Why is it that the person you fall in love with is often completely different from you? You like to amble through life smelling the roses, and your partner moves at the speed of light. You’re gregarious and easy going, and your spouse is quiet and ultra productive. Yet, you are both attracted to each other. You can’t imagine being with anyone else.
I think the differences between two people can be delightful and colorful, bringing contrast and just enough tension to a relationship to make things interesting.
On the other hand, if you lose sight of the positive energy those differences bring to your relationship, they can stir the pot of discontent and cause real problems. I’ve met with plenty of people who truly value the inherent qualities of their “opposite” spouse, yet they’re on the brink of losing their minds over the natural way those differences outwardly display.
Three tendencies bring couples to me to help them work on their relationships:
- The first is a situation where one partner is trying to change the other person, or bend them to their will; or where one is trying to match their own personality to the other, usually stronger mate’s.
- The second situation is one where the couple doesn’t understand how to work together and allow their differences to blend, so they wind up avoiding situations that bring out their differences; they stop doing things together, become bored with each other, and drift apart.
- The third reason for discord is a flat-out battle of wills, opinions, and behaviors.
The main thing to remember is that personality differences and personal choices shouldn’t spell doom for a couple.
What motivates people to work through these “irreconcilable differences” and what tools can you use to fall back in love with that person who has become seemingly impossible to understand, let alone live with?
Change your attitude.
Fixing a relationship involves work and a willingness to meet in the middle. A certain amount of acceptance and “letting go” is required once you recognize that the other person has some qualities that you’ll never understand. Those differences can either fuel an enticing counterpoint to your own point of view, or it can cause complex feelings of misunderstanding and even hopelessness.
While you’re working through real world issues with realistic tools and expectations, I recommend trying to see what’s good, honorable, sweet, funny, or attractive about the qualities your partner has, which you don’t possess. Your perception is everything. If you can see your partner with the same gentle eyes as when you first met, you can get through any current problems.
Recognize that you may have changed.
Sometimes that lens of understanding must be turned inward. Could it be that you are the one who’s changed? Maybe those personality traits you once enjoyed – and that fit so well together — now don’t fit in with the person or couple you would like to be. A career change, a new hobby, or certainly the onset of parenthood commonly forces individuals to view their partners in a new light. As life evolves, and you naturally change with it, it’s easy to forget to re-commit to your relationship.
Sit down and talk with your partner about changes in your lives. Don’t just leave each other in the dark as new ideas and issues emerge. Life moves so fast that if you neglect to connect on even a few sequential milestones in either of your lives, you can easily drift apart in no time.
Make room for growth.
You don’t have to always do things together. Separate hobbies and activities are healthy! Just make sure all your hobbies aren’t separate.
The same theory follows for arguments that stem from your inherent differences. Follow fair rules for arguing (always) and/or make some space for cooling off. The couple that’s always in each other’s faces may be less likely to lose interest in each other (that’s a good thing) – but the drama can be excruciating and draining. Taking one step back never hurts when tensions are high.
Take turns at the wheel.
I’m using that expression figuratively, but here’s a specific example you can probably relate to. I know a couple that takes road trips often. He likes to take major highways, get to the destination and get home as quickly as possible. She likes to stop in small towns, try new restaurants, and kill hours discovering back roads. Unless they discuss their plans before each trip, one or the other is bound to feel frustrated when they travel together.
The solution was simple: They take an extra day to get where they’re going, giving the wife some leeway to explore while the husband’s attitude is fresh and open. The return home is breakneck quick. They take the straightest and fastest route home when both he and she are traveled out.
Stroll down memory lane.
Too often the way couples do this is re-hashing all the rotten, infuriating, or just plain annoying things the other person has done. This doesn’t ever help. Instead, take time to remember when you were first dating. Remind yourselves about what drew you together and made you fall in love in the first place. Try to do a little mental review of all the awesome things, or things that made you smile or your heart soften between those days and now. Everyone has good times in the past. If you find yourself saying you never did, or that you never really loved your partner in the first place, you are already past time to call a therapist so do some dialing NOW! Everyone else, try the positive reminiscing. Get out the wedding album or when you brought home a baby. It’s hard to focus only on the negative when you do.