Itâ€™s true with love that opposites attract, and I see this all the time in my work. What I notice is that couples come together because theyâ€™re different even though they they feel they’re choosing based on compatibility. Thereâ€™s a theory in Psychology that promotes the idea that each person seeks a missing version of themselves in a partner. This happens both consciously and unconsciously because the reasons for being drawn to a certain quality or personality trait are both shallow and deep.
Let me explain using a case example.
Jenny and Mark came in to session the other night, and they wanted to understand why they always fight when theyâ€™re on vacation together. Mark was concerned because they have a trip planned and he doesnâ€™t want to have a miserable experience this time. Jenny agreed, and wanted to know if this is normal or something that is just happening with them.
Iâ€™ve been seeing this couple for a while now so I have a pretty good sense of both their personalities and relational dynamics. They originally came to therapy to figure out why they fight in general, and what we discovered is that they have a very different perspective on fighting, and what it means for the relationship.
She believes that anything can be worked through and that once the fight is over itâ€™s resolved. She also has the capacity to stay in a very heated argument, and a very difficult time self-regulating herself once sheâ€™s worked up. He on the other hand, cannot deal with confrontation and shuts down when he even senses an argument coming. His coping mechanism is very connected to his fight or flight response so he either wants to curl up in a ball and put a pillow over his head, run away, or fight back.
Jenny and Mark couldnâ€™t resolve their fights because they were abandoning each other in a time of crisis making it impossible for either of them to feel safe. Jenny needed Mark to stay with her in her dysregulation and to help her calm down, and Mark needed Jenny to stay calm and de-escalated so he can stay present and not have to shut down.
Marks ability to not escalate and Jennyâ€™s ability to work through something for resolution are actually complimentary traits. Sheâ€™s a stayer and heâ€™s a runner, and sheâ€™s emotional and heâ€™s level headed. If this system can align then Jenny and Mark can work find a relational dynamic where everyone wins.
So theyâ€™re concern about the travel makes sense, but this is a different kind of friction. Jenny is very laid back, sleeps late, doesnâ€™t like to be scheduled and lives on her own terms. Mark is efficient, likes to be in control, needs to plan, and prides himself on being punctual.
At first it might seem that they are all wrong for each other, but in reality they are a perfect balance.
Jenny and Mark fight on their vacations because they donâ€™t accept how different they are. They hold expectations about one another, and those expectations include accommodation and sacrifice. When a partner in a relationship feels unseen, unappreciated or disrespected itâ€™s usually because the other person is not doing what they want.
If Jenny sleeps in and Mark has to get a later start on the day, he may feel she doesnâ€™t care about his needs. If she has to get up early to meet his needs she may feel like sheâ€™s always accommodating.
The balance comes in when a couple like Jenny and Mark can learn to compromise, and this can only happen if they choose to accept and love each other as they are. People in general donâ€™t really change and this is particularly true when itâ€™s a characteristic, and not just a bad habit.
Jenny will never be an early riser, and if she does get up early for Mark heâ€™ll need to understand that she might be a bit grumpy. This is an exercise in acceptance and compassion because Mark would need to understand that her need to sleep in is not a defiant act, but one of personal need. Jenny on the other hand would need to see her early rising as an act of supportive love, not a sacrifice sheâ€™s making to avoid a fight.
I taught Jenny and Mark to move through their relationship from a place of love and good intention as opposed to deprivation and distrust. When couples make choices in the relationship with the relationship in mind, they are building trust and a sense of abundance. Feeding and nourishing the relationship deepens satisfaction and the overall health of what theyâ€™re building together.
For example, Jenny used to find Markâ€™s calls when he was away as an intrusion on her time. Why should she just drop what sheâ€™s doing because he happens to be available to talk? When she was given permission to choose based on her love for Mark, and her acknowledged need for connection with him after not speaking for a whole day, she softened and could see it in a new light.
Most couples donâ€™t like fighting and thatâ€™s understandable. Through practicing acceptance, and resisting the need to control or change a partnerâ€™s behavior, most partners can alleviate much of the conflict and increase connection.
Dr. Andra Brosh March 31st, 2016
Posted In: Andra Brosh