Do you remember when differences were exciting? Learning about your mate was like reading a mystery novel. In the beginning, even your mate’s flaws were endearing. You weren’t trying to change each other. Instead, you accepted each other the way you were.
But the longer you are together, the more you start to notice more differences with your mate. And the differences start to get under your skin. You wonder how you can tactfully get your mate to see there is a better way – your way.
What if we don’t have to change your spouse to be happy again? You have a choice – try to change the differences or grow to respect them. Happy couples are respecting differences and using them to build more open communication.
“When people can listen without reacting emotionally, communication is wide open and differences are an asset to a marriage, not a liability.” ~ Dr. Michael Kerr
4 Ways Happy Couples Deal with Differences Openly
Having differences isn’t always the problem; it is how you respond to the differences that creates marriage conflict and distance. While there may be differences that you can’t live with, many differences are more annoyances or misinterpretations. So how are happy couples dealing with differences more openly, so that it leads to less conflict and distance with their spouse?
- Be curious – While it’s tempting to push for agreement and sameness during stressful times, find a way to think about differing ideas as less threatening. Differences can be lively and interesting when you don’t have to change them. Enjoy learning about your spouse again.
- Look for similarities – If all you can see is differences, look for commonalities. You may find you have more in common than you thought. Maybe you value the big things, but differ on how to get there. Or maybe you both take things personally but calm down in different ways.
- Manage Worry – If you worry about what might or could happen, then it’s hard to stop reacting to differences. Most people can deal with the way things are, but it’s almost impossible to deal with what they worry might happen. Give your worry less energy, and you will feel less threatened. Focus on what you do have instead of worrying about what you might lose.
- Know Your Choices – Feel secure by knowing you always have a choice. If you disagree, then it’s ok to let your mate be responsible for the consequences of his or her choice. You don’t have to persuade him or her to do it your way because you can choose not to rescue them from their choices. When you find a way to be less impacted by your mate’s different choice, you can be less reactive to the differences.
The Upside of Having Differences in Relationships
Expressing differences without pressure for agreement is another form of emotional intimacy. Differences don’t mean that one is right and the other is wrong, it’s just different. When there’s room for individuality in a relationship, there is room for connecting and growing together.
“When we judge, we leave no room for love.” – Mother Teresa
Many couples avoid conflict and feel a pseudo-closeness because they “never fight.” But do the couples still really know each other?
I am not saying you need to share every difference you have, especially if you are expecting your mate to change. But if you can present your idea while also respecting your mate’s different idea, then you are being intimate instead of combative.
The surer you are of yourself, the less you will find differences a threat. When two people are freer to define themselves without pressure to shape up the other, then they can truly be known. And being known, even if it’s different, is what emotional intimacy is all about.
Marci offers marriage counseling for one for men and women in Independence MO. If you are reacting more than connecting, consider relationship counseling for one or both of you. Schedule free 15-minute phone consult with me to take the first step toward growing your connection instead of growing your anger.