In couples counseling, I often hear partners express hopelessness, saying, “Maybe we’re just too different.” They feel their efforts at communication have failed too many times, and almost everything ends in a conflict.
Does that sound familiar to you?
Consider this ray of hope:
A couple is made up of two unique people. Your backgrounds, family cultures, and life experiences are different. Sometimes partners come from different ethnic cultures, and gender can also play a role. Like every other couple on the planet, you have individual personalities, preferences, and styles.
When we’re dating, we find similarities in views and interests. That’s a great place to create bonding experiences, but as we move to deeper commitment and marriage, we get to know each other in greater depth. We cannot explore these differences in depth in a new relationship—it takes time, and is part of what makes up true intimacy.
To expect that the two of you will align in preferences, wants, and needs puts a lot of pressure on a relationship.
Don’t set yourselves up for failure by expecting similarity! Explore and respect the uniqueness of your partner, and understand that you each view life and the world through your own set of values and priorities—and that is perfectly okay.
I work with all my client couples in stepping out of the personal lens, and into the lens of the partner. Can you see a situation from their perspective and understand the emotional logic in their responses? How well do you acknowledge and validate a different perspective?
This is, essentially, the ability to empathize, and it is a core skill for marriage and intimacy. We need to postpone our own agenda in order to understand the perspective of our partner.
This is not easy work! It is difficult to listen when we so desperately want to be heard. But when partners can remember that the relationship itself is more important than the problem at hand, some of the urgency and anxiety is removed from the conflict.
There is time and space for empathy.
Expect differences, and accept them. Focus on your ability to step into each other’s lens and convey empathy and validation. Feeling understood is the first step to compromise and problem solving between partners.
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