Even in the best of marriages, disagreements are normal. No two people will see eye to eye on everything. If they did, wouldn't one of them have been enough in this world? As Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

Too often, couples try to whitewash differences. They may achieve a momentary illusion of peace. But spouses will feel diminished by holding back their true selves. Distance and distrust will result. In a healthy relationship, couples are able to disagree respectfully. No one is born with this skill. It is not taught in school.

Acclaimed family therapist Virginia Satir coined the phrase, "Parents are the architects of the family." Children learn how to communicate by observing their parents their parents' behaviors, and they carry the learning into adulthood, unless they decide to alter the pattern.

Satir formulated five different ways people communicate when disagreement exists. These patterns show up in all relationships – couples, families, friendships, coworkers, and others. They are:

1. Congruent: Congruent communication is respectful both to the speaker and the listener. The person's spoken words are consistent with his or her feelings, thoughts and nonverbal signals. "I" statements are an example of congruent communication, such as "I want," "I would rather not," and "I like."

2. Blaming: A blamer lashes out aggressively at the other person, with "You" statements like "you always," "you never," "you should," or "you shouldn't." The communication is judgmental and controlling. A blamer tries to rule by intimidation and may behave like a bully. Blamers may get their way in the short run, but the relationship suffers because the "victim" is likely to feel resentful and/or helpless.

3. Placating: This person does not express disagreement openly, but passively goes along. He or she is unlikely to tell a blamer to cut it out.

4. Reasonable: This person uses intellect to deny the reality that feelings are facts, probably when he or she is not comfortable hearing them expressed. For example, a husband who tells his wife that it doesn't make sense for her to be upset (or annoyed, hurt, sad, etc.) is using reason to discount her feelings.

5. Irrelevant: This person does not respond directly to another when there is a disagreement; instead, s/he may make a joke or change the subject.

No one is perfect, but husbands and wives who value their relationship should strive to use congruent communication. Practice using I-statements, which are honest expressions of one's feelings, thoughts, wants, likes, and dislikes. The opposite of an I-statement is a You-statement, which sounds judgmental or controlling.

Suppose a wife wants to call a repair person to fix a broken refrigerator, but her husband thinks it's not worth fixing. He wants to buy a new one. If she says to him, "You're wrong," or "You're a spendthrift," she is blaming, and he is likely to either counter-attack or withdraw passively. If she says instead, "I think we should first find out the cost to repair it," he'll be more likely to hear her.

Our sages say, "Words from the heart enter the heart." Congruent messages fall into this category; they are a bridge that makes it easy for the speaker and receiver to connect.

Still, some people have difficulty hearing I-statements. For example, in the above situation, after the wife states her opinion, the husband could say "You're crazy," or "You're cheap." Ideally, she will avoid taking the bait. She should summon up her courage and make another I-statement, such as, "I don't like being called names. I will discuss this with you when we are both able to do so respectfully."

A spouse who resists the temptation to respond in kind to a verbal attack is praiseworthy. A tenet of Judaism is that a strong person is someone who refrains from giving in to an unhealthy instinct. Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1 includes the saying: "Who is strong? He who subdues his [evil] inclination, as it is stated: He who is slow to anger is better than the strong man, and he who masters his passions is better than one who conquers a city" (Proverbs 16:32).

Most people can learn to communicate congruently. Weekly Marriage Meetings, the subject of another article on this site, provide a great opportunity for practice.

Some couples get stuck in a negative way of relating. In a hostile climate it is counterproductive to use I-statements. Some people are simply too emotionally damaged to handle them. They are afraid to be emotionally vulnerable and become uncomfortable when others are. Too often they deal with their anxiety by lashing out at the person who opens up. Anyone who wants to improve such a relationship should seek assistance from a skilled psychotherapist.

Make it a habit to communicate congruently. You will foster trust, intimacy, wisdom, and harmony; in effect, you will create the marriage you've always wanted. Use I-statements and encourage your spouse to do the same. The rewards are well worth the effort.