I met a lovely woman the other day who works at the children’s clothing store where we shop. She was in her late fifties and, as she saw that I was buying winter coats for my boys, asked if they enjoy winter. I said, “Oh, yes! Everest asks every day when it’s going to snow.” She asked if we ever go snowshoeing and I said no, not yet. She said that she and he husband were planning to go later that day and that it was one of their favorite activities. “But it wasn’t always like that,” she said with a smile. “I had to convince him to start snowshoeing with me. You see, I’m Tigger and he’s Eeyore. I bring him up and he grounds me to earth. That’s why we’ve been married for so long!”
One of the most common concerns among my clients in committed relationships is, “We’re so different. I’m an extrovert and he’s an introvert. I love being around people and he can spend days or weeks on his own.” The nature of the described difference varies, of course, but there seems to be a cultural confusion around a belief that says that the person you marry needs to be exactly like you! This flies in the face of the adage “opposites attract”, so somewhere in our cultural code we know that being different isn’t a strike against relationship compatibility. Yet, on the threshold of marriage, people seem to look at their partner and over-focus on the differences.
Why is this? When conflict arises as a result of the difference, the underlying belief says, “If we were exactly alike, we wouldn’t fight so much.” There are several problems with this statement. One: Your clone doesn’t exist. No matter how similar you are to your partner, differences will always present themselves. You could look for someone who’s more similar, but eventually the differences would still arise. Two: The fighting isn’t actually because of the differences but because of how you’re responding to the differences. When a difference arises (whether of opinion, restaurant choice, political belief) the habitual response is usually characterized by judgement. Inside you’re thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe my partner thinks that way,” and the judgement is inevitably felt by the other, who then either responds with judgement or goes silent with shame.
But the primary issue is connected to a belief that says, “If my partner and I were more alike, I would be happier. If he shared my passion for psychology, I would spend more time engaging in psychologically oriented activities. Or if he was more outdoorsy, I would be hiking a lot more.” This points to one of the most common beliefs that people in relationships: my partner is supposed to make me happy. My partner is supposed to complete me. If I was with the right person, I would be lifted out of my misery (or anxiety or depression or boredom) and would feel more happy and alive and passionate.”
What if you could respond differently? What if you could re-train your mind to respond with curiosity and openness instead of judgement and criticism. Not only would you avoid conflict but you would grow as a person. And herein lies the gold of embracing your differences: it’s an opportunity to grow, to expand the boundaries of your tolerance and acceptance. And, more importantly, it’s an opportunity to learn to take responsibility for your own passion, aliveness, and well-being.
We don’t grow when life is easy. We coast through the times of flow, then arrive at a current and are offered the opportunity to stretch ourselves into unknown territory. It’s obviously much easier when life flows along and you and your partner are aligned, but it’s not reality. Differences exist, and the real question is how can you learn to tolerate and even learn from the differences instead of wishing them away or longing for someone else.
Great post for me this morning. This weekend I was with my fiance the whole time and I realized that our relationship is changing (not necessarily in a bad way). We seem to be past the point of getting to know each other on that introductory level…. we are more at that stage of comfort where we can be with each other and not have to talk or impress etc. I realized though this weekend that this stage started to bring some anxiety – what if we become boring? what if we get bored with each other, what if we run out of things to talk about? whats the point of being with someone if you dont have things to talk about? (i know, i know, what if statements!). But this is something that really is eating at me. I think that a lot of it comes from my own fear of being boring and my ability to be by myself so much… so my thought is well if our relationship is boring it reflects on me, and if we run out of things to talk about, i might as well just be by myself, whats the point of being with him? My logic tells me this is just a phase, a transition if you will, to a new stage in our relationship (hopefully a deeper more meaningful one) but how do we get through it and get over this hump or out of this rut if so? and i am wondering if this is normal. Normal to go through this phase and not necessarily have so much to talk about… and how does this play out in marriage when you are together ALL THE TIME? how do you keep it exciting? I know this is playing on fears I have deep down inside. I am also afraid of my anxiety coming back full blown like it was. I would love to hear thoughts from anyone 🙂
oh and, Happy New Year!!!
Happy New Year to you too, Cori! It’s good to hear from you. This is a BIG question for many people (which is why I wrote this post). From my perspective (and I know others carry a different point of view), boredom in a relationship is, as you said, a function of your own personal boredom as an individual. When both people are alive and connected to their passions and interests, they naturally bring that to the relationship and keep it invigorated.
I think I agree with you. Maybe that is why it freaks me out so much. I have always had a fear of being boring myself, and the fact that our relationship could become boring can reflect upon myself as boring. I think any relationship no matter how amazing it is has the potential to be boring at times ( this is natural, right? not everyone can be exciting all the time!) I think it is just a matter of what the two people bring to the table, and not a function of how much chemistry or how “made for each other” the two people are. I guess that is another fear this plays on. If we get boring, does that mean we are not good together and shouldnt get married?
I know I have mentioned this to you before, but i am SO USED to being on my own. I am basically an only child and I am very independent. So it is very easy for me to be on my own and to be quiet and go inside of myself, even when I am with someone (meaning no communication with that person). I am afraid of this happening “permanently” with myself and my fiance… that I will just go inside of myself and it will be too easy to be around him and not even talk… eventually destroying our communication and relationship.
We just started working out together, so that gives us something to do together during the week besides just sitting around and watching tv (which increases my anxiety because there is no interaction or communication happening).
I hope this made some sort of sense 🙂
Cori – great questions! I think so many of us who are in relationships or have been in long-term relationships (when you’re beyond that initial lust phase) deal with that idea of boredom in different ways… some people retreat from the relationship, some people find new and exciting things to share, some might assume their life or their SO is boring and just exist; or perhaps some combination of the last two.
Sounds like you are conscious of this and are really working to avoid being stagnant. Maybe for you it’s just acknowledging that it won’t always be exciting, and just accept that there are mudane moments but it doesn’t mean you’re doomed! Fortunately, you seem to also recognize when this happens and say OK, and work towards improving it (yourself or the situation.
Do you ever ask your fiance about this too? Good luck!
thanks KD! him and I actually had a chat about it yesterday. I explained to him my fears and that I become more anxious when we sit around and are not interacting or havent had a good chat in a while. I felt that this weekend we did a lot of sitting around and not so much interacting. He didnt notice any of these things (wouldnt it be nice to be a guy sometimes?) but he def listened and it is something we will work on together.
It is good to know that it is normal for things to be boring sometimes and Sheryls post on letting go really helped. I need to just let the relationship be what it is at that very moment and not try to control it constantly. It is also hard for me to accept the concept of “working” on a relationship, i.e. having to work to keep it interesting sometimes. I always have thought relationships should just come natural and if they are right then there is no need to work at them.
I am not one to stereotype, but boy, sometimes I wish I could be a guy sometimes. They rarely notice these things 🙂
Honestly, so glad you spoke with him about these fears. Even when you may not feel like you’re on the same page that day, at least you’re both on the same page as a whole – that he wants to work with you on whatever comes, whether or not he notices it come or not 🙂 And as far as working on the relationship, I think the ‘working’ for you will come in the form of trying NOT to control it, and instead nuturing it and fostering common (and separate) interests. Good luck to you both.
thank you KD for your wisdom!
Oh my goodness…I was looking for a pic of Tigger and Eeyore to post on my husbands Facebook with a note to him….I was taken instantly by this read because that is exactly what I have told everyone all along! I’m Tigger and he is Eeyore and we balance one another out!! How wonderful that we are not alone! =0)
What a wonderful way to find your way to my site!
This article describes my night perfectly with my boyfriend of a year. Religion is something we don’t always see eye to eye on. I can’t embrace his opposition to my religion, even though he has come a long way with it. I feel deep down that our conflict lies within me, but I can’t seem to overcome it. He says one thing about my religion and it upsets me. I want him to be on the exact same page as me. He has told me that he will keep an open mind, yet it’s not enough for me. Nothing seems to work for me to have patience with him. For example, I tried his church yesterday and we were talking about the service. He went on an on about the things he didn’t really like (some of those things are what I really liked) and I got upset with him. He said “We both experienced the service, but were moved by different things. And that’s ok.” But it still doesn’t seem good enough for me. How do I work on being better at this? Thanks!
It’s a process of acceptance, which happens over time and with a great deal of consciousness. You could also explore why you need him to see things exactly the way you see them. It sounds like he’s okay with the differences in perceptions and opinions but you’re not. That would be the place to explore.
I will start working on that, but its hard to really pinpoint the reasoning. But I’ll try to make it more of a consciousness effort with this topic. Thanks Sheryl! Your website has been a saving grace for me!
It can take some time to excavate what’s underneath the trigger. Sometimes there’s reasoning and sometimes there’s grief that your partner doesn’t always understand you and/or isn’t your clone. That sadness and disappointment needs to be grieved, and when you grieve it, you’ll eventually arrive at a place of acceptance.
Thanks again Sheryl! Just one more question, is there a way I can go about it to know the difference?
Inner Bonding! You can learn more here: http://www.innerbonding.com
Thanks so much Sheryl! I’m going to try their free 7 day trail and see how it goes! Thank you again!
Great Post, Helped tones in keeping my relationship alive with my husband. We are married from 7 years and i thought we are the only lucky couple even with lots of differences we still love each other and are very happy until 2 night’s ago he told me how we are so different and because of our extream differences our life got too boring as he is a very different type of person often comes in mastermind type and loves to talk about ideas whereas i can’t debate with him and don’t have that intellectual level in those areas of his concerns to understand him well and take the conversation to the next level that he enjoys the most plus i belong to east(asian) and he is north american. He like complexities and i gave him perfect easy life and he is bored.
My husband’s only best friend left the country too,and he has no friend to hang out as he is not a very social person either to make a new one or he cant find some really smart enough or of his type.
All those differences were there but got so much highlighted only when he wanted to spend time with his best friend’s girl friend who recently break up from each other as she has a great intellectual level and is very good in communication and my husband started to like her company a lot which put me in phase to tell him you shouldn’t be that close to someone which makes you to think that i’m not his type.
I went though biggest emotional roller coaster of my life when i heard him taking our differences so seriously, especially when all those years he never cared about and never blamed me for his boredom. All in one night after 7 years whereas im talkative and talks about all the issues.
This article helped me and i sent the link to my husband too and he liked it. Thanks tons,he apologized after but i still get so upset thinking that i have been always a very loving and caring and always took care of my husband’s mood, emotions everything and all of sudden all those differences became so big and mentioned all in one night so seriously whereas he used to say he loves me more then anything and now differences took over love he is bored of me but bound to keep the commitment of marriage. i want to forgive him but get very upset..i lost my trust in love.
I’m glad it helped. Your husband needs to learn that his boredom/unhappiness is his responsibility and that he can find healthy ways outside the marriage to meet his intellectual needs. It sounds like you have a very loving relationship and I hope he understands that marriages aren’t meant to meet every need!
I just love your work. I hope this post– which is to an older article– still comes to your attention, because I would love to hear back from you.
I’m 42 years old, have experienced pretty much the gamut of relationships, including marriage… and divorce (at age 30). For the last 11 months, I’ve been in a relationship with the most wonderful man I’ve ever met. Truly. He is the kindest, sweetest person. Shortly after we started dating, we knew we felt unusually comfortable around each other, and said so. For me, this comfort is a feeling of I could spend day after day with him, and he doesn’t irritate me. I don’t feel that way about anyone, even my best friends! I come from a very difficult background– a borderline personality disorder mother (one full of rage, not too unlike Mommie Dearest), and my siblings are very emotionally disabled as a result. Fortunately, I’ve had a wonderful therapist and prior to starting this relationship had worked through a substantial amount of inner crud.
As an example of what a good and dear man my boyfriend is, we spent Christmas with his family– he let me know he wanted to give me a loving Christmas, in contrast with how I was raised. He has let me know many times, in fact, that he wants to create a loving and accepting and healing space for me, and that his place and his family are what he hopes will be such a space in my life. He is the most wonderful man I’ve ever been with, and I truly cannot imagine a better, more loving man, existing anywhere. (And if they did, they’d probably be too much and would get on my nerves!)
Anyhow, I’m posting in this article because I’m in the midst of terrible, obsessive relationship anxiety. Our relationship is long-distance– we live 2 hours apart– and we agreed, in part because my employer asked me to, that I would spend an additional couple of nights every month at his place. My boyfriend lives in LA, and because of his career he needs to stay there. My job allows me to work in LA. So this is the beginning, in my mind, of a transition to a new city.
And the bubbling up of my awareness of this transition, along with all the other stuff that’s been happening that signifies we’re getting serious (spending the holidays together, especially), is what I would identify as the spark to this increased anxiety I’ve been experiencing. I’m obsessed with issues like this: “he doesn’t always get my jokes. I value humor. Can this work?” “he likes[particular type of] music. I don’t. Can this work?” “he likes and responds to music more deeply than I do. Can this work?” “he likes [genre] movies. I don’t. Can this work?” “I love standup comedy. He doesn’t care for it. Can this work?” And on and on and on. Sometimes the worry is more like, he’s not as analytical as I am, not as thorough, not as spiritual, and so on. I am a woman obsessed. It’s awful. I’m totally afraid that I’ve been letting things slide for the last 11 months, and that those things are going to turn out to be obstacles in our relationship, that they’ll make us bored or frustrated with each other, and we’ll grow apart. However, our deeper values are aligned– politics, commitment to helping the little guy, and so on. Although I’m well-versed in buddhism and psychology, and he’s not (another thing I worry over), he is still very emotionally mature, tolerant, and wise.
And, as so many on your board have said– I’ve never been so happy in my life as I have with this man. If I were to leave him, one thing I know for sure is that the next man would not be able to match him for kindness, acceptance, wisdom, sensitivity, sweetness, and so on. I’m fortunate that he (knock wood) doesn’t irritate me, and the chemistry is great. So it just comes down to… how similar do we need to be for things to last? I don’t always feel like we totally “get” each other, and I get panicky when I see that in some of the articles. But I know for sure that we do love each other. Can love last without always having that feeling of clicking, can it last when we feel quite differently about certain things? I purchased your e-course but haven’t seen this question posed in quite this way, so I would be so grateful if you wouldn’t mind responding here. Thank you again for your brilliant work!
As you’re a member of the ecourse I encourage you to post this on the ecourse forum where I’m sure you’ll receive fantastic support. The current moderator is well-versed in the very issues that you’re describing.