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6 Reasons to Appreciate Differences With Your Partner

Opposites may not attract, but differences sustain relationships.

Source: auremar/Shutterstock

Differences are often what initially attract us to our partners. For example, a quiet introvert is sometimes attracted to an extrovert's bubbliness, or someone who lacks confidence is attracted to someone who has it in abundance. Over time, these differences can cause conflict in relationships. (See here and here for some examples of the research.) But following are some quick thoughts and examples to get you thinking more strongly about the ways in which it's a positive to have a partner who has different traits and strengths than you:

1. The ways in which your mate is a morally better person than you.

For example, a spouse who has a much stronger desire to volunteer than you do. Your partner may have better attitudes toward people who are less fortunate than yourselves, but those better attitudes may rub off on you.

2. Healthy ways your mate copes with stress that are different from how you do it.

When you live with someone, you become intimately aware of how they cope with stress. Partners can pick up new skills from each other—or you might just admire what the other person does. What have you learned from your partner about useful ways to cope with stress? (For example, your spouse may go for a run after work each night.)

3. Practical skills your mate has that you don't.

Maybe your mate can make dinner for six without getting stressed about it, or can do DIY projects that you're hopeless at.

4. Ways in which your mate will step in to do things that you find anxiety-provoking.

Maybe your partner is the one who'll deal with awkward conversations that need to be had with family members or neighbors. Maybe they're the one to return items to stores because you feel embarrassed doing it. When is your partner willing to step in and rescue you from things you feel anxious about doing?

5. The way that your partner manages tasks in a style you admire or find sweet/cute/amusing.

Does your partner make sandwiches in a particularly adorable way, or do they have a super well-organized system for keeping mail and receipts in order? It could be as simple as their favorite weird sandwich fillings, or the goofy apron and chef's hat they love to wear when they're grilling out. It's easy to ruminate when your partner doesn't do tasks the way you like them done. But what do they do that's different from your approach in a good way?

6. Finally, consider this: Are any of the qualities that annoy you about your partner the flip side of their more attractive qualities?

For example, if you admire your partner's belief in themselves and their ideas, do you also get annoyed by your partner's stubbornness? Or if you get annoyed that they spread themselves too thin, do you also admire their generosity? Pinpoint what irritates you about your partner, and ask yourself whether there is a relationship between that quality and something you like about them. This isn't about dismissing the annoying aspect; it's just about seeing things in gray rather than black and white.

Source: Author

There are lots more self-reflection exercises and practical tips in my book and in my other PT articles.

Dr Alice Boyes is author of The Anxiety Toolkit (Perigee/Penguin Random House, 2015).

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Twitter: @DrAliceBoyes

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