Often your partner’s differences were what originally attracted you to them in the beginning, and yet as the relationship progressed into the second stage those same differences can become the bane of your existence. They say “opposites attract” and this is can be very right. The two types of relationship are the complimentary ones, where the couple shares very similar traits, and the ones based on opposites. Most intimate relationships fall into the second category. Why are we attracted to our opposite? What do we gain out of this experience in relationship? And perhaps most importantly, how can we work through these opposites so that the intimate relationship can grow stronger?
Opposites can balance the scales. When people with opposite traits work together they can create very effective teams, where the couple can achieve a lot more than each one on their own. However for this to happen, each party has to be able to appreciate and respect the other one’s differences and abilities in their own right. In an intimate relationship the lack of understanding of those differences, along with unrealistic relationship expectations, heightened emotional attachment and psychosocial stresses, can result in relationship breakdown.
Consciously Know Yourself
A conscious process of understanding your partner’s opposite qualities can be an amazing and beautiful journey rather than a heart wrenching battle. We are often not aware of our own qualities within ourselves and how we operate in the world, so it is very difficult to openly communicate and share who we are with our partner. So many people do not know why they react the way they do. Their unconscious conditioning ends up dictating their unconscious reactions which only lead to misery.
So the beginning of consciously working through differences with your intimate partner is KNOW THY SELF! Self-awareness is vital. We are so often busy psychoanalysing our partners and judging their “down falls” that we do not recognise the importance of turning the magnifying glass around and looking into the mirror, as Susan Jeffers would say. If both people in the relationship spend time getting to know themselves, the couple will have a far smoother journey in getting to know each other and respecting differences.
Mindfully focussing on your own thoughts, emotions and actions can create a more rewarding outcome than trying to tell your partner that they are a certain way, or that they should do a particular thing your way. By focussing on yourself, I am not referring to focusing on what you ‘want’ but rather what is your process of relating to your partner. What you want is important too, but it is secondary to the process of how you are both communicating when it comes to working through relationship differences.
The reason for this is that often “what both people want” is not the problem. Rather problems emerge due to mis-interpretations of each other, which could happen through body language, tone of voice, emotional reactions, semantics or attachments to expectations or unconscious conditioning. The relating style itself is often what gets in the couples way. Spend time witnessing and understanding your own reactions to your partner differences and see if you can then both talk about you own experiences.
Know Your Intention
Another aspect of working through differences in intimate relationship is the intention that both people bring into this process. Good questions to ask yourself include:“What do I want to achieve by working through these differences?” “Am I trying to change my partner so that they are more like me?” “Am I trying to defend or justify myself because I believe my partner is attacking me?” “Am I here to better understand myself and my partner’s differences and learn to respect and honour them?”“Is my mind set about ‘both/and’ where we learn to use our differences to balance and complement each other rather than what I think is ‘right or wrong’?”
Knowing your own intention and being able to openly verbalise this intention is helpful to resolving or working through differences. Often the solution is not to make the ‘difference’ go away but rather is about both people agreeing to how the differences can be beneficial and of value to their relationship.[Disclaimer: This only applies so long as there is no abuse in the relationship. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse is not a relationship difference or even a relationship issue for that matter]
Projection is when we superimpose our own idea of what another is saying or doing that is more about ourselves than the other person. We all do this in intimate relationship. In fact, the three hardest types of relationships are parent-child, child-parent and partner relationships because in these relationships we are most prone to projection. There are positive projections as well as negative ones. A great example of positive projection is when we fall in love. In this projection the other person becomes our “ideal lover “in our mind, but who we think we see is our inner projection of that person and not that person themselves.
Negative projections can include when your partner reminds you of the perceived negative attributes of your parents, or it could be when your partner becomes the evil kid who used to harass you at school or your teacher who hated you. The projection is a previous memory of some other person who in some way hurt or angered you earlier in life. This process is incredibly common in relationships.
Again, the key to overcoming projection in intimate relationship is firstly, self-awareness of the projection, and then to consciously dis-identify your partner from that projected image. What tells you that your partner is not actually your mother or father? How are they different from that evil kid? When was your partner loving, supportive or your best friend? So working through differences will not make your partner change who they are, however it can help couples to stop polarizing their differences and stand together in a way that uses their differences to complement each other.
When have you appreciated your partner’s differences?
Can you think of a time when you projected another person or previous experience on to your partner?