How to Communicate With Your Partner When You Disagree

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Corey Allan of Simple Marriage.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw.

You’re surfing the blogosphere and you stumble across several sites on minimalism and simplification. Something in the message resonates deeply in you and you find yourself prepared to overhaul your home and life. Then the thought hits you, your spouse will never go for it.

Now what?

For starters, remember that every relationship has conflict. And every marriage has conflict as well.

John Gottman, one of the leaders in the field of marriage research, has discovered that the majority of marital conflicts are perpetual. They’re continual and repeated. In fact, 69% of all marital problems fall into this category.

There are many areas in marriage where you’re simply not going to agree. Here’s a few:

  • One of you wants to have children (or X number of kids), while the other says they’re not ready, or are happy with the current number of kids.
  • One of you wants sex far more frequently that the other.
  • You want to raise your children Baptist, while your spouse wants them to be raised Catholic.
  • Your spouse is lax about housework and rarely does his or her share until you nag, igniting anger.
  • One of you is a saver with money and the other is a spender.
  • Or one of you wants to work towards a more simple and minimalist type of life and the other doesn’t.

Problems in marriage are inevitable. The question is — can you remain satisfied in your marriage in spite of differences? Can your marriage thrive when there are differences between you?

I believe the answer is yes.

The key is to continually work it out and grow up. Acknowledge the problem and talk about it. Your love for each other doesn’t have to be overwhelmed by your differences.

Think of it this way — the times when there’s tension between you and your spouse, it’s like the elephant in the room. You both know it’s there when you’re together. Rather than allowing the elephant to roam freely between you and takeover your space, name it. Speak up. While this won’t make the elephant leave completely, it will decrease its size.

In unstable marriages, elephants are likely to kill the relationship. Instead of coping, the couple gets gridlocked. You have the same conversation over and over, resolving nothing. You’re spinning your wheels. And since you’re making no progress, you both feel more frustrated, hurt or rejected. When this happens, resentment moves in and humor and affection leave – so does simplicity and passion.

Problems in marriage will happen. How you address them is up to you.

Here are some ways to communicate better with your partner when you don’t see eye to eye:

1. With respect.

One of the main things I see in couples on the verge of marital collapse is a lack of respect. When you reach a point where you no longer like each other, you’re in trouble.

Respect is defined as not trying directly or indirectly to change anyone.” -Thomas Fogarty

Sadly, we often treat common strangers with more respect than people in our home. Respect is one of the key factors to a successful marriage — respect for those around you, and most importantly, respect for yourself.

2. Clearly define yourself.

To define yourself means you have a deeper awareness and understanding of your beliefs, wants, needs and desires. Marriage is a great place to clarify these things in your life – mainly because that’s the way marriage is designed.

You live with another person who has his or her own view of the way things should be, just like you. For example, in your family of origin, tables may serve as great places to store piles of mail, magazines, and kid’s artwork. But your spouse’s family of origin believes tables are great places to eat dinner together, so they need to be free of clutter.

Neither way is necessarily “right,” just different. You are allowed to live life the way you choose, but so is your spouse.

3. Understand the idea of over-functioning and under-functioning.

In every relationship, there will be one who over-functions while the other under-functions. It’s a reality of relationships.

Over-functioning and under-functioning are positions that we occupy in response to how we do life. None of us is all one way all the time — we over-function in some areas of life and under-function in others. This is determined by what’s important to you and what you value. For example, if your kid’s grades are more important to you than they are to her, you’re more likely to do her homework for her, or at least keep on her about it, because she can under-function, knowing you’ll pick up the slack.

One thing to keep in mind — if you’re over-functioning for someone, you are under-functioning for yourself. When you are faced with something you want to change, and have a spouse that isn’t on the same page, it’s best to initiate a discussion about the change.

Share your thoughts – openly listen to theirs. It’s very likely that together, you will be able to come up with a solution.

4. Live by what you hold dear.

When you are faced with a situation where you and your spouse aren’t on the same page, live according to your own integrity and values.

If you want to simplify and your spouse doesn’t, simplify your life.

You want to eat healthy and your spouse only wants fast food? Eat healthy.

I’ll leave you with this: At the end of the day, all you are responsible for is you.


Corey Allan writes at Simple Marriage where he helps couples create better marriages by keeping things simple. You may also enjoy following him at Twitter.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Wow, great post Corey! As someone who just celebrated their 30 anniversary, I can agree with your points here. One thing I have never really heard in such a way is the over and under-functioning. I can see this in our lives very well. Will have to give some thought to working through it!
    I also love the idea of naming the elephant. Some things will never be agreed upon, name it and accept it for what it is.
    As go your days, so goes your life

  2. says

    Thank you for a well articulated post. In our marriage, I am moving towards simplicity with a bit more resolve than my wife. So far, I think I have been successful in simplifying MY life and let her be a spectator of the change. I’ve actually noticed small changes on her part. The last thing I’d want is send a message that my way is better. My way simply works for me. Thank you for emphasizing respect, a bedrock for relationships.

  3. says

    Thank you for this article – I have always felt the “over-functioning & underfunctioning” but have never been able to clearly articulate what it was. I tend to underfunction when my husband is home, believing myself to be inferior. Which I am clearly not since I manage fine when he is away – time for me to step up my wife game!

    jill :)

    • says

      While I certainly can’t speak for your husband, but I believe most husbands like it when their wife steps up their wife game.

      Hope this reaps fabulous benefits in your marriage and life!

  4. says

    I think I may have a problem with over-functioning. While lately I have been trying to focus more on my wants and needs, its hard because I have this overpowering feeling of needing to take care of my husbands needs first all the time. My mother has always been that way and its been hard to accept I have the same problem sometimes!

    Thanks for the reminder.

  5. says

    I absolutely loved this post! My husband has always been the more minimalist one in our marriage, but I am working very hard at becoming a minimalist also. Thanks for the great communication tips!!

  6. says

    Great Post! Sometimes we all need a little reminder. I know with my boyfriend we struggle with some of the above. We work together and live together. It can be very intense at times and we sometimes take each other for granted and the time we have since we are together so much. I also think this hinders the finding balance and meting half way. We both always want it our way or no way. This is something that requires respect for your partner. A relationship is always a learning process.

  7. Suzanne L. says

    This all sounds good, but I’m not sure it can really address the big problems.

    You want (2 person) sex, but your spouse doesn’t? Have sex. Hmm.

    You want to hoard/control all the money you earn and keep a separate bank account from your stay-at-home-mom wife? Go ahead.

    Your examples seemed to be things people can do on their own without really impacting the other person. What about the big problems?

  8. Ellen Scott Grable says

    I just lost a relationship because my partner wanted me all the time and didn’t allow for “me” time at all. He felt if I needed time to handle my business, take care for my elderly folks or assist my adult children it was a sign I wasn’t committed to him. I am glad I stood up for me even if it meant losing him. I will always have me : )

  9. shakti says

    Great article. My partner have come through a real rough patch. But what I would like to know is how do u come to a balance when it comes to finances . We were given money for our twins and he spent it on something else…upset

  10. kasha says

    – I am kasha i lives in uk and i was in a serious relationship with my ex guy for three good years.. One day we were in a dinner party, we had a little misunderstanding which lead to a Quarrel and he stood up and left me at the dinner party. i try to call him but he was not picking my calls so after than i contacted my brother and told him about it,my brother so much love me that he had to see him on my behalf,he told my brother that it is over between us.. Then i contacted a friend of mine that had this similar experience and she directed me to one of the spiritual diviner ( first i thought it was not going to be possible and i contacted him i was ask to come up with a little requirement,so i did what i was ask to do, after 3 days i was in my office when my ex guy called me and was asking me to forgive him and come back to him. i was very surprise it was like a dream to me,so ever since we have been happily married with one kid my lovely baby(Ceslav)…i wish you the best of luck…

    • Manish says

      Hi, I am manish even iam going through the same problem.,My fiancee wants to end our relationship but I really don’t want to do this i would be very much thankful if u can help me out in this regards

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  13. Maria says

    Well….I don’t even know were to start. This all sound like really good advice but does it really work? My husband and I disagree on a lot of things. We were sepreated a about 2 years ago, we even went to court. He wanted to work things out so we decided to give it a try, everything was fine up until now. I try to make things work but he doesn’t seem to understand me. I feel that we are on two different pages and think different. I don’t know if its because we were both raised differently. We have three kids oldest is soon to be 12 and the youngest is soon to be 6 months. For example, I want my son to play soccer (which he has been doing it since he was 6, because its something positive and keep his busy and off the street). My husband always has something to say right before I take him to practice. It really sad, I (we) always seem to ignore him. Its sad but that’s how I handle it. He says “it just wastes our time”, “we can’t do anything as family”, blah, blah, blah. I tell him that first of all practice is only twice a week and games on Saturday. I tell him that the rest of the day we do nothing!….Its getting to a point were I can’t take it anymore!! I need advice and help. I believe in marriage and I want to keep things working out for us but if he doesn’t I really don’t know what to do.

  14. NMc says

    Interesting post. I have this repeated issue with my partner. He comments on other women consistently (or enough for it to upset me). I expressed to him that I do not like this and it makes me feel uncomfortable and disrespected but he states I pick him up wrong and that this is my issue. I disagree with him and will not let up on it. It has now gotten to the stage where I am in fact growing to dislike him and starting to lose respect for him, for the simple reason that he doesn’t take my feelings on board. I do not do this to him and expect the same treatment. I have come to believe he does this on purpose to upset me which is painful for me to think. He maintains he doesn’t mean it the way I interpret it and I am foolish to think he does, and I need to relax. Feeling utterly hopeless as I am also pregnant with his child. How can I maintain my own integrity and get my point across to him? Currently I get so frustrated with him when he repeats this behaviour that I start to get worked up and of course he doesn’t want to listen then. I feel I’ve tried everything: writing it down, saying ‘I feel this, when you do this’ and to no avail. I am sad to think that the reality is he does not respect me and does not take me seriously and even perhaps wants to hurt me on some level :-(

    • SomeoneSomone says

      Easy. Next time you are out, and YOU see a hot piece of man ass, comment on it. Loudly. Maybe even bring it up later, in the middle of some sort of ‘physical’ activity. I prescribe a good ol’ fashion bottle of ‘taste of your own medicine’. That, should do it.

  15. Jennifer Fisher says

    Hi, I’ve been with my fiancée, going into our 4th year next month, and I feel like.. I am confused! We set a wedding date, halloween, and we started planning. But then a few months ago- and currently- he started vacillating about actually going through with it. He has called off the wedding twice and postponed it and we even changed the STATE we would have the ceremony. Now our families are getting anxious, not to mention my stress level, because they ALL have to travel to get to us. He says it’s because he doesn’t trust me 100% or I don’t pay enough attention to him or I care more about “the wedding” than the marriage… but 2 days ago he said let’s get married in town- tonight he says he feels rushed when I ask him if we can discuss dates so our family’s can make arrangements! Now he’s cancelled the whole thing again “indefinitely” he tells me!!!! We haven’t been arguing or lacking ‘snuggle time’… I DON’T GET IT!!! I’ve been waiting for this day my entire life, it’s important to me, maybe I’m old fashioned, but I need my dad to give me away and if he doesn’t I won’t get married. My man knows that. That being said, my dad is waiting for the set wedding date to retire and leave the country- forever!!!! So if I tell him to buy his ticket and it’s all set, then it ends up falling apart again, he losses A LOT of money and I look like an idiot for wasting all his time and money. Plus, then he’s gone, for good and I’m left feeling broken hearted. Not to mention resentment towards my – still not husband. …
    Help, please….

  16. NancyKH says

    RUN. This man is wishy washy and will bring you nothing but the same on thousands of more issues. Get off the roller coaster NOW, don’t ride the next issue/hill and become crazy in the process. RUN.

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  18. Salvatore says

    But how does one move on a situation where there is no compromise? For example, i am career oriented, have a great job, and want to stay in current city to become successful and raise are two newborns in a place with opportunity and where we can raise them in a financially stable home.

    However, at my wife’s behest I found a job in a small town near her family for a 50% pay cut. We will be “okay” and be able to raise our kids in a middle class home still. But I think I will always hold it against her if we move. And if we stay she’ll always hold it against me.

    How do you get over that?

  19. SomeoneSomone says

    What if the disagreement you are having with your partner is concerning drugs? They want to try Ecstasy and you are one hundred percent against drugs. And they knew that you had that stance years before you started dating, and also had the same one years ago and now have suddenly taken an interest in it. What if when you raised valid concerns and facts on the aftermath of drug use, they always had a comeback that seemed to be based in ‘facts’ but really is based in ignorance, basically from a place where they have already decided they wanted to do it, and you don’t matter.

  20. michael says

    How can I get my lover back tonight? How can I take steps in getting my lover back fast? Is my situation with my boyfriend or girlfriend hopeless?

  21. juliet fredua-agyeman says

    Nice posts.relationship issues are so complex to me now. Can ‘t see clearly now, friends.

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