Audrey Kasting, Relationship Rx Facilitator
I once had a professor ask our class, “Why is being in a romantic relationship so hard?” Students in the class offered a multitude of answers, including, “It can be hard to trust someone,” “Because you have to give up stuff,” and “You might not be thinking straight because you’re in love.” My professor did not say these answers were wrong, but he offered an answer that was much simpler: “Being in a romantic relationship is hard because it’s two different people.”
When we enter into a relationship, it is a mathematical certainty that we will have incompatibilities. What my professor was trying to say is that in any relationship, there are two unique people with different backgrounds, different opinions, different likes and dislikes, and different personalities. Yes, some people have more of these in common than others – and certainly having things in common (such as values, shared activities, and life goals) are important in a relationship. However, even when two people match up on almost everything, because they are not the exact same person there will be something in which they don’t match up perfectly. So, all couples will have an area in which they naturally don’t line up or agree – and that’s OKAY! Once a couple has been together for a longer amount of time, they will start to see where these areas are. These incompatibilities don’t mean that you are not a good match or shouldn’t be together, it just means that it is an area where you’ll always have to work at just a little bit harder.
Many times, couples will find that they have a natural incompatibility when they start to feel “stuck.” They might start realizing that they have the same disagreements or fights over and over, or that a particular issue never seems to really go away. This experience can be very frustrating, especially if it continues to make you feel like your partner “doesn’t get it,” or you want to have a healthy relationship and you want to get rid of the issue. Many of us want to “fix” problems, so when the same one keeps popping up it can start to feel exhausting. The fact is, however, that you can have a natural incompatibility with your partner that never completely goes away, and still have a healthy relationship. It may not be something you need to “fix,” but rather, “maintain.”
What is also happening when partners are feeling “stuck,” is not just that they are spinning their wheels on one issue, but they may actually be stuck in a pattern. Many couples researchers are starting to learn that it is not either person or the couple who is the problem, but the pattern that is the problem. The pattern may even pull partners further apart and make the difference seem bigger than it actually is. When this happens, partners start to believe that maybe they made a mistake in picking this person, that maybe they are “too different,” or “not meant to be,” and that it will never get better.
If you and your partner are experiencing this, one of the best things you can do is to simply understand your partner’s point of view. This does not mean that you have to agree with your partner – this just means you have to make sense of where they are coming from on whatever issue it is. Here are some tips to help you both understand each other better:
1) First, don’t try to problem-solve! Don’t set a goal to fix the issue; rather, set a goal to understand your partner’s point of view. If you try to problem-solve before you truly understand where one another is coming from, you actually might be trying to solve different problems. This may be part of the reason you are feeling stuck.
2) When you are trying to explain to your partner your point of view, don’t try to blame your partner. Speak for yourself. How is this affecting you? How is it making you feel? You might also think about these things to try and explain where you are coming from:
- How did your experiences growing up shape your ideas on this issue?
- How have your past relationships affected you in this area?
- How is your culture different from your partner, and what effect does this have on the issue?
3) If you are feeling mostly angry, try and figure out what else is going on. When we are feeling angry, there is always another emotion going on underneath. It might be sadness, disappointment, fear, guilt, or embarrassment, for example.
4) If you are listening to your partner’s point of view, do not interrupt him or her. Then, when they are finished explaining some of it, do not try and argue their point. Instead, tell him or her what you heard. State back your understanding up to that point. That way, if you are right, your partner can tell you; and if you are hearing it incorrectly, it will give you both a chance to fix that miscommunication.
There will be more posts to come on patterns. For now, here is a list of the most common patterns we see in couples. If you have done the Relationship Check-up, perhaps your facilitator has identified one of these in your relationship. In the future, there will be posts explaining each of these if you want to learn more about them.
- Teacher/Student (or any variation)