February 6, 2024

Bridging the divide - how to have healthy disagreements during testing times

In recent years there has been much written about ‘divides’. The election of Donald Trump in the US and Brexit were both seen as two of the most divisive topics that the Western World has had to deal with in modern times.

The Coronavirus, and how we should best act at the moment, is arguably causing even more impassioned debates both online and at home, which can be explained by two main reasons. Firstly, this is about life and death. Brexit and the presidential election are both undoubtedly large issues, but how we behave at this time has a direct link to the number of people that will sadly lose their lives - it is completely understandable people are passionate about their point of view.

Secondly, the environment we are now in makes it easy for people to clash. Many of us are finding ourselves spending far more time with our partners/housemates than we usually would. A disagreement cannot be as quickly forgotten with a trip to the gym or visit to a friend’s house as these options are no longer available to us.

Many of us are therefore finding it difficult to maintain harmony at home and make the best of this testing situation. However, there are certain steps you can take to navigate different opinions and tolerate distress.

DEARMAN Technique

The ‘DEARMAN’ technique is used in a form of therapy known as Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and helps people maintain relationships in difficult situations and resolve conflicts. DEARMAN is an acronym for seven steps you can take to have a potentially difficult conversation with someone whilst remaining calm.

D - Describe: Before you start talking about your opinions on a certain topic, simply describe the facts as you see them. This ensures you are both on the same page.

E - Express: Express how you feel about things using ‘I’ statements (“I feel anxious by the amount of people gathering in parks”). This lets the other person know where you are coming from and stops them from feeling attacked (“you aren’t taking this seriously enough”).

A - Assert: Make it clear exactly what you want out of the situation - don’t assume anything is obvious to the other person.

R - Reinforce: Reinforce that the relationship you have with the other person is important to you and how you want it to continue regardless of what differences in opinion you both may have.

M - Mindful: Stay fully focussed on the topic that you’re discussing, don’t fall into the trap of bringing up past events as this will only make things unravel.

A: Appear confident: Sit up straight and look at the person you’re talking to. This shows the other person that you’re taking this conversation seriously and you care about what you’re saying.

N: Negotiate: Try to appreciate the other person’s point of view and reach an outcome you can both accept, even if that means you don’t get exactly what you want.

If you and someone you live with are discussing what food you should buy or what future plans you should consider cancelling, try using this method to avoid unnecessary squabbles.

STOP technique

STOP is a technique used in mindfulness based approaches and focuses more around you as an individual as opposed to your relationship with someone else. This is a good way to minimise sudden stress that you don’t want to emotionally react to.

S - Stop: Completely stop whatever it is that you’re doing.

T - Take a breath: Connect with your breathing, listen to it, feel it.

O - Observe: Take note of everything that is happening inside and outside of you. What are you feeling? Where has your mind gone?

P - Proceed: Continue with what you were doing, or don’t. Either way, you’ll be in a better state to make that call after the first three steps.

Your partner may have made a comment you consider frustrating or expressed an opinion you strongly disagree with. Instead of offering an immediate retort, follow the steps above and make your point with a clear head. Encourage them to do the same.

Try to remember that emotions of distress do pass. Attempting to change the sources of your distress, which may be the opinions of those around you, is of course a valid step to take. However, having an instant emotion-driven reaction may well make things worse. By being mindful and respectful, you’re far more likely to reach a situation where you and everyone else involved understand each other a little better.

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