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Do you ever think relationships would be easy if the other person was like you? We may not actually say that but often we act like it, especially when our partner is excited about something that we have absolutely no interest in.
When this happens we must choose a response.
- Act like we enjoy it: (ie. Fake it)
- Decline to participate: (ignore it)
- Negotiate for something you want: (Leverage it) This becomes a “tit for tat” arrangement, something like saying, “if you’ll see the latest superhero movie with me I’ll go shopping for shoes with you.”
So how are these solutions working? Not so good ugh?
This is why …
1. Act like you enjoy it:
The first solution of acting like we enjoy it doesn’t work … unless we’re going for sympathy. This is because everyone knows how much you are hating what you’re doing and you’re probably so unhappy that they’re probably wishing you just said no to it in the first place. If that’s what you're going for you’d be better off just saying no. Which leads us to the second option.
2. Decline to participate:
So you’ve successfully avoided the hated activity but now you’ve got another problem. You’re missing out on something your partner is passionate about. Why is this a problem? I have found that it is one of the major complaints of that troubled relationships I work with because if you can’t appreciate the things that your partner loves it is very hard to convince them that you appreciate them. That’s right, the things we love are intricately tied to us so that if you are rejecting the things your partner loves they see this as a de facto rejection of them. John Gottman the renown research Psychologist has found that developing a culture of appreciation for your partner's interests and activities is fundamental to maintaining a good marriage.
Now I hear you saying, “isn’t this just creating a good compromise?” Yes, I believe in compromise, in fact, compromise is at the core of being able to deal with perpetual conflict. In many cases, we need to compromise in order to maintain a healthy balance in a relationship. But if we ever find ourselves creating a relationship based upon, “if you do _______ then I will do ________” then we are headed for real problems. This is because healthy relationships are built on unconditional love and when we create a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” attitude then we find that our back never gets scratched enough and we begin feeling that we are scratching theirs too much. In addition, all the time we are “compromising” we are very likely slipping into the “faking mentality” which will end up making everyone miserable.
Let me share some illustrations that I have find helpful when working with my couples.
This is where the couple finds little or no involvement in one another’s life. It is characterized by the phrase, “they have their life and I have mine”. There is very little interaction, except in areas of necessity (paying bills, dealing with children, etc.) Often, I see couples at this stage when the children have left the house and now they are wondering why they got married in the first place since they have no mutual interests. They have become strangers to each other.
This is a state where one partner can’t move without the other. They are living in each other’s world even to the denial of their own uniqueness. Psychology calls it “enmeshment” and it is often caused by a fear of rejection or poor self-image. These relationships are suffocating because they don’t allow for the individuality and creativity of the other person and instead attempt to make it wrong for either partner to have an opinion or interest outside of the approval of their partner. When I see a couple like this it is often because one party is making a desperate attempt to find freedom and is pushing them into an “all or nothing” approach. When this problem is not addressed it often leads to divorce.
This is where both partners maintain their unique personalities and interest but find ways to share in the passionate pursuits of each other's world without the need to isolate or become enmeshed. It is where we acknowledge individuality (viva la difference) but also recognizes the beautiful contribution that this difference brings to the whole. The challenge is:
- Develop a way to both maintain individuality without becoming independent.
- Create interdependence without becoming dependent.
The five steps
1. Celebrate the Difference: We have a saying in Marriage Counseling, “opposites attract and then they attack”. Basically, this means that we are drawn to our partner because of the unique attributes they possess that we find fascinating. But then as time goes on we no longer find these characteristics fascinating but irritating. One of the most common pairings I find is an extrovert marring an introvert. Here is how they become attracted and then attack each other:
When an introvert meets an extrovert they say, “wow, I love the way you connect with people and feel so at home in a crowd. When I’m with you I feel like I’m with a rock star!
When an introvert lives with an extrovert for a while they may say, “why do you always need to be with people … can’t you just stay home more often?”
When an extrovert meets an introvert they say, “You are so deep and thoughtful, I love your calmness and wisdom, I find it very peaceful.”
When an extrovert lives with an introvert for a while they say, “ why do you spend so much time alone reading your books, what’s wrong with you?”
Instead of celebrating our partner's difference we want them to become more like us because that’s more comfortable. But good relationships are not always comfortable – sometimes they require us to stretch. Healthy relationships have this ability to be both totally accepting of our unique peculiarities and also challenge us to grow to experience our full potential. So for an introvert living with an extrovert, there is a challenge to broaden their world of relationships and touch more lives. And for an extrovert living with an introvert, there is a challenge to develop a contemplative life and deepen their inner world. This growth requires that we learn how to appreciate the other’s gifts, abilities, and interests even if we have no desire in those areas.
Getting to We
This is when we become aware of an interest in our partner's sphere and choose to find something in that interest we can authentically be excited about. That interest is then pulled into our sphere and we then share it in the "we" sphere.
2. Identify your partner’s passions: You may know what they are or you may not. Sometimes when one partner has been hearing negative things about what they love they lose hope of ever pursuing them. This is a sad state where they live a hopeless unfulfilled life that offers no joy. We need to kindle our partner’s interests rather than dampen them. A truly happy relationship is where we are the wind under their wings and they are encouraged to become all they were meant to be. So during this step, we need to sit down and take an inventory of our partner’s interests. Ask questions like:
- If you could do anything, with no limitations, what would it be?
- What have you always wanted to do but just never got around to it?
- As a child, what did you like to do that never lost it’s fun?
Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “how is just doing what they want to do going to work for me?” Here are three thoughts about that.
Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner gives you a partner who is more fully alive and who, in turn, has the capacity to help encourage your passions.
Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner produces a deeper and more intimate relationship. We feel close to those who truly know us and to know and appreciate our unique passions is one of the best ways of feeling known.
Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner opens you up to a new and expanding world of adventure that offers you a fuller richer life. This leads us to the third step.
3. Find something in your partner’s interests that you can authenticly be excited about.
Here’s an example from one of the couples I work with.
The wife is passionate about all things fashion and loves to follow the latest fashion bloggers who have enormous influence in the clothing industry. The husband is a numbers guy and has no interest in the fashion industry. There seems to be no way that he will be able to find something that interests him in his wife’s fashion passion. But he did! He was able to look past the clothes and see that there are a few power bloggers who are able to move people to purchase clothes simply by using influence. He found this fascinating because he is in a company that would be greatly enhanced by applying some of the same principles to their product. So when his wife is looking at the latest trend in clothing on her smartphone he is looking over her shoulder at the way the clothes are being presented and the power of influence.
You may need to get creative and expand your palate of colors but this is an opportunity to grow if you are up for the challenge. Because when you do you accomplish step four.
4. Pull your partner’s “my interest” into a “we interest”: Finding something that interests you in your partner's passion will create an opportunity for you both to grow closer and experience a more enjoyable life together. Examples:
We both have a “we interest” in amusement parks: I like the rides, she likes the shows
We both have a “we interest” in taking vacations: I like exploring new and unusual sights, she likes finding new and interesting restaurants.
We both have a “we interest” in visiting museums. She likes learning about ancient cultures, I find the artwork fascinating. When you do this you accomplish the fifth step.
5. Go for the win, win, win as much as possible: Let’s face it, we’re not always going to find something that peaks our interest in everything our partner loves. Sometimes we’re just going to need to love that our partner loves it. This kind of attitude says, “I can appreciate something simply because it gives you pleasure and that makes me happy.”
I like Disneyland … it must be because it holds some of my happiest memories when I was growing up. My wife has really no love for Disneyland (grew up in Kansas) and in fact, it would not be a place she would ever choose to go even if someone were to pay. But the other day she surprised me by planning a date to the Magic Kingdom. We had a marvelous time and she authentically enjoyed the park. This was because of seeing it through my eyes. One moment stands out as a precious memory. We were in the Enchanted Tiki Room. This is one of the most outdated but beloved attractions in Disneyland and definitely an acquired taste. During the show, she leaned over to me and gave me a tender kiss. I asked her what that was about and she said, “because I love to see you in your happy place.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get to that place more often in our relationships? Enjoying an activity simply because it brings joy to our partner. This requires that we are willing to cultivate a caring, giving and unselfish relationship with our spouse. This commitment will reward us tenfold in not only a more satisfying relationship but even more importantly a more beautiful character which, in the end, produces greater wholeness, wellness, and joy.