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How Can You See Differences in Your Relationships as Welcome Additions?

Neighborhood installationPHIL: The obvious way that you compare things is by looking at how they differ. Which oven is self-cleaning? Does this bank charge overdraft fees? Less obvious is to look at the similarities, because they don’t help you make choices at all: every toaster makes toast; both these cars have ABS. Similarities and differences co-exist like yin and yang, but our survival mechanism primes us to pay attention to differences from normal because they are where danger might lie.

And so it is with differences in relationships, whether the choice is where to live or when to clean house. It’s the differences that catch your attention and you don’t tend to see similarities. It’s hard to hold two contradictory views at once, like a figure and ground drawing. The more you look at differences, the more they loom and the less you see what you have in common, yet those commonalities are the foundation of a relationship.

So what is needed is an alternative way to look at differences as a form of variety, something to nudge you out of your comfort of commonality.

Of course that’s easy to say when the issue is small, like when to clean house. Big decisions like where to live can seem like a major upset, but when you balance those against what you have in common, you’ll find in any committed relationship how small they are.

MAUDE: In all our relationships, the issue of whether we put our attention toward similarities or differences plays a big part in whether those relationships are harmonious or acrimonious. It is sometimes a shock to realize that nothing is fundamentally different in these highly polarized positions except our viewpoint.

I started thinking about this while reading a thread on the app Nextdoor, where neighbors write about community issues and interesting things that happen locally. This thread was about homelessness within the community; a clearly complex issue and one for which a true solution hasn’t been found yet. At first people expressed what seemed to be two different views; one stating that although there are many services offered in our community to help those in need, many are disabled or in other ways unable to take advantage of what is offered, and the other that those in this situation are just unwilling to get help or have taken all the help and still persist in living in this manner. Are these really opposing views or just expressions of different experiences and differing information?

The conversation became rather quickly adversarial and soon degenerated into name calling and then into grouping those expressing different ideas as a whole (rather than as individuals) and blaming the whole ‘other’ group and their viewpoint for the problem. Us vs Them.

This went from a conversation about individuals, all part of the same community, sharing thoughts about how to handle problems together, into an argument about sides and anger at those who had a different way of viewing the situation.

In many ways, this same way of dealing with similarities and differences is at the root of many problems in relationships. If we look at what is common between us, especially when these are common values (in the above situation everyone on the thread wanted to solve problems for the whole community), we can find ways to see differences as what they often are, just different viewpoints, different ways of looking, not being.

Phil and I have frequently talked about how our differences do not weaken our relationship nor threaten us. We have realized what an enrichment of our lives these different ways of expressing ourselves bring. We know that our sense of connection is at the root of our harmony rather than us always being in agreement.

When the challenges of apparent differences arise in your relationships, look for that connection at the base of your togetherness. Is this really a difference that innately causes separation and distance between you, or is it something worth looking into more deeply? Is it a matter of enlarging your view or is it a true variance of values? Are you wanting to be right or to find a mutual solution?

Photo credit: Phil Mayes
Photo note: Neighborhood installation.

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Successful Relationship Reading Corner


Books on shelfIn this week's blog, we wrote about how you can see differences in your relationships as welcome additions. Here are a few articles discussing how to handle differences in your relationships.

Me and my partner have very different values "Some people worry that having different values or ideas to their partner – on, say, things like religion, politics or morality – means it’s likely they’re going to run into problems further down the line. And while it’s true that having opposing opinions on big subjects can create friction, it’s by no means a sign that you can’t work as a couple. One thing counselling tries to help people understand is that differences aren’t usually the problem: it’s how you deal with them that matters!"

How The Differences Keep A Relationship Together "When it comes to relationships, it’s easy to feel that like goes with like: people with similar interests, careers, backgrounds and life views are attracted to one another and stick together. Wrong. In fact, more often than not, it’s been argued that our differences make us stronger. Think about it: if we end up with people just like us, we won’t be exposed to new activities or ways of overcoming challenges. Our relationship won’t have quite so many nuances. And we won’t have to get out of our comfort zone."

How the Differences in Your Relationship Can Be Gifts "It’s in our nature as humans to gravitate towards those who have interests similar to our own. And in many ways, this serves us well. On the other hand, it doesn’t leave much room for experiencing all that life has to offer.... By opening ourselves up to another way of living and being, we can make more educated decisions about what we want our own lives to look like. These varied life experiences allow us to express ourselves more fully and be more authentically present in the world."


Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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