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How to disagree agreeably

Over 28 years of marriage Andy and I often found ourselves disagreeing on various topics in our relationship.

And when we did disagree, I never liked it. However, Andy would constantly remind me “if we always thought the same then what’s the point of one of us being here”.

I found that a useful statement to cling to when we were not in agreement.

Because we were so different, we challenged one another’s ideas and thinking, and ultimately we grew in the process.


The key is HOW we disagree

We can choose to defend our own position, and refuse to be influenced, or we can choose to be open and teachable. If we are willing to be curious and engage in difficult conversations then we will learn more about how our partner thinks and feels. (to discover more about how our “differences” can work for us click on the graphic below to listen to our FamilyLifeNZ podcast).


So practically how do we do that?

Dr Susan Heitler, in her book “The Power of Two” talks about using the AAA principle. It’s a strategy for expressing disagreements which enable people with differing viewpoints to keep their conversations harmonious – and I like it.

1st A = Agree. It can help to start with ‘yes. Yes I agree that ……….” It’s important to listen for an aspect to agree with.

2nd A = Augment. Pick a specific word or idea and elaborate on what you agreed with. This offers the speaker reassurance that you understand them and are sitting on the same side, not opposite sides.

3rd A = Add. Here’s where you add your input or recommendation. (Preferably stay away from ‘but’ as it tends to negate everything you’ve just said).

This part ensures that you add to the conversation and don’t take away from their dialogue. This “A” gives a win-win outcome and says “your input and mine both matter”.


It helps to have an illustration

We have an election coming up so I thought it may be useful to use a political scenario.

Jeremy(J) loves talking politics – his wife Sue(S) does not. She finds the intensity of every political conversation off-putting. A conversation may go a little like this….

J :  “You should get more politically engaged. You need to know all the policies that the various parties stand for before you vote. We should be talking about this more. I think it’s an essential part of being a responsible member of society”.

S: “No way, not in my house. I hate political discussions”.

J :  “I live here too you know”.


Here’s how it’s played out using the AAA principle

J: “You should get more politically engaged. You need to know …….

S: “Yes I agree being politically informed is helpful. It’s hard to vote when you don’t know whom or what you’re voting for. At the same time I do get uncomfortable when politics come up. I think it’s because people are so adamant they are right. If we could talk about it calmly and really listen to one another then I think I’d be more inclined to talk about politics”.

The first scenario shuts the conversation down, whereas the second one leaves it open for Jeremy to respond in kind, and hopefully develop better understanding.

So if you find yourself on a different page it may be helpful to remind yourself that agreement isn’t the goal in marriage – the goal is understanding. And in marriage we get to understand each other a little more everyday.

Proverbs 18:2 “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions”.

Happy voting 🙂

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