Differences – Strength or Weakness in a Relationship?
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Differences are often seen as creating problems and conflict. Three main areas are:
- how things are done
- styles of socializing
How Things are Done
From the toilet seat and toothpaste to finances and child-rearing, what our partner does affects us. Some of these are vitally important to both people, so you both have to find mutual solutions for these decisions. That’s what core values are about – we wrote about these recently here and here.
But many differences simply reflect what we are used to. We recently read about a couple redoing their kitchen who clashed over whether pans lived to the left or right of the sink. Turned out that their choice reflected the organization in their respective childhood kitchens.
Then there are behaviors of your partner that don’t affect you at all, like how a purse is organized, or which route to take when driving. These are differences which have no direct bearing on you, and the sooner you are able to recognize your partner as a separate individual with different ways of doing things, the more peaceful and happy your relationship will be. Putting effort into making every aspect of the world match your expectations is a tremendous waste of energy that could go towards creative endeavors. Flexibility here is just as valuable as flexibility in your body; both help you move through the world more easily.
Differences are seen as a problem area; accepting them has an enormous & freeing effect #quote #love Click To TweetWhen you have the kind of supportive intimate relationship where your mate feels safe enough to show themselves to you in a free and undefended way, you have an extraordinary opportunity to grow and broaden your world. Here is a person who has the same core values as you do, who you love and trust, and who is carrying out the art of living in a different and unique way. You get the privilege of seeing the inside details of who they are and how they do it. This can be a cause for celebration, an opportunity to recognize the beauty in diversity, a wonderful way to get insights into yourself.
Styles of Socializing
This covers all the ways that you interact with other people. Perhaps you’re an extrovert and your partner is introverted, or vice versa. Don’t try to align the two. Relish the variety that comes from how different you both are. One person can go to Toastmasters while the other stays at home with a book.
You can let the different style of your partner stretch and expand you. James, one of the people we interviewed for our book, “How Two: Have a Successful Relationship,” shared his experiences of this:
We’re actually really different. I’m not a gregarious person. I’m quiet. So I don’t really pursue friendships or going out to parties. And Rita is one hundred percent gregarious. But we get along because if I don’t want to go to a party, I don’t have to, but it makes her really happy if I do go, so I try to go. As far as parties and friendships and being around people, we’re just totally different that way. I’m very predictable; if there’s a big crowd over there, then I’m over here, and Rita will be in the middle of the crowd…. To me, it’s sometimes a way to improve myself – like if she wants to go to a party, I’ll grumble to myself about going, but then I think “Well, wait a minute. You’re not really very good with people; it would probably be good if you went to a party and put yourself in that environment.”
Once both of you know that differences are not a problem, you will be able to follow your interests, whether it be golf, crochet or model trains, secure in the knowledge that you have total support for who you are and what you want to do. Your different interests will not be taken as a threat. Neither of you will act on a need to try to make the other the same. This sounds like such an easy thing, and yet it eludes many couples. If you follow this path you will experience an unimagined enrichment in yourself and your relationship!
The simple act of accepting your differences will have an enormous and freeing effect on both of you. Celebrate, admire and marvel at the person your partner is, and use their acceptance of your differences to grow and live, unconstrained by imaginary limitations. This way of being together can slowly change the world, spreading peace one relationship at a time. Please join us in the direct experience of learning what peace is by practicing conflict free relating. It starts with acceptance of the uniqueness of each individual. What better place to do this than in your most intimate relationship?
I like that you take the macro idea of acceptance as peace and practice that on the micro level of partner relationship. Even more micro would be to start within ourselves and find peace and acceptance of ourselves and the world there. Then we can bring more peace to our partner relationship and from there inspire (and work in) the world at large.
There’s a cool book, “A New Map for Relationships” by Dorothie and Martin Hellman that covers both personal and international relationships. We’ll be writing about it in a Friday Feature.