What are your differences as a couple? Are you similar or miles apart in your values, your needs, your different ways of handling conflict, your levels of sexual desire, your communication styles, personalities, your parenting or money management styles?
Of the hundreds of ways two people may be similar or different, just one or two can tear your love apart. “If only he would want to talk to me.” “If only she wanted more sex”… everything would be fine. Over time, everything, including your rationalizations for your own bad behavior, in the relationship ends up revolving around the hurt and frustration related to this single difference.
The power struggles that ensue from differences, that is, the feeling of ‘when are you going to meet my needs?’ are actually characteristics of the predictable stage of relationship known as the ‘post-romantic, power-struggle’ stage.
When we fail, after a thousand attempts, at changing our partner, as we inevitably will, our anger, resentment, frustration and sadness cause us to build walls around our hearts.
So, how can we better handle the differences between us? Not all relationships should continue; If, however, the behaviors are not damaging ones, as in verbal or physical abuse, and both would like to find a way to embrace or even just live with their differences or their partner’s non-endearing habits, there are mindsets and tools that can help pave a path towards more connection and intimacy.
Here are three stories to provide some new perspectives about differences:
Story #1 – Differences in hygiene and habits
A neighbor would complain to me about her husband’s sloppiness and frequent farting. A year after he died unexpectedly of a heart attack, she told me, “I was so endlessly pissed off by his bad habits; I forgot to notice the things I loved about him. I really miss ALL of him.”
- New Perspective: What we feed is what grows. What behaviors are you feeding: the ones you hate or the ones you appreciate? When your focus is on the latter, your requests for behavior change by your partner might be received much more willingly.
- Tool- Requests: In an environment of appreciation and respect, ASK FOR behavior that you would appreciate. Ask once, or just occasionally, without demanding.
- Growth Mindset: Notice what anxiety or upset your partner’s undesired behavior brings up for you. Whatever is within you is your domain. Learn tools to manage or release your own anxieties.
Story #2 – Differences in values and lifestyle
Natalie is a dedicated vegetarian with spiritual practices. Eric, she discovered after she was pregnant very early in the relationship, loves to hunt, drink beer, scoffs at her spiritual practices and intends to teach their child how to hunt. She rejects his values and lifestyle, yet because she wants an intact, emotionally healthy family for her child, wants to create peace and harmony between them.
- New Perspective: Our judgments, thoughts and feelings are not Truth, they are just true for us. We explored the possibility of her giving up her judgment that his lifestyle is wrong, and to be able to have both sets of values and lifestyle cohabit peacefully, and allow their child to, one day, make his own choices.
- Tool- Validation: Natalie discovered that, given Eric’s upbringing in which hunting and football were the ways he felt most connected to his dad, his lifestyle was right for him. She chose to give up being right that his lifestyle was wrong.
- Growth Mindset: Notice how your judgments create an ‘I am better than you are’ or ‘I am right and you are wrong’ dynamic. Love and judgment cannot co-exist.
Story #3 – Differences in spending habits.
A young couple, Judy and Sam, earn an adequate income. Sam is a saver with material goals in mind for their life together. Judy likes to enjoy life in the moment and often buys jewelry and hats without a lot of forethought. Her spending patterns usually cause arguments, with Judy feeling constrained with a tight budget and Sam angry that his goals for their life together are being thwarted.
- New Perspective: What emotions are driving your behavior? When your money style causes problems (debt, controlling behavior, etc) in your life and conflicts in your relationships, discover what emotion or need is driving the behavior, to find other better ways to get that need met.
- Tool- 8 Human Needs: love/connection; significance; variety; certainty/comfort; freedom; self-expression; growth; contribution Judy discovered her underlying human needs for freedom, for self-expression and for variety/excitement.
- Growth Mindset: They explored other ways she could experience their needs without breaking their budget. Sam recognized how his controlling behavior about money was stifling Judy. They took steps towards each other’s styles to meet each other’s needs.
Hidden within each challenge or crisis is an opportunity to grow and grow closer. What opportunities are hidden within your challenges?