November 2015



Using Your Differences to Bring You Closer

By Annette Carpien

What are your differences as a couple? Are you similar or miles apart in your values, your needs, your different ways of handling conflict, your levels of sexual desire, your communication styles, personalities, your parenting or money management styles?

Of the hundreds of ways two people may be similar or different, just one or two can tear your love apart. "If only he would want to talk to me." "If only she wanted more sex"... everything would be fine. Over time, everything, including your rationalizations for your own bad behavior, in the relationship ends up revolving around the hurt and frustration related to this single difference.

The power struggles that ensue from differences, that is, the feeling of 'when are you going to meet my needs?' are actually characteristics of the predictable stage of relationship known as the 'post-romantic, power-struggle' stage.

When we fail, after a thousand attempts, at changing our partner, as we inevitably will, our anger, resentment, frustration and sadness cause us to build walls around our hearts.

So, how can we better handle the differences between us? Not all relationships should continue; If, however, the behaviors are not damaging ones, as in verbal or physical abuse, and both would like to find a way to embrace or even just live with their differences or their partner's non-endearing habits, there are mindsets and tools that can help pave a path towards more connection and intimacy.

Here are three stories to provide some new perspectives about differences:

Story #1 - Differences in hygiene and habits
A neighbor would complain to me about her husband's sloppiness and frequent farting. A year after he died unexpectedly of a heart attack, she told me, "I was so endlessly pissed off by his bad habits; I forgot to notice the things I loved about him. I really miss ALL of him."

  • New Perspective: What we feed is what grows. What behaviors are you feeding: the ones you hate or the ones you appreciate? When your focus is on the latter, your requests for behavior change by your partner might be received much more willingly.
  • Tool- Requests: In an environment of appreciation and respect, ASK FOR behavior that you would appreciate. Ask once, or just occasionally, without demanding.
  • Growth Mindset: Notice what anxiety or upset your partner's undesired behavior brings up for you. Whatever is within you is your domain. Learn tools to manage or release your own anxieties.

Story #2 - Differences in values and lifestyle
Natalie is a dedicated vegetarian with spiritual practices. Eric, she discovered after she was pregnant very early in the relationship, loves to hunt, drink beer, scoffs at her spiritual practices and intends to teach their child how to hunt. She rejects his values and lifestyle, yet because she wants an intact, emotionally healthy family for her child, wants to create peace and harmony between them.

  • New Perspective: Our judgments, thoughts and feelings are not Truth, they are just true for us. We explored the possibility of her giving up her judgment that his lifestyle is wrong, and to be able to have both sets of values and lifestyle cohabit peacefully, and allow their child to, one day, make his own choices.
  • Tool- Validation: Natalie discovered that, given Eric's upbringing in which hunting and football were the ways he felt most connected to his dad, his lifestyle was right for him. She chose to give up being right that his lifestyle was wrong.
  • Growth Mindset: Notice how your judgments create an 'I am better than you are' or 'I am right and you are wrong' dynamic. Love and judgment cannot co-exist.

Story #3 - Differences in spending habits.
A young couple, Judy and Sam, earn an adequate income. Sam is a saver with material goals in mind for their life together. Judy likes to enjoy life in the moment and often buys jewelry and hats without a lot of forethought. Her spending patterns usually cause arguments, with Judy feeling constrained with a tight budget and Sam angry that his goals for their life together are being thwarted.

  • New Perspective: When your money style causes problems (debt, controlling behavior, etc) in your life and conflicts in your relationships, discover what emotion or need is driving the behavior, to find other better ways to get that need met.
  • Tool- Validation: love/connection; significance; variety; certainty/comfort; freedom; self-expression; growth; contribution Judy discovered her underlying human needs for freedom, for self-expression and for variety/excitement.
  • Growth Mindset: They explored other ways she could experience their needs without breaking their budget. Sam recognized how his controlling behavior about money was stifling Judy. They took steps towards each other's styles to meet each other's needs.

Hidden within each challenge or crisis is an opportunity to grow and grow closer. What opportunities are hidden within your challenges?

Copyright © 2015 by Annette Carpien and the Relationship Coaching Institute. All rights reserved in all media. Used with permission.

Annette Carpien, is a Master Certified coach for couples, and is known as the 'Love that Lasts' Coach. Annette loves to help couples resolve their power struggles, and learn to use their differences to bring them closer. Annette also helps individuals release and lift resentment, anger and sadness to find inner wholeness and/or forgiveness and a revitalized relationship.

Ask Our Coaches

If we can't change our habits, how do we work together?

Dear Coaches,

I am a planner. My partner is a does-everything-last-minute person. It has led to many disagreements and chaos in the home.

I know I can't change him, so I have tried to work around his way of getting things done. It leaves me with a ton more work that is exhausting me. It is a big issue that leaves me overwhelmed, especially during the Holidays.

If we can't change our habits, how do we work together?

~ From Haley, in CA

Denise Wade

Denise responds ...

Your brain may be estrogen or serotonin activated, chemicals based on organization and structure. The neurotransmitter estrogen favors the process, enjoying the details and involvement with one's partner. Serotonin favors the calm that accompanies the completion of a task. Serotonin personalities are well prepared and like order unless they are dragged, against their will, into plans that make them uncomfortable, such as visiting inhospitable in laws.

A testosterone activated brain favors goals, but not small details. Testosterone personalities view planning as irrelevant if the goal does not interest them.

A dopamine activated brain favors spontaneity. Dopamine personalities are impulsive and feed off the creative energy from last minute planning. Their adventurous nature enjoys being stimulated as opposed to sticking to an itinerary.

Understanding your own types may help you both contribute your strongest character qualities. If your partner is spontaneous, perhaps he can teach you to relax even at the risk of forgetting to pack the toothpaste. If you are a planner perhaps you can revisit the goal and ask, "Is this something my partner is truly interested in or is this for my benefit?"

A good resource is Why Him Why Her? by Dr Helen Fisher.

Denise Wade Ph.D. |

Judith Halmai

Judith responds ...

You are right you cannot change him. If you are not married, ask yourself if this issue is a requirement or just a need. If you are married, or this is just a need the following is for you.

Sounds like you step in and do your partner's share, which gives you a heavier workload than what you are prepared to carry. A little planning might help.

Here are some ideas, see how you can adapt these to your circumstances...

Have a clearly defined plan of what part of a project is whose responsibility.

You could set deadlines with real consequences well before the actual deadline. For example, if you are to go on holiday and you decide it is your partner's responsibility to book the tickets, you can say that if they are not booked by X date, you will be holidaying at home. Try and come up with consequences you can live with.

Think of what is and what is not important to you, and what you can let go of. If it is your dream to go on that holiday, take responsibility for making the arrangements, and allow your partner to do the packing. Whatever is left home you can always buy at your destination or make do without.

Consider it an adventure and have fun with it. Likely you will have many opportunities for a good laugh if you are prepared in advance, and even if you aren't. Love and accept him for who he is and remember to be grateful for the wonderful person he is and why you have chosen him in the first place.

Judith Halmai |

Barbara A. Williams

Barbara responds ...

A relationship always involve at least two people, and in order for the relationship to work it's going to take the efforts of both parties concerned.

What was it that you admired about him initially that seems to annoy you now? Have you tried having an intimate conversation to discuss how it's affecting you and the relationship? Do you feel loved by him? If not, this is definitely something to discuss, and with support, if needed. If you know you love him and feel loved by him, there has got to be a way for the two of you to come together and resolve this. You cannot work this relationship issue alone.

The only person we can change is our own self. People change when what they have been doing no longer works for them. So his comfort level is not challenged enough to change. Is yours? What are you doing different?

The two of you must find a way to renegotiate your previously agreed upon terms. If you truly love each other, and neither of you are willing to budge concerning this "big issue", I would say it is an indication of something much greater at work beneath it all.

Barbara A. Williams |

The opinions stated are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the staff, members, or leadership of Relationship Coaching Institute.

This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your question here and it will be forwarded to our coaches all over the world. Each issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.


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