The Key to Managing Differences Starts With Honoring Differences
“The goal of marriage is not to think alike, but to think together.” – R. Dodd
In Jake and Tom’s scenario (example 2), Jake was initially dismissive of Tom’s needs for togetherness and Tom was dismissive of Jake’s need for independence. They both fought for what they wanted and didn’t acknowledge or honor that they are two different people who have different needs.
“When choosing a long-term partner…you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years.” – Psychologist Dan Wile, After the Honeymoon.
When you commit to someone, you are committing to a relationship not only with their good parts but also their annoying parts. As Stan Tatkin, PsyD. likes to remind us, all people—that includes you and me—are annoying and difficult.
Like an annoying dairy intolerance, we have to learn to live with this knowledge about ourselves and our relationship.
Every couple—and this is true for my own partnership as well—has their set of unsolvable problems that they have to learn to manage if the relationship is going to be satisfactory and work well for both partners.
If you don’t learn how to manage it well, you’ll become gridlocked and the satisfaction of your relationship will below. This is because the nasty way your differences are handled spill into even the positive aspects of your relationship, such as your emotional connection, playfulness, and sex.
Most of the reasons relationships fail is because partners do not want to accept their lover wholeheartedly. Rather they accept their partner on the condition that they’ll change over time. That’s a recipe for failure.
“If we did an autopsy on all failed relationships, the number of couples where at least one of the partners was ambivalent—either not all in or waiting for their partner to change—would be very high…If you don’t or can’t accept your partner as they are right now, without cherry-picking the parts you like, you’re in trouble already. Nobody signs up for marriage because they want to be changed by their partner. It doesn’t work. Ever. Go all in or go home. Marriage and commitment can only work if we accept each other wholeheartedly.” – Stan Tatkin, We Do
By helping Jake and Tom truly listen to each other and honor their differences, they were able to learn how to manage this issue by proactively discussing it in their weekly relationship meeting.
“Differences attract us at first, and yet we can find ourselves in relationship trouble when we try to change these differences later. Learning to understand and accept the ways in which you’re different is key to creating lasting connection and enduring love.” – Drs. John & Julie Gottman, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love
Get to The Heart of the Matter: Exploring Dreams and Hidden Issues
Finally, when it comes to discussing difficult topics that are meaningful for both partners, it’s important to slow down and do a deeper exploration.
Imagine your partner and you stick your fingers in a Chinese finger trap. The harder you pull for each of your positions, the tighter the trap becomes.
Lucky for you, and for me, Drs. John and Julie Gottman noticed that the Masters of relationship did something interesting when they felt at odds with each other.
They slowed down and got curious. They asked each other what was so meaningful about their respective positions.
When couples struggle with the nine telltale signs above, it’s often because neither partner truly understands what is so meaningful or important about their partner’s position.
The goal then is to ask each other about the dreams behind the issue. Sometimes it’s a story from childhood. Other times it’s an unlived goal.
In example 3 above, Kris and Kurt are at odds with each other when it comes to finances.
After exploring the dreams within each of their positions to a point where both partners could say, “I totally understand why that dream is so important,” both partners were willing to find a win-win solution. You can read more about their story here: 4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock That Harms Relationships