Politics. Religion. Divorce. LGBTQ+. COVID-19 vaccines. These are just some examples of topics that can be very polarizing when brought up between colleagues, friends, and loved ones. If you want to avoid getting into a full-fledged argument and preserve the good relationship you have with the other person, sometimes the best course of action is to just agree to disagree. This means coming to an understanding that neither of you are going to change the other’s mind and expressing a willingness to move on.
Aiza Tabayoyong — a family and relationship expert from The Love Institute, a pioneering company equipping couples, parents, and individuals with skills on how to have fulfilling relationships with those dearest to them — shares some ways you can properly and respectfully agree to disagree:
Communicate to understand, not to change minds. Listen wIthout bias. “Instead of saying right off the bat ‘No, you are wrong’ or ‘That’s such a crazy thing to think,’ ask ‘Why do you feel this way?’ or ‘What makes you think this way?’” Aiza advises. Show respect and curiosity instead of judgment and condemnation. Then move on to #2 —
Find common ground. If both of you are set in your respective beliefs, try to look at the big picture. What do both of you want to achieve? What final outcomes are you interested in? Political differences, for example, can be rooted in a desire for better governance or protection of the family’s welfare; the issue of COVID19 vaccines, on the other hand, is about staying safe and healthy. While both of you may have different ideas on how to achieve these goals, choosing to focus on the why will make it easier to accept these differences.
Ask yourself what’s important. Choosing to agree to disagree is easier said than done. But if the relationship is special to you, preserving it should trump your need to be right. “At the end of the day, what’s more important to you — keeping the relationship or winning the argument?” Aiza asks. “Is it campaigning for a candidate, or saving a marriage or friendship that has been there even before this candidate ever thought about running for a position?”
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Not only are relationship conflicts normal, they are inevitable. “A serious relationship or marriage is a union of two distinct people who grew up in different families and, hence, bring with them different cultures, belief systems, values, goals, habits, and behavioral patterns,” says Aiza Tabayoyong, a family and relationship expert from The Love Institute, a pioneering company equipping couples, parents, and individuals with skills on how to have fulfilling relationships with those dearest to them. “For those who are in a heterosexual relationship, gender alone carries biological and psychological differences.”
Additionally, it takes a lifetime to know all there is about someone; Aiza even compares it to studying in school. “When you start dating someone, your knowledge and awareness about them is equivalent to what a child knows during the preschool years,” she explains. “Once you get married, it’s as if you are entering elementary school. On your 25th anniversary, you have just completed high school. I would say that you only become an expert on your partner — the equivalent of a doctorate degree — when you have spent 50 years together.”
“This is because once you start living together and form a family, you will be facing new situations that you otherwise would not have encountered as single people,” she adds. “Parenthood alone comes with a whole gamut of experiences that will require both parties to adjust each other’s temperaments and values. And it is during these times of adjusting that conflicts occur.”
Common causes of relationship conflict Even the most compatible of couples will encounter conflict because of the following reasons:
Triggers and issues stemming from childhood. “For example, if a partner lacked attention as a child and they feel they are also lacking attention in your marriage, that can be a trigger,” Aiza enumerates.
Differences in values. This encompasses a wide variety of subjects, including isues pertaining to money, sex, spirituality, goals, and family roles. “Who has more say in the relationship? How will the children be raised?” Aiza enumerates. “How much sway do in-laws or extended family members have in decision-making? If these are not discussed properly before the marriage, conflict will occur.”
Lack of communication, validation, and affirmation. “We’ve become so used to doing things a certain way when we were single that when our partner acts the opposite way and neither wants to compromise, that also poses a conflict,” says Aiza.
When to ignore, talk it out, or walk away Just because relationship conflicts are normal and inevitable does not mean you should give up on the idea of having a harmonious marriage. Unresolved relationship conflict is very stressful, and this stress can negatively affect the physical and mental health of both partners as well as any children that they may have. However, not all issues need to turn into conflicts; in the same vein, you should also know which conflicts are more grave and require more drastic measures. Aiza shares some ways you can tell the difference and what you can do to resolve them:
When to let your partner be “It is not worth the conflict if the issue is about something bigger involving your partner and not about you,” Aiza assures. “In such cases, just let them express their emotions and do your best to love and understand them.”
An example would be the expression “Shut up.” During one of your conversations, you might have said it in jest, i.e. “Oh, shut up, that’s not true,” but your partner reacted like they were disrespected and got triggered. In such cases, instead of lashing back with “You’re so sensitive, I didn’t mean anything bad about it,” just pause and give them time to cool their tempers. Then when they are ready, gently ask if they want to talk about why they reacted in such a manner, so that you know not to do it again next time. Whether they want to talk about it or not, just make a mental note to refrain from saying “Shut up” next time.
When to talk it out, work it out A relationship becomes problematic when the conflict stems from different values and you and your partner are triggered with deep feelings about certain issues.
A classic example would be matters involving money, i.e. when the two of you differ in how much to spend, what to spend on, how much money to lend to relatives or friends, etc. In such cases, you need to sit down and try to come up with a compromise. To do this, start by expressing your feelings, then hear out your partner. Use “I” statements such as “I feel __ when you spend on ___. But I want to understand why you are doing this, can you explain it to me?”
Then, as always, hear out your partner from a place of love and understanding, i.e. “Oh, so you were raised to think of money this way, which is why you did this and that. Now I see.” Finally, bring up options so that you can come up with compromises. That way, everyone comes out a winner.
When to walk away
Every person should have a list of behaviors that they will not tolerate in a partner. Ideally, these non-negotiables should have been seen before the marriage. For Aiza, examples of toxic behavior include extreme disrespect and abuse (whether physical, mental, or emotional), pathological reasons or disorders that you are not qualified to handle, or psychological incapacities.
“It is sad if these things are discovered within the marriage. But if the love is strong and the other person wants to make it work, then try to work it out, maybe with the help of a professional,” Aiza advises. But if the partner continues to be in denial, resorts to gaslighting, or keeps falling back on toxic habits despite promises to the contrary, then you need to decide if this is still a relationship that you want to continue.
This is not to mean that you should file for separation, divorce, or annulment at the drop of a hat. “If you love each other, and you spent spent a lot of time getting to know your partner well enough during the dating process, if you knew what you were getting into and you took your marriage vows seriously, if you were not coerced into the relationship and there was love to begin with — then everything can be worked out,” Aiza assures. “But if you got married simply because you were swept off your feet or were coerced or pressured, or you never had the opportunity to really get to know your partner — then maybe all these conflicts are a sign that you were not meant to be. Do still try to work on the relationship, don’t give up over the smallest conflict; but if you’ve done everything you can and you still don’t see any change in your partner, then you’re probably better off ending it.”
“Do you have enough common values that you can adjust to differences in way of thinking? Is there good enough communication? Is there a good level of maturity?”
According to research conducted by relationship company The Gottman Institute, 69% of conflicts in a marriage can be resolved successfully. This is where Aiza stresses the importance of getting to know your partner well. “Do you have enough common values that you can adjust to differences in way of thinking? Is there good enough communication? Is there a good level of maturity?” she lists. “Marriage is forever, it is ‘I love you until death do us part’ and not ‘I love you only until it’s convenient and comfortable.’ And when the love is true, that will hopefully be a strong enough motivation to keep going and to keep fixing any relationship conflict.”
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While arguments and disagreements between family members are normal, it’s important to distinguish between normal fights and toxic behavior.
“A relationship is toxic when it is not harmonious, when negative moments outweigh the positive ones,” explains Aiza Tabayoyong, a family and relationship expert from the Love Institute, a pioneering company equipping couples, parents, and individuals with skills on how to have fulfilling relationships with those dearest to them.
The fights do not even have to be direct or explosive confrontations to be considered toxic. “The hurting can come in many forms,” points out Aiza. “It can be verbal abuse in the form of sarcasm, some subtle teasing, or giving the other person the silent treatment.
It can even be passive-aggressive behaviors — like leaving the soap dish full of water knowing you’re the next one to use the soap, or finishing up all the food when they know it’s your favorite. At first glance, these behaviors are simply annoying. But If they occur constantly and the person does not change their ways even if you ask them to, they become hurtful and disrespectful, which leads to repressed anger, and becoming toxic.”
Toxic relationships are bad not only for the relationship but also for the mental, emotional, and physical health of the people involved. “In a toxic relationship, your body and brain are constantly in a fight or flight mode because of so much stress,” explains Aiza.
“In the long-term, this negative energy will literally become toxic in your system, and can also lead to different mental health challenges like depression or anger management issues. It can also lower our immune system because when we are not in a good place, our body’s antibodies do not fight as hard,” she adds.
“The fights do not even have to be direct or explosive confrontations to be considered toxic. The hurting can come in many forms. It can be verbal abuse in the form of sarcasm, some subtle teasing, or giving the other person the silent treatment.”
Aiza Tabayoyong, family and relationship expert from the Love Institute
How to move forward
Repairing a toxic relationship takes time, patience, and diligence. This is because most toxic relationships often occur as a result of longstanding and unresolved issues in the current relationship, or as a result of unaddressed issues from prior relationships.
If you truly want the situation with your family member to change for the better, there are some things you can do to turn things around:
Stay away from the source of the toxicity as much as you can. This can be hard to do these days when you are isolated at home with the other person and cannot literally go away, so it would help if you have a room of your own where you can take a breath. If not, Aiza recommends putting up some form of psycho-emotional shield, such as meditating, listening to music, praying, and also reminding yourself that you are distinct and different from the other person.
“It’s important to cut the emotional connections especially if the other person knows your buttons,” she advises. “Instead of thinking ‘ There’s something going on with my loved one and it’s affecting me,’ shift the mindset to ‘There’s something going on with my loved one, I need to move away from striking distance so I will not be affected.’”
Regroup and recollect. Sometimes, the difference is in the pause. As Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl famously said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Once you’ve had your space and are in a better place, know your options. According to Aiza, there are three:
Option A: Are you going to accept the person’s behavior and just choose to live with it? The downside is you will need to set very firm boundaries to cope with the toxic behaviors, and the boundaries may become so rigid that you will be permanently disconnected from the other person.
Option B: Will you give hints and hope that the other person will get that you are affected by his or her particular behavior? In this case, be prepared for the possibility that they will never get it.
Option C: Ask for a dialogue with the other person, and do it in a non-confrontational and non-judgemental way. “Approach the other person with a sense of compassion, because he or she might be going through something that you are not aware of,” instructs Aiza. “Then use ‘I’ statements to convey how you feel, such as ‘I feel __ when you do __.’ This way, you are letting them know the effect of their behavior — not their personality or their character — on you. They won’t feel attacked, and the chances of them being defensive or angry will be minimized.”
On the other hand, lashing out with “You’re so inconsiderate!” or “You always/never think of others,” is exhibiting judgement and will make the other person want to prove you wrong. He or she will lash back with, “That’s not true, I am very considerate, do you know how much I do for this family, etc. etc.”
Talk to a professional. “Talking to a psychologist can provide you with a sounding board to process your feelings or help you view things from another perspective,” says Aiza.
Dealing with toxic family members who are older than you
It’s easier to have difficult conversations with peers — like siblings or your partner — than with older members of the family like parents or the parents in-law. What should be done if they are the ones exhibiting toxic behavior?
At the very least, try to make the relationship civil. If the relationship has been sour for so long already, you cannot expect the other person to be as empathetic or compassionate to your pleas. “ Bring the relationship first to neutral ground by knowing the other person’s love language, something that will build favor and allow you to reconnect,” shares Aiza. “In time, you will build a bit of leverage as far as influence is concerned and you will not be dismissed right away. “
Present your case in a way that it’s beneficial for both parties. “Start by saying ‘I know it has been difficult for both of us; I’m sorry if I knowingly or unknowingly offended you or hurt you. I want to improve things around the house or our relationship, may I talk about it when you are available?’” suggests Aiza. “If they are ready, they will say yes. If they are not ready and say no, at least you tried.”
In the case of in-laws, ask for help from your partner/their child. “Capitalize on your parents-in-law’s love for their son or daughter, they cannot reject him or her,” points out Aiza. “Ask your partner to mediate and make things better, or bring you up in a better light.”
How to reduce being toxic towards others
Because we are human, it’s highly possible that we are treating family members unpleasantly without even realizing it. How can we become less toxic people ourselves?
Get feedback. “Dare to ask trusted people whom you know will not hurt you for feedback. For parents, if you have a good enough sense of your self-worth, ask your kids ‘How is mommy doing? Is there anything you would like me to do so I can be a better mom?’” suggests Aiza.
If there is no one to ask, just be observant of yourself. “What is your own level of stress that you may be bringing into your relationships. How happy are you with your life? How contented are you?” Aiza asks.
If you prefer a scientific approach, MindNation has an online WellBeing Quiz that you can take for free to check on your mental status and happiness level. If you score Healthy or Thriving, then you are in good shape and no one is affected by you; but if you are Fading or Burned Out and you realize that there are people you rub the wrong way or people who trigger you, you might want to step back and see where that’s coming from.
“Is it because you’re tired? Or maybe you have some unresolved issues that need to be resolved?” asks Aiza. “Whatever it is, you might want to work on those now, because a lot of our past issues manifest either in relationships or at work.”
Make time for self-care. “This is very, very important, especially if there are other people counting on you for care and love,” Aiza stresses. “Self-care is whatever it looks like for you, whether it’s doing breathwork, meditating, walking under the sun (just make sure to stay safe), bingeing a little bit of tv, or talking to your friends and finding a reason to really belly laugh. Finally, get as many hugs as you can from people who are safe. Virginia Satir, a famous family therapist, is famous for saying ‘We need 4 hugs a day for survival; 8 hugs a day for maintenance; 12 hugs a day for growth.”
For Aiza, the lockdowns happening because of the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique opportunity for the family to work on their issues and become stronger. “Think of it as a forced team building exercise,” Aiza says. “Now is the perfect time to look at any problems that you may have, take a pause, and deliberately work on them. Don’t sweep things under the rug and presume that everything will go away once the pandemic is over. Find ways to thrive inside the home so that when the doors finally open, we can go back to our normal lives carrying that love, and know that our relationship survived the lockdown stronger than ever.”
For those living in the Philippines, MindNation psychologists and WellBeing Coaches are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions if you need help addressing relationship issues, past traumas, or to work on yourself. Book a slot now through FB Messenger http://m.me/themindnation or email [email protected].