We all have disagreements in our lives, whether with colleagues, with spouses, with children, with parents and everyone else we come across. But how do these disagreements affect our mental health? How should we be handling them for the best outcome? And how can we learn from people who think in different ways? Dr Haseeb Rohilla, specialist psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai, has some insight, plus top tips for resolving disagreements in the healthiest way possible.
Should people agree just to prevent conflict?
While this may seem preferable for some, it should never be considered the best option. Not only will you be putting your own beliefs and opinions to one side and potentially storing up anger and resentment further down the line, but in the long-term it can actually be extremely detrimental to your health and wellbeing, causing high levels of stress. Whether in a social or professional capacity, we all need to feel safe and secure in expressing our opinions, even if they differ from others.
So disagreeing is healthy?
It’s important to remember disagreement or conflict is healthy and completely normal in any kind of relationship. Being able to disagree with a friend, colleague or loved one, and explain why, can actually generate a better understanding and strengthen your relationship and help establish new ways to connect. It’s important we all celebrate our differences and recognize that everyone is different and we are all unique.
Being able to put your point across without fear of judgment or of creating real conflict is key to any relationship. When managed in a calm and considered way, it can actually be extremely healthy and productive. It offers a chance for others to get to know you and your beliefs, values and personality better, and vice versa. It can often generate open discussions and a chance to join forces and come up with solutions. Overall, healthy disagreements can help foster a better understanding between both parties and a chance to open our mindset and help us grow emotionally.
How can pretending to agree with something harm a relationship?
Not disagreeing with something when you want to can actually highlight a lack of communication with your partner and may be a sign that you’re just sweeping things under the carpet. This will ultimately just end up with both parties feeling completely fed-up and dissatisfied. A healthy relationship is when both parties feel heard by each other. Taking the time to listen to each other is absolutely key.
And what are the mental health implications?
Emotion theorists since the late 19th century have emphasized the communicative values of emotions. However, in the real world, we may want to suppress our verbal/emotional expressions at times – perhaps, for example, to avoid a troubling topic or to keep from betraying hidden preferences. Whatever the reason, there are social, psychological and physical costs to long-term expressive suppression.
It may have implications for social functioning, as it may limit access to new relationships or it may hinder the maintenance and growth of an existing relationship. Self-disclosure and responsiveness are at the core of close relationships. Expressing upsetting emotions can actually help reduce their intensity, limit intrusive thoughts and increase insight, thereby helping us to manage those emotions better. Some of the most commonly encountered psychopathological conditions, like depression and anxiety, may be perpetuated by a lack of emotional expression.
The long-term avoidance of emotional expression could lead to reduced access to supportive relationships, social isolation and could have a negative impact on our physical health, ranging from disturbed metabolic status, cardiovascular problems to substance misuse.
Do you think Covid has created a tendency for more disagreements in relationships?
The pandemic has put untold stress on relationships. Worries about finances, employment and health, among many other things, have naturally caused many to feel stressed, frustrated and anxious. In addition, we have all had to adapt our routines and have found ourselves spending much more time with each other, often in very close proximity for long periods of time, especially when working from home. This will all have resulted, naturally, in disagreements as our relationships have been tested in these new circumstances.
Top tips for helping to resolve disagreements amicably…
- Avoid being accusatory, pointing the finger and using insulting language or aggressive behaviour.
- Put your point across in a calm and considered manner and try to cite specific examples, to enable your partner to clearly see your point.
- Do not raise your voice and keep a check on your tone. If you feel like things are getting heated or you’re getting too emotional, walk away and come back once you’re feeling calmer.
- Take time to listen. Be respectful and give your partner a chance to respond and put their point across. Only if both parties take the time to actively listen can a disagreement be resolved.
- Pick the right moment. Do not try to resolve any kind of conflict or disagreement when you are already feeling stressed or tired. Do not, for example, open a discussion when your partner has just walked in from a hectic day at work, has had a terrible night’s sleep or is just on the way out. Pick a time that suits you both, where you can sit down together and take your time to get to the root of the problem.
- Never go to sleep on an unresolved argument. Studies have shown how resolving arguments quickly results in fewer negative emotions and a lower decline in positive emotions, thereby reducing stress levels.