Different can be good.
This will hopefully be my last post for awhile on the topic of conflicts and differences in relationships. I’ve developed a kind of dread toward writing these posts because I feel so intimidated by the subject and so unqualified to be sharing my thoughts about it. I mean, who am I to talk? My personal experiences don’t go much beyond what NOT to do. I still have yet to put any of this into consistent practice. I guess that’s why I feel that I have to write about this. Writing helps me process what I’m learning, which hopefully means I’ll do better at remembering what I’ve learned the next time I find myself in an applicable situation.
The last article I wanted to share is about differences in relationships. It focuses specifically on marriages, but I believe that these principles can be applied to significant or serious relationships in general.
The article is a good (and short!) read, and it gives many examples of how couples made up of two very different people can work together and use their differences to their advantage. What I really liked was that the article’s point was not about how “opposites attract” but rather about how differences are inevitable and all types of people can have good relationships (again with not dating a clone of yourself).
“Every marriage is made of two people with different personality traits, and any combination of personalities can form a successful relationship.”
The article also does not mitigate the challenges that differences bring to a relationship. It does not try to convince the reader that because differences are good, they are necessarily easy. But it does support the idea of taking a positive approach to differences rather than viewing them as a threat to the relationship. The approach here is about using your differences to collaboratively build a stronger relationship. If your partner was just like you, then it is possible that the relationship would actually be imbalanced because you would both bring the same strengths and traits to the relationship, rather than balancing each other out. It’s a generalized point, for sure, but it’s food for thought.
“Olson and Deal suggest that couples “work with their differences rather than attempting to change or criticize the other person.” Look for the positive in having someone who’s not like you, even if the differences create a challenge.”
What I like about this next part is that the article never says “the more couples differ, the more advisable it is that they break up or the more unlikely it is that they will succeed.” The article’s solution is more challenging and definitely requires more commitment and more effort, but it is nevertheless a viable alternative: learn to communicate effectively.
“The more couples differ in this area, the more they ‘need to communicate openly with each other about their goals, roles and expectations.'”
The article acknowledges the risks inherent to certain types of personality differences, but again, it offers solutions that protect the relationship and the individuals in the relationship, rather than advocating the method of throwing in the towel:
‘”Guard against allowing the highly organized individual to function more like a parent and less like a partner.'”
“The dominant personality should work to develop listening skills and to encourage their spouse to speak their mind. The more passive personality needs ‘to develop their ability to honestly express both positive and negative opinions and feelings.'”
Notice the use of the word “develop” in the above reference. People do not enter into relationships with perfect relational skills. You learn how to be in a relationship by being in a relationship. It’s possible that nothing brings out the worst in a person as effectively as one’s significant other: after all, relationships “pull dysfunction to the surface of our lives” and we can use that as an opportunity to grow and to learn how to love better and how to be better people, or we can run from it. But if you choose to stay in the relationship and embrace the process, difficult as it might be sometimes, that choice in itself signals that you are already growing. It is a lifelong process but it is well worth the effort if both you and your partner are committed to working together at improving your relationship and not letting conflicts or differences get the best of you.
At least, that’s what I hear.
To sum up:
“Whether your differences are minimal or great you can use them to add strength and spice to your marriage. Olson and Deal explain that healthy marriages happen when you recognize your similarities and differences ‘and create solutions that allow you to work with each other rather than against each other.'”