Making Room for Differences

Posted on January 7th, 2013

Relationships usually start out full of love, but many become hotbeds of opposition and resentment only a few years later. What causes this?

Often it is the result of not knowing how to make room for differences. The differences can be smaller ones, such as one of you liking sit down dinners and the other wanting to eat in front of the tv. Or they can be much larger ones, such as one of you wanting monogamy and the other an open marriage. In the first flush of your love, these differences can seem negligible, if you are aware of them at all. Unaddressed, they build in importance as time passes.

The process of making room for differences is not that complicated, but it can be very challenging. It means learning to live with open acknowledgment of your differences, and working together to minimize their impact on your relationship.

Couples often do not address their differences for fear that looking at them will threaten the relationship. But couples don’t come apart because they are different; they come apart because they don’t want to be together. Strong relationships can absorb great differences, and doing this work actually strengthens relationship.

The first step in making room for differences is to acknowledge and accept that these differences exist. Many people don’t get this far, instead responding to any difference by arguing, running away, stonewalling, or pretending to go along with what they don’t want. What is needed instead is honest, undefensive conversation recognizing the differences you have—that you are two distinct and different people.

Once the differences which really matter to you are sitting clearly in front of you, the second step is collaboratively working out how to make room for them. This begins with giving up the fantasy that your partner is going to fulfill all of your needs. Instead, work with each other on how elastic your relationship can be, so that each of you gets as close as you can to the way you want to live. The result won’t be everything either of you wants, but it can be enough, and it will bring more of who you are and what you want into the relationship.

Not all differences can be resolved. But when unresolved differences are openly addressed, you can move them out of the center of your relationship, leaving room for more of the connection which brought you together in the first place.

The third and final step is ongoing attention to how well your relationship works under your new regime. This is a dynamic process, requiring patience and persistence. Expect to make changes many times before you arrive at what will work for you, and to re-calibrate with each other as your relationship changes. The ultimate result will be a wider, deeper relationship in which you will both feel more secure.

Posted in Marriage and Couples

Please remember, this is a blog. It is not psychotherapy or treatment of any kind and is not a substitute for the individual treatment you can get from going to see a good therapist.