Mary* loves romantic comedies. Her boyfriend Sam* likes action movies—the more violent, the better. She’s a vegetarian; he's a carnivore. “I love him, but we seem totally mismatched,” she says. “We can’t agree on a movie or a meal; how can we make important life choices, like where we’ll live or when we’ll start a family?”
With all the electronic data available at our fingertips today, it seems like it should be a breeze to find a partner who's a perfect match. But as you know if you’ve done any Internet dating, what looks right onscreen doesn’t always fly in the real world.
One problem is that we often think of compatibility as similarity. But too much sameness can be boring. Besides, do you really want to be married to yourself, with all of your flaws and weaknesses? Most of us want someone who will make up for our own failings, enhance our strengths, and enrich our lives.
So differences are important. But while it may sometimes be true that opposites attract, some differences can drive us crazy—like when you’re a neat freak and your girlfriend's a slob, or you're a ballet lover but the person you love will only leave the house to see a hockey game.
And I haven’t even mentioned religious, ethnic and cultural differences. As your parents may be quick to point out, it’s hard enough being married when you have the same background; why complicate your life further by getting involved with someone who is so different from you?
No matter who you are with, you will run into some conflict. It’s simply part of being in a relationship. For example, one very common struggle comes up around holidays each year—how are you going to manage the conflict between your desire to be with your family and your partner’s wish to be with his or hers? How do you cope with the pull from both sides?
And what about money? What happens when you want to save for a home and your beloved just wants to buy more electronic equipment? Or one of you wants to buy lunch out and the other wants to make sandwiches at home? Sure, sexual compatibility is important, but conflicts over families, finances, and even friends can disrupt a relationship just as quickly, and sometimes with more serious consequences.
But even if difference is the spice of life, at least as far as successful relationships go, you still have to deal with conflicts that emerge from these differences (just as perfectly-matched couples inevitably must).
[It is crucial to recognize that conflict is different from abuse. If you are in a situation where you are being physically or emotionally harmed, I encourage you to get some help from someone else—family, clergy (it does not have to be someone in your own religion), a teacher, or a professional person. Taking care of yourself (and your children, if you have any) needs to be your priority.]
But if you are in a relationship with normal ups and downs, a few basic guidelines can help you manage disagreements, restore equilibrium, and move forward together:
* names and identifying information changed to protect privacy
Teaser image source: iStock Photo: 7528409