Relationship Differences Can Be Valuable and Important
PHIL: Some writings have seared themselves into my brain. One was Games People Play. It was the first time I had met the idea of unconscious motivations, and also of being direct with people. Another was Be Here Now, the idea that the world in front of me is primary. As I wrote later, “The fact precedes the explanation.”
Another was Intimate Partners by Maggie Scarfe, who wrote about people who are attracted to their opposites: the introvert who chooses the party animal; the suppressed person who chooses an angry partner; the saver who marries a spendthrift. The person has buried an aspect of his or her life and chosen a partner who manifests it. The term is projective identification. Each partner is unknowingly complicit in this; each plays the role that the other cannot own. “…active colluders, each carrying a disclaimed area of the spouse’s internal territory as part of what is a mutually agreed-upon, unconscious arrangement.”
Maude and I always try to write from our direct experience and not repeat others’ ideas and recommendations. I think there are several reasons that we do not struggle as Scarfe describes. One is that we each know ourselves. I don’t think this is ever a full knowledge; I’m sure either a crisis or the changes of the years will show me strengths or weaknesses of which I am currently unaware. But I have lived long enough to recognize what I do and don’t need in life, where I can yield and where I am stubborn. I recognize my foibles and quirks; some are handicaps that I try to overcome, like self-deprecation, and some I am happy to own, like a distaste for ginger or sporting events.
Another way that Maude and I work well is that we both appreciate the benefits of time apart. We wrote about this last week. That time apart allows me to reflect about myself, to feel who I am and how I act independently of Maude. A relationship entangles two worlds, and in an earlier one, I lost myself somewhat, and only after ending it did I experience a rush of being my own person again.
The most direct reason Maude and I have not clashed over the polarization that Maggie Scarfe describes is that we accept each others’ differences. We know, deep down, we are each different individuals, just like everyone else on earth is, and Maude has the right to live her life as she wants, just as I do. We are trains on parallel tracks, not a single train, arguing who is the engineer and who is getting pulled along. It is a wonderful liberation. Yes, we are a partnership with all the benefits and obligations that go along with that, but the differences are no more than those of style. If they irritate me, that is an opportunity for introspection or discussion. We both have the same large vision of how we want to live; I cannot imagine what would disturb that peaceful coexistence.
Be trains on parallel tracks, not a single train, arguing who is the engineer & who is pulled along Click To TweetMAUDE: So many of us are puzzling over how to practice loving one another in the face of all the political divisiveness current in our lives and hearts. Phil and I have been sharing ideas and feelings to this topic, and relating the practices of our relationship and how this can be applied to relationships in general.
Need differences always be an annoyance, a cause for distance, or even anger?
In a relationship, differences often start out as an attraction. We enjoy being added to by a partner and having them fill in actions and traits that we may not have or express. One partner likes to travel and is great at organizing trips. The other hasn’t had this as a part of their lives and is entranced by the possibilities of gaining this through their partner. One of you is a bit introverted and doesn’t have a large circle of friends. Your partner is very social and brings along a whole group of wonderful people to add to your life.
As a relationship progresses, these very initial attractions often turn into irritations or worse. There is a tendency to want sameness and agreement, and to react against differences; both of opinion and behavior. These responses can be real or, as is more frequently the case, misplaced. They can provide a good opportunity to learn more about yourself and to grow in your ability to share with another.
Why do those very differences that you originally were so attracted to become repelling or disturbing to you? Look at yourself honestly and find what it is in you that is reacting. You may be able to illuminate some parts of yourself that are in flux. Perhaps you can find a way to view these challenges of difference as a potential growth experience. When we are presented with making changes, we often lash out in defense, even when these are changes that benefit us and that we actually want to make. This may be an opportunity to put what initially attracted you into practice for yourself.
There is one very important aspect that has to be mentioned here. Differences can be true assets and can work to enrich your relationship greatly. This kind of benefit can be derived most deeply when core values match. When they don’t match, this disparity makes it difficult to embrace, assimilate and celebrate your differences.
The addition of another personality expressing the same core values in an entirely different and unique way is one of the greatest gifts our relationships can give us. It provides a chance to expand ourselves and the parameters of our lives. When developing a relationship, watch and reflect on what your attraction in this area truly is. If your core values don’t match, then you can count on these very same attractions becoming sources of disharmony and conflict. When they do match, the differences can be a constant source of enrichment and a cause for celebration!