The Myth of Difference Causing Problems in a Relationship
Here are some of the types of statements even the most positive articles put forth:
- “Our individual differences make friction between people we care about, inevitable.”
- “The bad news is that some degree of effort and agony is inevitable in most relationships.”
- “Relationships are hard work. They take compromise and sometimes you want to slap the other person. It’s a breeding ground for arguing.”
- “No matter who you are with, you will run into some conflict. It’s simply part of being in a relationship.”
- “Even if difference is the spice of life, at least as far as successful relationships go, you still have to deal with conflicts that emerge from these differences (just as perfectly-matched couples inevitably must).”
This week we would like to debunk another one of those myths that is deeply embedded in our minds and our culture. This states that differences between people in a relationship automatically cause distance, fighting, argument and estrangement. This myth suggests that there are ways to work around it, but that all couples will encounter this problem.
We think that these thoughts, which have been stated in so many ways, have become part of the group consciousness. Most people believe they are true as a result of hearing them stated as fact for so long.
But is it really true that differences are sources of inevitable conflict? Let’s take a closer look at that.
It is true that frequently, especially in the beginning of relationships, people seek others with the same interests. Whether you’re filling out a dating profile or making conversation at a party, you probably look at things in terms of what you have in common: “Likes beach walks, film noir, pinot noir and cats”; “Oh, I lived in Paris, too; which arondissement were you in?”
This seems like a good way to find compatible people, yet similar interests may mean different things to different people. Your prospective partner’s love of hiking may signal a reverence for nature, an obsession with fitness or a competitive streak. As relationships build, what becomes important is finding out whether or not you have shared core values. As we have stated over and over, this is a critical component of a successful relationship. You need to be sure that in both word and deed, you share the same ideals.
Is it true that differences are sources of inevitable conflict in relationships? No! #relationships Click To TweetOften, people have it the wrong way round; they look for a match in surface interest, not a match in core values. It’s possible that the latter follows from the former; maybe an interest in animal rescue is a measure of empathy, but the real measure of core values is how the other person behaves, both day to day and in crises. It takes time to know someone well enough to make this assessment.
Once this is so, you will find that the very fact that your partner is different from you becomes an almost magical component of a joyful relationship. You are able to accept these differences because they are part of someone you love and trust. They can bring new activities and interests into your life that you would never have sought or become involved with on your own. You can learn new things and approach things you wouldn’t otherwise, because they are coming from or involve your partner. This makes them part of your life in a way that might never have occurred, and can often make things interesting and vital.
It is also an opportunity to look at yourself and learn more about yourself. When you are presented with a different way of approaching something, or a different way of doing something, this may cause you anxiety or discomfort. Look at that and find out why. It may be that you are holding on to something which you have actually outgrown or that doesn’t serve you any longer. It may be left over from past experiences, and your partner’s different ways may be a wake-up call to pull you into the present, or they may just be styles you’re not used to.
Either way, it’s still an opportunity to look at yourself. If you understand why something is important to you, you will be able to communicate it more easily to your partner, and it will not be an issue that is charged. There is no reason to have an emotional response to difference. Recognize what is happening for what it is, and then use it as a way for you and your partner to become more intimate.
Once you have mastered seeing differences as opportunities for growth and self-knowledge, you will find yourself being surprised over and over by the intimacy and depth of connection you wind up experiencing. Think about taking this way of relating out into the world. So much of what is happening on the planet today is about this very issue: how do we deal with difference? Is this something that adds to us or takes something away? This is a great way to spread peace, one relationship at a time.