“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”
- Katherine Hepburn
Do you and your partner blame each other for your differences?
In practice we hear:
- You leave the house such a mess -vs- you want the house to look perfect.
- You make too many plans -vs- you don’t want to do anything.
- You spend too much money -vs- you don’t save for our retirement.
- I need more intimacy -vs- I need more space.
- Let’s relax on vacation -vs- we have to see all the sights on vacation.
- You always fight when we differ -vs- you always leave when we disagree.
The usual pattern is our differences are overlooked in the beginning when we are in the honeymoon stage. Down the road we begin to blame our partners for not being like us. We fall into the trap of making our way right, and making our partner’s way wrong. Then we judge and criticize them for doing things their way. The result: chronic arguments about these issues.
The key to staying together forever is to learn how to accept, respect, and manage these differences, instead of allowing them to become stumbling blocks.
Just how do you do that when your partner’s messiness or overspending drives you crazy? Communicate.
Here are steps you can take to work through these issues:
- Acknowledge your differences without making each other wrong. For instance, some people feel better when their house is organized; others would rather relax then straighten up. No one is right or wrong.
- Communicate your feelings about the issue to each other, one at a time, and hear your partner’s point of view. For example ask, “Help me understand your need for organization.” “Help me understand how you can leave things disorganized.”
- Listen and acknowledge your partner’s feelings, even if it makes no sense to you. You may never understand why your partner needs the house tidy, but believe her strong feelings are real for her.
- Agree to respect your differences instead of trying make it about right and wrong. For example, you could say, “I recognize you would rather relax and I want to clean up.”
- Figure out action steps as a team to make it work for both of you. For instance, agree you will make sure the house is clean and neat when you have company coming; and on some weeknights. And if you are not finished straightening up by 10PM (or an agreed upon time) you will leave it for the next day and relax.
Following these steps has helped us and many of the couples we have worked with. It is an exercise in putting the relationship above your individual needs. Partners who want to stay together for a lifetime develop the ability to accept each other and love each other despite their different ways. And isn’t that what commitment is all about?