It’s Disgustingly Normal to Disagree


Married couples disagree. The ones who stay married the longest disagree just as much as the ones who divorce.
Disagreements become angry battles or festering resentments only when you fall into the trap of thinking a disagreement requires a choice between your two points of view.
You start out thinking Option A vs. Option B. If you argue for Option A or Option B, you lose. Jump the net instead. Offer your mate all the desirable benefits of both options and none of the feared negatives of either. Find the Third Alternative.
How? First, you must find out which benefits of A and B each of you find desirable and which you fear. Skip this step, and you’ll be tossing around alternatives for weeks. You have to ask. You have to be ready to hear the answers and treat them all as a given for your Option C.
Once you know the specs, you brainstorm. Together. Without critiquing each other. Just create ideas, the wilder the better, until one matches your specs.
A simple example, the toothpaste cap: on or off between brushings? Whichever side you’re on, what are the benefits you actually enjoy from doing it your way? Include only the ones that really matter to you, not the ones you would pull out for an advertising campaign. And what truly distresses you about the other way?
If you’re a cap-off person, imagine your mate has a phobia about bugs getting into the toothpaste. No chance at all of any bugs in the toothpaste is the design spec, along with all the things you like about keeping the cap off.
If you’re a cap-on person, imagine your mate simply cannot tolerate tiny twist caps and will come to bed miserable and start off every day in agony after twisting that cap. No twisting goes in your design spec, along with whatever matters to you about keeping the cap on.
In your comment, list as many ideas as you can come up with to keep both of you happy, feeling in control of your bathroom, and certain you are loved and respected by your mate, at least on this issue.
Got three or four ideas already? Tomorrow I will tell you how to come up with even more. But first I want to hear your great ideas. Please post them in the comments. Thanks!

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Patty, I want to hear some ideas for the toothpaste thing Option C –
    I think I’ve been stuck in Option A/Option B thinking so long that I can’t come up with any C’s right now!
    I love the Option C bit — the idea of it — but I need some (lots!) work on the practical end — figuring C’s out…

  • Great article Patty! This is so useful and important for any relationship.
    I am curious about how your concept of “design spec” relates to that of “interests” (ve s “positions”).
    Several options occur to me: (C) Each has their own tube on which the cap can be left on or off as they desire; (D) Get a tube with a flip-top cap; (E) get one of those top-dispensing containers of toothpaste.

  • OK. I’ll play:
    1. I think they sell toothpaste with pumps instead of caps.
    2. 2 tubes – one for each partner.
    3. Give up toothpaste and switch to baking powder (or is it baking soda?)
    4. Put the open toothpaste into a sealed, bug-proof tupperware container.
    That was fun! 🙂
    Love this third alternative stuff, Patty…it’s super useful.

  • Patty, Arnie, these are great. You’ve lifted our vision above that one, disputed tube of toothpaste.

  • In answer to your question, Arnie, interests and positions belong to two individuals. They need to be negotiated or managed.
    Design specs belong to a couple. They allow you to give each other more than you ever expected to get. The more differences you have, the more likely your spouse is to know about things you could never even imagine. Together, you possess the power to find ways to make each other’s life delightful without sacrifice.
    If this inspires you to go the extra step, you are still free to sacrifice for your mate. Doing it with joy instead of resentment will be a lot more meaningful to both of you.

  • To avoid repeating the very good options offered by others, I’ll have to get creative.
    Spray pesticide around the neck of the tube. (There are probably some unspoken design specs that this one would violate.)
    Keep a glass handy that one can partially fill with water. Store the tube standing on the open end, so any bugs would have to swim to get in. Refresh the water each time.
    Use a tiny cork as a stopper.

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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