Those Annoying Differences of Opinion

You know how you can be in the midst of a conversation with someone and their view seems so lopsided that you begin to feel yourself becoming annoyed? That moment is the beginning of real intimacy in relationships. Sometimes we try to avoid it or we feel it as a distancing experience. But if you get right down to it, that is one of the significant “getting to know you” moments. We already know what we think. Now we get to pay attention to what they think. When we can understand that someone is different from us, and when we can–with a lot of effort–come to realize this is desirable, that is the beginning of being able to be close to another person who is separate from us. 

Part of developing the capacity for adult relationships is making this switch from viewing differences as dangerous to viewing differences as interesting. When we can understand that the success of a relationship is not predicated upon our agreeing with the other person, or their agreeing with us, we are free to be ourselves and to appreciate the other person being him or herself.  A relationship can be a process of getting to know another person and being known by that person.

We may not agree with that person’s choices or opinions. It is not the way we would live our lives. Not at all. But for that person, it seems like the best choice at the moment. When we realize other people’s lives belong to them and are about them, then we can allow them the space to grow and develop while at the same time staying connected and interested.

Of course it is not always possible to be so mature. Sometimes we fall back into old habits of relating. But overall, we can decide what we think is a better way of being together, and we can move toward it. In small steps perhaps, but nonetheless steadily. And then, over a very long time, our deepest relationships can grow and become the constructive, restorative havens we all need in an uncertain and distracted world.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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2 Responses to Those Annoying Differences of Opinion

  1. Heather says:

    This is generally what I think, too, but there’s also something new I’ve been discovering in my own therapy. There is a fine line between not having to agree with a person’s choices and opinions and not respecting their choices and opinions. Would you be willing to speak to a healthy way of discerning that difference within oneself? Please ask me to clarify if my question isn’t so clear.

  2. norasblog says:

    Hello Heather,
    Agreeing with someone means you think they are right and that you accept their perspective as the accurate one for you too. On the other hand, respecting their opinion means you recognize the other person is a separate person from yourself, has a different perspective, and therefore will have different opinions, thoughts, and feelings. In some situations, you may have a strong commitment to a certain set of values, and you may decide that you are unwilling to make a relationship with someone who does not support those values. For example, if you value nondestructive ways of relating, you may be unwilling to make a relationship with someone who believes it is acceptable to be destructive of other people. That is a different story than other, more ordinary, differences. On the whole, if your internal experience is that you find that knowing another person’s views is a way to get to know that person better, then you are accepting them as a separate person. You may have strong views that are different from theirs, but that is not, in itself, a problem. I hope this is an answer to your question. Thanks for writing!

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