When Differences Become Strengths In Your Relationship

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January 28, 2016

635243037923437806Fotolia_51258520_XS.jpgHow many times have we entered a new relationship with the guy of our dreams and then… proceeded to try and change him?

The relationship starts out so promising. He is perfect—the way he dresses, smells, his hobbies. Sure his friends might be a little annoying and you have yet to meet his kids, but those are all just details.

Ok, well, maybe you really aren’t crazy about the way he eats or his restaurant choices, or the fact that he loves to watch pro golf, which bores you to tears. He also misuses his favorite word, "poignant," which drives you insane. In fact, now that you really think about it, it’s clear he doesn’t even know what that word even means. Still, Mr. Hottie is perfect, quirks and all. Right?

It’s now many months into the relationship and when he takes you to dinner at his favorite dive, you’re not amused. He knows you’re trying to be healthy and shed a few pounds yet he’s treating you to a night of overly-oiled and cheesed-up pasta, bread and a bottle of cheap wine. “This is a poignant moment,” he says gleefully. You smile but want to smack him. “WRONG WORD CHOICE,” you want to scream. You manage to keep your mouth shut (this time). Instead, you decide to subtly start changing him (you hope he won’t even notice). A few tweaks here and there and your guy really will be perfect.

You buy him some new clothes because you can’t stand his sweats and oversized football jersey. Hooray, he wears them without protest! You start cooking more meals at home—grilled fish and veggies, red beans, fresh fruit. He eats them! Instead of agreeing to a couple’s fishing trip, you book London for seven days that includes museums, a play, and a day at The Tower. He goes with you and it’s one of your favorite trips ever.

…But then he starts resenting you. You start arguing over … the game on TV, movie choices, the color of the comforter (you want to buy him a new one), what to buy at the grocery store... Life is suddenly contentious. Fun and satisfying relationship is vanishing fast. What happened?

When one really thinks about it, most of the things above don’t matter a twit. The BIG items generally fall within these categories: to have children or not, do you like each other’s children and they you, how to spend money and on what, where you want to live, sexual compatibility, trust and friendship, and a few other make-or-breaks (like religion or if one smokes). And with the rest? How about letting it go? It is actually far easier than it sounds. Just simply decide to love your guy and embrace your differences. In fact, better yet, try joining “his” way sometimes. You may not find it all that bad.

Case in point… My husband loves a local high school athletic team. I could care less and have no connection to the high school. He loves to hit up every local football and basketball game. I am ambivalent about high school sports unless my daughter is playing. But I go with him nearly every time. So what if it’s not “my thing’? We get to spend time together and he is happy. It’s a very easy “sacrifice” on my part . He also loves a local Mexican restaurant and likes sharing an entrée that isn’t my favorite. But since we hit up this restaurant maybe once every couple months, so what? It’s not even worth thinking about. (No doubt, he makes the same choices every day-- to just "go along" with things I love but he doesn't.)

Another case in point where I got it all wrong was with my ex-husband. I tried (in vain) to change him and it didn’t work so well. I tried to get him to stop drinking and get into a good alcohol treatment program. He didn’t go-- instead he lied to me about where he was (an AA meeting) when in fact he was drinking at a bar. I hated the way he dressed and bought him new clothes. One evening while he was drunk, he screamed at me that he hated them and liked his dirty sweats better. I talked him into getting braces to straighten his teeth. I paid for a nice suit for him to wear to his dad’s funeral, something totally out of his comfort zone. When we married, I kept our house clean, something he refused to help with; he was perfectly content living among clutter and dirt. He soon resented me like hell.

Truth is, when it came to our Very Big Differences, it was clear that we were doomed. Initially, he convinced me that he wanted something different and I was just the girl to help him get there. Wrong. I could not fix his alcoholism, no one can. And no one should stay married to an alcoholic. It wasn’t fair that running our home fell entirely on my shoulders while my husband went fishing, drinking, then came home and went straight to bed. (If you need to try and change your guy to this degree, you need to end it because if you don’t, you have some horrible days ahead of you; that's a promise).

But for the smaller stuff? Differences can be strengths. You can do and learn something new, and so can he. If there are hobbies you both have that are too different to share, it’s ok to have a life outside the relationship—go it alone. A friend of mine loves crafts (not my thing, for sure!) and spends time at swap meets selling her stuff. Her husband spends that time on long-distance bike rides and races. Good for them. Another friend loves Europe, her husband loves ocean. Sometimes they take separate vacations with friends or family members (like her recent trip to England with her mom). Stop trying to change the things that don’t matter because if you do, you’ll love your relationship a whole lot more. In this case, “Let It Go” should be your theme song.  

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