Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges in a couple relationship is dealing with differences. Especially when they seem indelible. Interestingly, both happy and unhappy couples tend to have between 3 and 5 of these chronic differences.
Maybe one is a saver and the other is a spendthrift. One is an early morning person and he is a night owl. People like to play first, and people like to work first. One is an optimist, the other a realist. With so many different personality styles, couples certainly don’t all match.
The good news is that you don’t have to be that way to be happy. In fact, sometimes these differences are our greatest strengths. But what matters most is how we perceive these differences.
Couples who critically look at their differences endanger an already difficult situation. By being critical, you choose to attack your partner’s personality rather than attacking the problem.
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Suppose Sarah agrees to meet Mike at the store at 5pm, but she is late. If Mike said “I can’t believe you’re late again, you’re so lazy”, he chose to be critical by attacking her character when she showed up.
Besides attacking the fact that she was late (and possibly questioning why), he attributed the mistake to an unfavorable personality trait. He didn’t attack her problems, he attacked her.
Criticism exacerbates our chronic differences. Not only are our partners likely to feel attacked and disrespected and defensive, but they have come to see us as having character flaws that we struggle to deal with. And who wants to marry someone with flaws that we must accept and compensate for?
Interestingly, happy couples tend to have the same number and type of chronic differences. And one of them might be like Sarah and Mike, one chronically on time and the other usually late.
So the difference is not in the differences, but in how you see the differences that make a difference. all right?
Happy couples complement each other rather than criticize each other’s differences. Recognizing that differences provide important balance, happy couples tend to appreciate opposites. Work and learn not to criticize them.
After all, is there anyone who is truly perfect on their own? No, we all need to find a balance.
I’m a little too messy and I’m blessed with a wife who likes to put things in order. As a result, we had many wonderful vacations and wonderful experiences that would have been too cheap to pay for ourselves.
So the next time you feel like being critical of your differences, choose to be complementary instead. It helps a lot in keeping love alive.
In the words of a happy wife I met recently, choose to say, “He’s the complete opposite of me.”
Visit www.panhandlecouples.com for tips on keeping your love alive.
Marriage is easier than it sounds, but remember, it’s harder than it actually is.
Mark Anderson is a mental health therapist who specializes in couples therapy. He has a private practice at Oregon Trail His Mental Health in Scottsbluff. He can be reached at his 635-2800 or online at www.panhandlecouples.com.