We’ve all heard the phrases “opposites attract” and “yin and yang”. When it comes to relationships, there’s actually is a lot of truth in these sayings. By design, we are drawn to those that are similar in values and character, but differ from us in many ways.
One way to look at it is that it is sort of nature’s way of seeking compensation for our own weaknesses and uses for our own strengths. But, this can be a double-edged sword.
Over time, in long term relationships, we tend to begin resenting those very differences that drew us together in the first place. While once we thought things our partner did were endearing or quirky, now they are simply just annoying. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways that partners differ from one another.
Often, one of you is more of an introvert and one is more of an extrovert. While one keeps to himself and prefers to stay home or go out with a small number of others, the other prefers to be around large groups of people and loves going out. The introvert is likely more quiet and less opinionated, while the extrovert is usually a bit loud and makes his or her opinions known.
At first, and introvert can have a very calming effect on an extrovert, and the extrovert can seem like a lot of fun to the introvert. But, over a long time, it begins to take a toll. People often start wishing their partners were more like them.
One is the disciplinarian, and the other is more laid back. The disciplinarian is always thinking their partner is too easy on the kids, letting them get away with too much and undermining the authority. The more laid back parent thinks the disciplinarian is too hard on the kids, and unreasonable. This parent thinks the other one should just lighten up a bit. One might be more hands on and do more of the work, while the other seems lazy or uninterested.
In the beginning, perhaps the opposing styles worked really well, but after a while, each partner just wants to have it their way.
No two people handle their finances quite the same way. Some are more frugal, while others spend elaborately. Some save early and well for their futures; others keep putting it off for later. Should you buy a nice car? Where do want to buy you clothes and those for your family? Walmart? Nordstrom? Are the finances handled together or does one partner do all the book keeping?
Not many people think about these differences when they get married, but different opinions and styles as to handling money have broken many marriages.
One is a neat freak and one throws their stuff all over the place. The messy one used to love that somebody else could keep things clean and organized, and the neater one figured they could live with the mess. Over time, though, this turned into resentment on both parts. The messy one wonders why he’s so uptight about where everything single thing goes or each little, tiny crumb on the counter. The neat one gets tired and angry for feeling that they always need to do everything and clean up after the messy partner. Each partner thinks their way is the right way.
When you first fell in love, you showed each other the things you were interested in, and it seemed so much fun. You each experienced some new things and shared adventures. Now, you just want to do the things that you enjoy, and so does your partner. And they’re not so much the same things. One wants to go to concerts and theater and fine dining. The other enjoys camping and biking, and fishing. One likes beach vacations at lovely resorts, while the other likes adventures full of activities. You just never seem to agree anymore about what to do.
If anything of this sounds familiar, do not fret. There really are things you can do to help turn this around. The things that you’re having such a hard time with right now, are often the very things that drew you together in the first place.
Not only is it essential for balance that partners have differences, but you actually need each other. Imagine two people who can’t make a decision…”I don’t know, what do you want do?”…”I don’t know, what do you want to do?”…”I don’t care”…”Me neither”. Or imaging two people with strong opinions…”Let’s go there”…”No, I’d rather go here”…”But I don’t really like that place, let’s just go there”…”I said NO”. You get the picture.
Here are some basics to remember and help you get out of this rut.
- Everyone has faults. Nobody is perfect, not even you. While you might like to thing that all of your thoughts and ideas are “right”, there is really no such thing.
- Neither of you are more right or wrong than the other. You are simply different people, with different thoughts, feelings, personalities, desires and ways. Try not to forget this.
- Stop trying to always be right or make your partner more like you. While it might seem easier if you were more alike, it really doesn’t always work all that well. There doesn’t need to be a fight here.
- Accept and embrace the differences. Consider your partner’s perspective and point of view. Stop. Slow down. Don’t jump in and be reactive. Really listen and consider differences. Sometimes, it’s really what is best for you.
- Utilize the strengths of each partner, and support each other’s weaknesses. If one is better at making decisions, maybe just let them. If one is more tidy, maybe they do the housekeeping, but you step up and do the cooking or laundry or manage the finances.
As hard as this may seem, it is not impossible. Once you realize that you actually rely on and desire the traits and strengths of your partner, you really do come back together and solve problems in new ways. Try to remember what drew you together and rediscover how those similarities and differences work so beautifully together to create “us”. Otherwise, you’re just two people living side by side.
How are you and your partner different? How have you learned to solve your differences and keep the peace?
Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas. Contact Lori at lorifresontherapy.com or call/text 818-514-LMFT