than my own point of view makes this all much more fun than being stuck. When I believe I can find a solution, I am on the right path from the start!

  2. Thank you for this insightful blog. I can use this information to build better dialogue between all my characters in my story. After all, a story is about solving a big problem and dialogue can either illustrate or resolve the problems involved in reaching the final goal.

    • Hi Esther,
      That is a fascinating use of the information!
      Looking forward to reading how that plays out in your story.

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