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You’re in love with your total opposite. Is this your true love? Can your relationship last forever? Do you guys stand a chance? You’ve heard “opposites attract” and you’ve definitely felt that attraction, but you can’t deny how opposite you are either. (Your friends and family constantly remind you…)

Then, maybe in quiet moments, the nagging questions creep in…

How different is too different? Are we total opposites? Maybe opposites attract, but can opposites also drive each other crazy? Is there a point where you are so different that you are forced to concede that you aren’t compatible? Does it matter how different you are if both of you are willing to accept each other’s differences? Can there be a “balancing act” between the differences? He has this one t-shirt that he thinks is so cool and it’s all I can do to not burn it! THIS CAN NEVER WORK, CAN IT?

Calm down. Take a deep breath. These are (mostly) good questions to be asking! 

If we start with the idea that EVERYONE is already different from each other to some extent, then the next thing to understand is that the bigger the differences, the more you will have to work to function as one, to be unified, to be a team AND the more you’ll have to work to avoid conflict, arguments, and deal with disagreements. 

This is a key concept. Got it? Bigger differences equal more relationship work.

I’m using “bigger” here as in how important are the differences? (Personality and character, core values like religion or politics, issues like whether to have kids, parenting styles, or approaches to conflict, communication, sex and money.)

Some people get hung up on the little differences and don’t even consider the BIG ones. The little differences are the spice of life. Different taste in music or food. City or country upbringing. Cake or pie? (Pie of course!) Those kinds of differences keep things interesting. But there are Big Differences that can make things difficult down the road. Have you thought about those?

In theory, you’d think it doesn’t matter how many differences or how big they are if each of you is willing to do the required work. (“But we love each other!”) That sounds so nice.

In practice, people have limits, get worn out, or have certain things where their partner just has to be on the same page. Worse, sometimes you can’t predict the impact of the differences down the line. Listen, the rest of your life is a long time.

Give some serious thought to these next little pieces of wisdom:

First, marriage tends to magnify your differences, NOT minimize them. It certainly won’t make them go away. Oh, and you or marriage aren’t gonna “fix” him or her. If it’s a “thing” while dating, it will really be a “thing” when you get married.

Secondly, in general, while they are dating, people tend to greatly underestimate the impact of these differences, while, at the same time, overestimating their ability to look past them. (Read that last sentence a couple of times. I’ll wait.)

Why can’t they see straight? They have these big blindspots called “Attraction,” “Being In Love,” “Infatuation” or “But He’s/She’s So Hot! Then at some point, a few years into the rest of their life, they are like, “Wow, this is really, really hard!” (If children come into the picture, multiply the difficulty level by a factor of at least five.)

Here’s the thing, nobody is going to be able to tell you definitively, “You guys are just too different.” There is something there or you wouldn’t be dating, right? But here is some help seeing around those blind spots…

Are the differences in core values, non-negotiables, or just preferences?

I’ll use my 25-year marriage (That’s twenty-five years. A quarter-century!) as an  example. We. Could. Not. Be. More Different…

Her idea of a fun Saturday morning is re-organizing the kitchen cabinets so she can check that off her List of Things to Do. (That’s an illness, right?) Then she wants to proceed to the next things on her list, all equally as exciting to me. My perfect Saturday is watching some (pretentious) art-house movie, then analyzing and endlessly discussing the cinematography and the significance of the director’s color palette while listening to some obscure Icelandic band.

She is a grounded, list-making Doer. I am a list-averse, head in the clouds.

She is concrete. I’m abstract. She’s about accomplishments, I’m about … not.

All these are real differences, BUT we pretty much completely agree right down the line when it comes to religion, spirituality, and politics. We have the same non-negotiables of honesty and loyalty. We both wanted kids and wanted the same things for them. (But, man, if my life depended on buying a dress for her that she would actually wear, I’m a dead man.)

Do the differences complement or compete?

She is more of an extrovert who loves people and parties. I’m an introvert who is good at faking being extroverted. She loves the crowds on Black Friday. I hate them. But, if she has to return something and has lost the receipt, I will be called upon to talk our way out of that with the manager. I’m just good at that sort of thing.

See, when encountering differences, people often make a judgment as to who is better and who is worse. If you can avoid that kind of thinking and be more like, “Where does THIS come in handy? Where does THAT?” now you are complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Boom.

Are the differences an obstacle or an opportunity?

Religious differences are unique. Now, you can say that in this arena you’ll just agree to disagree. That’s sounds grown-up. Might work for you two. But It will be a thing with the in-laws. In fact, it will be THE thing. If you have children, you will have to pick which traditions they will be raised under. That can cause some serious tension! I’ve seen it. Just sayin’…

Speaking of children, it can be really good for them to have parents who are significantly different but model how to make that work and play to their strengths. Maybe the kids end up being balanced and learn valuable life-skills. Or maybe they grow up seeing their parents arguing all the time because they are so, so different. Are you guys arguing a lot now?

Are the differences a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?

Some differences might get smoothed out a bit over time so they don’t rub each other so sharply. but they will always be there. These differences aren’t something you solve, they are something you learn to live with the rest of your life. You cool with that? 

I don’t have a wife who enjoys talking about philosophy, movies, music, books, art, or the beauty of the word “oblivion.” She indulges me and works at it and is a really good sport about it. I try not to wear her out and corner her with lengthy conversations about Southern Gothic authors.

She doesn’t have a husband who will ever be organized, be good about budgeting, will jump up to tackle some project around the house, will ever want to go jogging, or organize my day around a list of things to do. I know that stuff is important to her, so I work at it. We both have accepted these thingsWe had to grow into it… It was hard for a long time until we figured it out.

Are the differences equally valued?

This is important. For us, this has taken some time and been tough. When it comes to our differences, she likes to claim, “Hey, at least I get stuff done.” Then I say, “Yeah, but you miss out on so much beauty and wonder and will likely die from a stress-induced heart attack.” (Point, mine. Check THAT off your list…)

We have learned to play to our strengths. Who do you think makes sure that bills get paid on time? Who do you think helps our kid with his Shakespeare project?

Spending the rest of your life with someone doesn’t require uniformity – that would be boring. It does require unity. Whatever the differences, you will need to be able to stand unified. Unified against challenges, problems, hardships, the test of time, and even sometimes things like in-laws and often your own children. It’s gonna be you two against the world. Is there enough common ground for you to stand together?

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

For more resources, see our Dating and Engaged or Marriage pages.

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Weddings are time-consuming, expensive, and stressful.

We totally get it. There’s hardly any time to breathe, let alone enjoy this season with your soon-to-be spouse! But that’s why we created Preparing for Marriage Online. This online class will guide you both through the answers to these questions and MORE! And the best part is, you can watch each video in the comfort of your own home and on your OWN TIME – and right now, it’s all for FREE!

During this class, you’ll cover topics like…

  • Clear & effective communication skills,
  • How to handle the in-laws,
  • Conflict management,
  • The importance of dating your spouse,
  • Planning, budgeting, and finances,
  • What to expect your first year,
  • And more!

It was my 12th birthday, and I was (in my mind) an aspiring guitar-playing rock star. All I lacked was the right equipment. You see, all of the ultra-talented hair bands of the time had huge stacks of black-boxed amplifier speakers that blasted their gnarly guitar solos.

So, I made it perfectly clear to my parents. For my birthday, I needed a guitar amplifier so that I could be a rock star. 

On the big day, my parents presented me with a smallish wrapped box. As I unwrapped the gift, disappointment ensued. Indeed, it was a guitar amplifier – one that could almost fit inside my shoe, battery-operated, and just a little bigger than my Walkman tape player. When hooked up to my guitar, it barely made a sound louder than the actual guitar itself. And made of red plastic. I never saw a rock star on stage with anything made of red plastic. Talk about expectation frustration. 

I can now see the problem in hindsight. My expectations weren’t clear enough. I told my parents I wanted a guitar amplifier, but I wrongfully assumed they knew exactly what I meant. I mean, it’s not like they knew anything about being a guitar superstar like me. Ultimately, it was an unspoken expectation.

Imagine how this can happen in a marriage! 

One spouse expects the other to cook dinner every evening. One expects the other to spend time with the kids on the weekends. One expects sex four times a week. The other expects regular time together talking about each other’s day after work. But nothing ever said out loud. 

And then, when dinner isn’t ready, the kids are left to entertain themselves all weekend, the daily conversations don’t happen and sex is not happening nearly often enough, expectation frustration takes over the relationship.

We all have expectations for our relationships. Expectations are good in the fact that they are formed in the hope for something good to happen. When we expect something to come out of a certain situation, like our marriage, normally it’s in the hope that some sort of value is created.

But expectation frustration happens when we assume that our spouse somehow knows what we want without us telling him or her. There are times when I think my wife should know exactly what I expect because we both want a good, healthy marriage. And if she wants a good, healthy marriage just like I do, isn’t it just common sense that her expectations should line up with mine? 

See the problem here?

It’s perfectly normal – and OK – that two people have different expectations for achieving the same goal of a healthy marriage. The main thing is that these expectations don’t go unspoken. It shouldn’t be assumed that our spouse is thinking the same thing we are. And so a healthy, safe space needs created in the relationship to regularly communicate what we hope and expect from each other.

Trying to share your hopes in an unsafe space is like, well, two large guitar amplifiers blaring incoherent sounds toward each other. You get nothing but noise that can’t be heard. A safe environment, however, creates the space for a couple to experience harmony.  Each person approaches the conversation with a spirit of listening to understand rather than getting what they want. No value judgments are put upon the other person’s expectations; rather, their opinion is affirmed, even if it’s not necessarily agreed with.

The goal of a safe space for communicating expectations is that these opinions can be shared with the idea of reaching common ground. 

The magical part of this is that, when both people feel they can safely communicate expectations, they often find just how much their goals for their relationship are in line with each other. When my wife and I sit down and calmly talk about what we hope from each other, I hear her heart for our marriage rather than her expectations overriding mine. And she hears the same thing from me.

Unspoken expectations are like an acid that has a corrosive effect on the relationship – they slowly eat away at the common goal for a healthy marriage. Take the time to create that safe space and talk about your hopes and dreams for your relationship. 

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

Read this next:

What If My Spouse Doesn’t Make Me Happy?

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Is it even possible to fight nice with your spouse?

When my kids were younger and they disagreed (or worse) I would tell them, “Boys, fight nice!”

This always got concerned looks from any other parents hanging around. “Shouldn’t you be telling them not to fight?”

“Nope,” I would stand my ground. “I want them to learn how to fight constructively, how to fight fair, to learn how to compromise and work it out themselves. To fight nice.”

Do you and your spouse fight nice?

You are both individuals with different personalities, opinions, likes and dislikes, and needs. Disagreements should be expected and viewed as natural and healthy. There may be some things that you never agree on, and that’s OK. It’s good to ask, Is this really a problem to be solved, or a tension to be managed throughout our marriage?” That question can be a helpful fight-stopper.

So how do the two of you as a couple currently navigate those inevitable disagreements? Maybe you guys get loud and animated. OK, some people are just loud and animated. That can be completely different than being intimidating, mean, spiteful and hurtful. That’s definitely NOT fighting nice. (Sometimes talking about how your parents handled disagreements when you were growing up can be illuminating to how you yourself – and your spouse – currently handle a disagreement.)

To The People Who Claim They Never Fight With Their Spouse

Was your wedding like, yesterday? (I’m still skeptical…)

You never fight? Really? Never? Maybe you are hung up on the word “fight.” Do you ever argue? Disagree passionately? Discuss heatedly? OK. Interesting.

Well, let me ask you this: Do you make decisions jointly? Do you ever discuss money or sex or parenting? Do both of you have power and a voice in the relationship?

Often, when couples say they never fight, it isn’t because they are both just super-ultra-mega nice or they have the “perfect” marriage. Usually, the dynamics of those relationships involve one person who dominates all the decision-making and one person that just bottles everything up and goes along. One spouse has the power, has the voice in the relationship, and the other spouse has neither. That’s not a healthy relationship. Learn to fight nice. It can actually strengthen your marriage.

Here’s another great question to ask yourselves: “Is it the two of us against the problem, or the two of us against each other?” This question alone can change the trajectory of each issue, and ultimately, your marriage!

Even if you do answer these questions openly and honestly with yourself and your spouse, conflict will always be there. Fights will still happen. So what do you do when they come? Here are 10 rules you and your spouse can follow so that you can fight nice:

10 Rules For Fighting Nice

  • Keep it about the problem, not the person.
  • Don’t use words like “never” or “always.” It’s never true.
  • Don’t intimidate, manipulate, or threaten your spouse.
  • It should NEVER get physical. That’s domestic violence.
  • Winning the argument isn’t worth losing your spouse.
  • Don’t bring up past, settled issues or re-open healed wounds.
  • Make sure BOTH of you have space to express yourself and feel heard.
  • Compromise. You both should feel like you gave a little and got a little.
  • Apologize and forgive. (Maybe some of the fighting wasn’t so nice.)
  • End by reaffirming your love for each other. When the fight finishes, consider it done.

Remember – disagreements, debates, arguments, heated discussions, even good ol’ fashioned fights are part of every marriage.

It might seem impossible in the heat of the moment, but they can be an opportunity to grow closer together and don’t have to drive you apart. The key is how you handle them. Sometime when both of you are calm cool and collected, have a conversation and agree to some rules for fightin’ nice.

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Opposites attract. They really do! Then you get married and often opposites repel.

When my wife and I began dating in college, we couldn’t have been more different. Ours was really a case of “opposites attract.” Frankly, the differences were enchanting, fascinating and intriguing. Then we got married. About six to eight months in, those differences were not nearly as charming anymore – they were were just different. I remember thinking, “That thing you do that when we were dating was so beguiling and fascinating? Yeah, well it’s annoying now.” And my wife was feeling the same thing with my differences…

What did we get ourselves into? The rest of our lives seems like a long time to put up with this!

Are you really opposites? Below are some questions to turn this obstacle into an opportunity:

*Is this a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?

What kind of differences are we talking about here? Is one person laid-back and the other more assertive? That’s a tension to be managed – probably your whole life. Is one person trying to save money while the other person is blowing through it? That’s a problem that is a problem that is gonna have to be solved.

*Is one person taking the moral high ground?

I was fond of saying that all our differences were equal but some were more equal than others. My wife was more assertive, list-driven and task-oriented. I was laid-back and cared more about people. She always had “The Moral High Ground.” My wife would often say, “Well, at least I get things done!” (Aaaand you’re gonna die from a heart attack.) Try not to label the differences good & bad, right & wrong, helpful & unhelpful. They can just be different.

*Is there a duty to validate your spouse and their differences?

Do you have a chance to celebrate your spouse and the unique things that they bring to the relationship and the family? Be sincere and not condescending.

*Is there an opportunity for you to provide each other balance?

My wife and I finally learned that our differences should not be competing with each other, but rather, they could be complimenting each other.

*Is there wisdom in playing to your strengths?

Sadly, there are many “gendered” jobs around the house where we often just expect a certain partner to do it. But what if that is not their skill-set or passion? The other spouse is like, “I LOVE doing that job and I’m awesome at it!” Play to your strengths, not stereotypes.

*Is there a way for your kids to benefit from seeing your differences?

Absolutely – especially if you can show them how you work together through your differences. With an example like that, it’s more likely that your kids will be able to work well with people who are different than them. Plus, if you allow your differences to balance each other out, it’s more likely that your kid will follow suit. So, instead of constantly planning or constantly sleeping, they’ll have a deeper understanding of how to “work hard, play hard,” so to speak.

An important thing to remember is that a relationship with two people wired the exact same way comes with plenty of problems of its own.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Every time I introduce myself to a group, I always lead with the fact that I have been married for 24.5 years. I often see wide eyes and hear deep sighs after that. Then I tell them we’ve been together for 30 years, which is often longer than some of the participants have been alive. Some will even give a round of applause. I say my husband needs a standing ovation for being with me all these years.

As we move toward our silver anniversary, I’m thinking about and reminiscing on the things that allowed us to make it when so many didn’t make it to five years, much less 25, especially since my husband and I are so very different. I think there are two main things that keep us together.

For us, quitting is not an option.

We’re both from families where our parents stayed married for many years. My parents were married for 35 years before my mother died. My in-loves will celebrate 56 years of marriage in August. Plus, our grandparents stayed married for 50+ years. We saw marriage lived out in all of its complexities, and I saw my parents stay together through ups and downs. When I was a child, my parents came close to the point of divorce. Seeing them happy and in love as an adult reinforced my view that marriage is HARD WORK. But it is so worth it.

We choose to accept and respect the differences we have.

From the very beginning of our relationship, my husband and I were different. He liked Lakers’ Showtime of the 80s while I was a fan of the Bad Boys of Detroit. I loved pro-football and he was big college fan. I am an extreme extrovert who loves being around a lot of people while he is much more comfortable around a small group of close friends.

For a long time, I wanted him to act more like me. I thought it would make our relationship better if we liked ALL the same things. I now realize and respect our differences. If I were with someone JUST LIKE ME, one of us would certainly be unnecessary. The fact that we are not the same and see things differently makes us STRONGER. We lovingly and consistently challenge each other to see old things in a new and unique way.

No matter where you are in a relationship, it’s important to love and accept your partner for who they are without spending all of your energy into shaping them into the image you want them to be. If they are not who you want them to be, or if their actions don’t mesh with you, you have another difficult decision to make.

Perhaps the person who needs to change isn’t them; it just might be you.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Are there any irreconcilable differences? The University of Washington has more than 35 years of marital research by Dr. John Gottman that determines with greater than a 90 percent accuracy rate what’s going to happen to a relationship over a three-year period.

In a national telephone survey, there were two issues that couples were most likely to report arguing about. What would you guess those two areas are?

ANSWER: Money and Children

Examples of potential irreconcilable differences might include:

Here is the important takeaway: Differences are inevitable. It’s how you manage the differences that matters. Discuss potential differences in your relationship.

For example: Money

  1. Discuss how money was managed in your family.
  2. How would you want money managed in your marriage?
  3. Discuss: “What does money mean to you?”

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