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Disagreeing: For Better or Worse

arguing_coupleDisagreeing is not always easy. How do you handle a difference of opinion with your spouse or others? Do you express yourself truthfully and respectfully? Become angry or defensive? Or do you try to keep the peace with silence or by changing the subject?

Virginia Satir, a social worker and founder of the family therapy movement, specified five types of communication people use when disagreement exists:

  • Congruent
  • Blaming
  • Placating
  • Reasonable
  • Irrelevant

Below are paraphrased descriptions of each style.

  1. CongruentCongruent messages are clear and direct. They convey respect for the speaker and listener. I-statements are congruent when the speaker’s tone and body language match the spoken words. They express our feelings, wishes, likes, and dislikes. Examples: “I feel … ,” “I want … ,” “I would like …” The speaker is being assertive, not aggressive or passive.
  2. BlamingThis type of communication is an attempt to dominate the other person. You-statements of a critical nature are common. Examples: “You should (or shouldn’t)…”; “You always (or never) …” The speaker is basically saying, “You’re wrong.” Name-calling is a form of blaming.
  3. PlacatingPlacating is an attempt to avoid conflict with someone by holding back from expressing oneself honestly. It happens when we “go along in order to get along.” But when we hold back from telling a partner our true feelings, beliefs, wants, or needs, we are likely to feel frustrated and resentful. Examples: “Whatever you say…,” “Okay,” and other expressions of agreement when you do not really agree.
  4. ReasonableSomeone who is being “reasonable” (in this context) focuses on logic and ignores feelings. Such people want things to make sense. However, feelings are facts. They do not need to appear logical. Examples: “You shouldn’t feel that way because . . .; ” “You should have gotten over that by now;” “How could you like (or want) that?”
  5. IrrelevantThe person whose communication is irrelevant deflects the conversation instead of responding sensitively. Uncomfortable hearing what a partner has said, he or she might make a joke or change the subject.

Congruent Communication is Best

For a warm, loving relationship, strive for congruent communion. It’s the healthiest kind because it is authentic and mutually respectful. Other ways of dealing with disagreement create distance; congruent communication is more likely to result in feelings of intimacy and connection.

Repairing Communication

It’s easy when we’re tired, hungry, or otherwise stressed, to slip into an unhealthy way of communicating. When this happens, it’s helpful, of course, to offer a sincere apology. Also, your partner is likely to appreciate you for showing sensitivity by rephrasing your message into a congruent one as quickly as possible. For example, if you caught yourself having made a blaming comment like “You never bring me flowers,” you can preface your new statement, with “What I meant to say is…” and then say, “I’d love for you to surprise me with flowers.”

Changing a habitual way of behaving takes time, determination, practice, and if necessary, professional help. The important thing is to start now, because you can succeed.

Much of this article is excerpted from Chapter 9 of my book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, (Novato, CA: New World Library: 2014.)


Satir, V. Conjoint Family Therapy (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Behavior Books, 1983.

Disagreeing: For Better or Worse

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Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.

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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). Disagreeing: For Better or Worse. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 22 Mar 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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