Today I'm going to talk about five keys to accepting differences with your partner. It's been said in marriage the two are to become one and the problems begin when they try to decide which one. A lot of us try to mold our partner into mini versions of ourselves. We think if only they were more organized, more social like me, more punctual like me, etc. life would be so much better. And away we go trying to make them into mini versions of our self. Unfortunately, doing so through the years can cause great damage because it sends the message that they're not good how they are. We want them different than how they're wired.
What does accepting differences mean?
Accepting differences means you actively try to embrace everything about your partner, even the parts that may irritate you, rather than trying to change them. Doing so provides an environment of unconditional love and acceptance, which creates greater security in the relationship.
Now this is a balance because it doesn't mean your partner should never change or never try to accommodate or compromise. However, a lot of times we try to chip away at their core traits that may never change because that's just how they are. You don't want to go to the one extreme where you never expect any change and you want to avoid the other extreme where you're expecting foundational changes in how they're wired. Think of one trait of your spouse that drives you bananas. The one trait that's really hard for you. Apply that behavior to the five steps I'm going to talk about here in a second. For example, one trait in my marriage is my wife has a tendency to leave piles. She'll be cleaning the kitchen and she'll clean everything but leave all the pots in the sink. I walk in the kitchen and the first thing I notice are the pots and she wants me to notice everything else she did. She leaves piles and that irritates me because I like everything organized.
Accepting Differences - Five Steps
Step one is reframe your partner's aggravating behavior into an amusing part of who they are. This concept comes from John Gottman who's done more marriage research than anyone out there. So you want to think about their aggravating trait in an amusing way. For example, I've reframed my wife's behavior as the 80% rule. She organizes 80% of something and leaves the rest in a pile. Thinking of it as the 80% rule puts a little spin on it that's more lighthearted and it makes me feel less tense about it. So what about for you? How could you put an amusing spin on your partner's aggravating behavior?
Reflect on what caused their difficult trait. Where does it come from? I didn't have to look very far when I started wondering what made my wife leave piles because I realized that whenever her mom would come to visit, that's exactly what she did. She would organize the counters and leave a pile. She would organize the floors and leave a pile. So leaving piles is what my wife was raised with. That's her normal. Who am I to say that leaving no piles should be the way. That's just my normal because of how I was raised. So what about you? Where does your partner's aggravating behavior come from? Most likely it was modeled to them from their upbringing. You want to look for the origins because it will help you become better at accepting differences.
What is the silver lining of their aggravating trait? If you were asked to find one positive thing about their aggravating trait what would it be? For me, the silver lining of my wife leaving piles is that it's actually helped me relax my standards through the years because my standards can be too high and I can have some obsessive compulsive tendencies with how orderly I like things. But being married to someone who's much more relaxed than I am has forced me to relax as well. So that's a silver lining in the trait she has. What about you? What's the silver lining in the aggravating trait your partner has?
What are their other positive qualities? It's so easy to hyper focus on the negatives in our partner and forget about the good. We need to zoom out and remember all of the other positive qualities they have to become better at accepting differences. Usually those are the qualities we fell in love with. Some of my wife's top qualities is she's very tender hearted and sweet natured. She's super grace oriented and non-judgmental. The goodness in her heart is one of the main reasons I fell in love with her almost 25 years ago. But instead of focusing on that, I focus on her piles everywhere! I lose perspective! What are the good qualities in your partner? Meditating on those qualities more will change your heart and put their negative traits in perspective.
What are some of your difficult behaviors that would be hard for your partner to live with? We get so preoccupied with how hard it can be to live with our partner, we forget how hard it would be to live with us. One aggravating trait I have that can be hard for my wife is I can be impulsive. This came out several years ago when I passed my licensure exam as a psychologist. And if you know anything about the mental health field, it's a long journey to get licensed. You have to go through undergrad for four years, then graduate school for five years, then post doctorate hours for four years, and then you're able to take your licensure exam. It was the hardest test I've ever taken because it covered my entire doctorate degree. I thought for sure I failed but I passed and felt I deserved a reward. So, I told my wife I thought I should buy a sports car! She quickly disliked the idea because we have four kids and sports cars don't have a back seat. And we live in Colorado where there's ice and snow and sports cars are rear wheel drive. Despite her disapproval, the next day I decided to browse. By the way, it's a bad idea if you know your spouse is not on board to go browsing. But that's what I did. I went browsing and pulled into a dealership and there in the showroom was the most beautiful convertible sports car I had ever seen. It was a few years old so a great deal and I went into a frenzy. I called my wife and told her I found the perfect car and rambled about it for several minutes. She quickly reminded me all the reasons it was a bad idea. But, the last thing she said was, "I'll let you decide." As I hung up the phone, all I remembered from the conversation was her saying "I'll let you decide." So I raced over to the sales lady and I told her I'll buy it. Driving home I was ecstatic and couldn't stop smiling, despite getting bugs in my teeth since the top was down.
I got home and my wife was immediately upset. I reminded her how she said it was my choice, but she said I should have known better. Within the next few days the car started creating problems. My wife began asking me to help carpool the kids and every time I wasn't able to because the car had no backseat and they were too small for the front seat. Then an idea came to me. I'll make reservations at a nice restaurant in Boulder and teach my wife to drive the stick shift in the sports car and maybe she'll fall in love with it and feel like it's her car. So, we got a babysitter, got dressed up and off we went with her behind the wheel. Little did I know boulder was having an ice storm. So as we entered into Boulder, I start seeing cars spinning out on the side of the road and right then my wife lost control of the car and we did three 360's then slammed into the median. Thankfully, we weren't going fast enough to get hurt but she looked at me without saying a word and I knew I needed to get rid of the car. So, the next day I drove it right back to the dealership and traded it in for a more family friendly car. I had it for six weeks. I share all that to demonstrate what it's like to be married to me at times and that's important for me to remember.
So remember, the five keys to accepting differences with your partner is to think of their difficult trait as an amusing part of who they are, consider what made them that way, identify the silver lining, focus on their other positive qualities, and remember what it's like to live on the other side of you.
Sign up for Dr. Wyatt's newsletter here and receive a FREE PDF on 15 Questions to Incredible Intimacy!
Leave a comment below on what else could help you in accepting differences with your partner.