Have you ever looked at your spouse and thought, “Why the hell did I marry you”? Love’s a funny thing. When you’re falling into it, you don’t seem to notice personality differences, all the little quirks, the idiosyncrasies that are just plain weird. You only pay attention to the strengths, the brilliantly shining qualities, and the parts of that person that make your heart beat faster. It’s a good thing our brains tend to ignore the flaws in the beginning of a relationship, because if we paid too much attention to them, we’d never give anyone a chance.
But once you spend more time with someone, the differences become much more apparent, and harder to ignore. Living with someone rips the rose colored glasses right off your face and seeing someone completely as they are can be quite the eye opening experience, shocking in some cases. Or perhaps you noticed right from the beginning that your husband has a strange habit of leaving all the cabinet doors open in the kitchen and figured it wasn’t a big deal…that is until you experienced shutting said cabinet doors about eight thousand times over the course of five years and then you suddenly realized just how annoying that habit truly is.
We all have our own ways of doing things and the chances of you being in a relationship with someone who does things exactly like you all the time is about one in a trillion. Again, that’s really a good thing.
There’s truth in the saying, “Opposites attract”.
For any relationship to work, the couple must share both similarities and differences. If two people are too much alike, they won’t be happy, like two positively charged magnets repelling each other. Differences are the key to attraction, like a positively charged magnet attracts and sticks to a negatively charged magnet. We need those differences, but those differences that create attraction between us can often be the very things we resent most.
I’ve been married for six years, and I absolutely adore my husband. He’s hands down my best friend and my favorite person to be around. That being said, I can rattle off all the things about him that drive me crazy in three seconds flat. We’ve spent so much time together, I can anticipate the annoying things he’ll do before he actually does them…and when my guess is right, I get even more annoyed by his predictability!
For a while, these differences between us, like his tendency to stay up until midnight every night while I couldn’t stay awake past ten or he’s love for going on mini shopping sprees while I loved to save every penny, led to feelings of frustration, anger, and resentment. Those negative feelings led to disagreements and criticism. It was a recipe for disaster that was making us both really unhappy.
I knew we couldn’t go on knit picking at each other all the time and stay married, and what I knew even better was that I really wanted to stay married forever. Something had to change. I was so wrapped up in picking out all the ways he was so different from me that the similarities seemed almost non-existent. I started to wonder how on earth we got together in the first place. I mean, how the hell was it possible that a bleeding heart, Bernie Sanders supporting democrat like myself could ever fall for and marry a stoic, businessman like Trump voter? Through my self reflection and over analyzation of the situation (one of my annoying traits that drives my husband nuts), I realized what I needed to do to transform my resentment about these many differences to acceptance and love.
1. Recognize the differences as a blessing rather than a curse.
I need my husband to be different than me, because if he was just like me, I would get totally bored. His differences challenge me to see the world in a different way than I do naturally, and those daily challenges keep me on my toes. If I only spent time with people just like me, I’d never experience anything different, which would make life mundane and flat. Differences help balance us out and make us whole too. For instance, I freakin’ love how my husband can fix ANYTHING that’s broken, a skill that I, myself, don’t possess. We’re different in that way, and I am so grateful for that difference, because it has saved me so much time, energy, and money over the years! I’m really emotional. My husband is very logical. Together, we’re like the perfect person.
2. Quit using “should statements”.
Every time my husband did something annoying to me, a little voice in my head would sound the alarm saying, “He shouldn’t do that! He should do _____ instead!”. By using “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” all the time, I was imposing an obligation on my husband to change. When he didn’t change into the person I that he “should” be, I felt resentful. I started shifting my internal dialogue and replaced “should” with “it would be nice”, and that alone made a huge difference in the way I felt about his idiosyncrasies.
Rather than telling myself, “He really should replace the roll of toilet paper once it’s gone”, I replaced it with, “It would be nice if he replaced the roll of toilet paper”. It seems like a small change, but doing so removed the feeling of duty or obligation and it made it less of a big deal. Yeah, it would be nice if my husband did absolutely everything I wanted him to do in exactly the way I want him to do it, but he didn’t sign up for that. And who am I to tell him how to do things? Removing “should statements” helped me to stop trying to change him and just accept him for who he is.
3. Respect the human desire for freedom and free will.
One of my deepest values in life is freedom; having the freedom to be who I am, do what I want, and do things in my own way without being controlled is my basic desire in life. I realized that by judging my husband for his way of doing things, and expecting him to change to suit my preferences was in direct conflict with my core values. How dare I try to tell him what to do or how to do it? I wouldn’t stand for him doing to same to me! In each of us is a yearning to express our free will, to be in control of our own lives, and to live the way we see fit. We owe it to each other to respect this basic human need and not tamper with it.
4. Remember the similarities.
Our minds are tricky. We can’t pay attention to two things at the same time, so whenever we pay attention to one thing, we completely ignore everything else. When we look for darkness, all we find is darkness. When we look for light, all we see is light. I got into the habit of paying attention to all the irritations and differences that I completely ignored all of my husband’s great attributes and the similarities we share. I had to deliberately focus my attention on everything I love about him, all the reasons I fell in love with him in the first place. Remembering how we both love to travel to new places, do wine tastings, and snuggle on the sofa watching Netflix on cold winter nights helped me to focus in on the good rather than wallowing in the bad.
5. Change it, leave it, or accept it.
In any situation, you have three options. You can change the situation, leave the situation, or accept it. I had made numerous attempts to change my husband to be more like me and none of them worked. In fact, the harder I tried to change him, they more stubborn he became that he wasn’t changing for anybody. (Proof that my plan backfired.) While my husband’s behavior was often irritating, I knew I didn’t want to leave him because of it.
There has always been so much love and happiness between us and I wasn’t willing to throw all of that away just because I was feeling angry and frustrated. So, I had no other choice but to accept it. I had to accept my husband for who he is, totally and completely, without judging him. I had to accept his behavior, his thought processes, his communication styles, the whole nine yards. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you particularly like it; it means that you can feel happy and content whether you like it or not.
It wasn’t fair to me or my husband to be bitching at him all the time for leaving his shoes scattered all over the house or neglecting to clean up all the little hairs off of the bathroom sink after shaving. Once I started accepting that these things come with my husband, and I really really want my husband, I stopped feeling so angry about it. I just accepted that if I want to be with him, I have to accept the hairs in the sink and the shoes on the floor.
Relationships certainly aren’t easy.
They take mental, emotional, and physical effort to establish and maintain, but when it comes right down to it, what’s more important than sharing a happy, healthy relationship with someone you truly love? There’s no such thing as a perfect person or a perfect relationship but we don’t always need to be paying attention to the imperfections.
A relationship can be completely transformed simply by recognizing that different doesn’t mean “bad” or “wrong”. You can’t feel two opposite emotions at the same time; you can’t feel love for your spouse if you’re feeling resentment about how different they are from you. By following these five easy steps, not only will you love your spouse more, you’ll also love the person you’re becoming as a result of expressing acceptance rather than contempt.
Nicole Iacovoni is a psychotherapist, author, wealth building coach, and personal empowerment fanatic dedicated to helping you create a life of happiness & prosperity. Her work is centered around personal growth and holistic health and wealth building. Nicole takes an honest, straight-forward approach to helping clients identify where they currently are in their life’s journey. With expertise in how our DESIRES, EMOTIONS, THOUGHTS, and BELIEFS influence our success, Nicole helps clients create a concrete action plan for living the life of their dreams.