When we met Margaret and Sam, the contrast between them was obvious. He was dressed in a pin-striped suit with a red “power tie.” She was wearing an elaborate, colorful, frilly dress trimmed in lace, a stylish hairdo and impeccable make-up. He looked like a soldier from Wall Street; she looked like an actress from Hollywood. She was talking a mile-a-minute: he was the epitome of restrained silence. Her first words were: “We are not meant for each other. We have different tastes, different styles, different values, moods and everything. He is so logical and analytical and rigid. I am intuitive and exploratory. When we travel, he plans the trip in great detail and wants to follow the plan. I just like to start out in a general direction and make up the itinerary as we go. When we got married, I liked that part of him, but now it is boring and restrictive.” Sam stood there silently…but with obvious tension oozing from his face.
Have you ever wondered if you and your partner are mismatched mates? What do you do if the marriage you thought was made in Heaven is suddenly appearing to have been arranged somewhere quite a bit warmer?
Ever since Cupid replaced parents as the prime arranger of marriages, prospective lovers have searched for the Perfect Mate – that one special person who would fulfill all hopes and desires for a happy and love-filled life. And now, in this high-tech age of computer and video dating services, and the precision specifications of the personal ad columns, it would seem that the chances of finding a perfectly compatible partner would be ensured. So, is it any wonder why so many couples are disappointed and frustrated when they discover that their spouse is not the person they thought they had married?
So often, the traits in our partners which we experience as a source of irritation were the very qualities that initially drew us to them–as was the case with Sam and Margaret. She initially liked his orderliness and careful planning. His restraint was attractive to her. And he was attracted by her vitality and impulsiveness. But now that is all a source of chronic conflict. What they did not know, because it is unconscious, is that we are always attracted to someone who complements us. Our partners have traits which we lack, and, beyond our awareness, we select them to experience connection to those traits. Later, those once alluring traits which are lacking in ourselves start to drive us crazy. And in so many instances, we have such strong expectations of our partners, and of our own needs being met in the relationship, that we can only see our partners’ positive traits. If you take a good look at your own marriage and at the relationships of most couples you know, you’ll be sure to discover that opposites do seem to attract one another.
Perhaps you once admired your partner for his responsible handling of money, compared to your more spontaneous, free-wheeling style, but you now experience his rigid control over your joint finances has rendered you powerless in spending decisions. Or maybe when you met your husband, you loved his gregarious, fun-loving nature because you, the shy one, always stayed away from social situations. His liveliness drew you out…at first. But, now that you’re married, he’s still attempting to live the social life of his bachelor days – staying “out with the boys” until 2 a.m., leaving you alone at home.
So many couples begin their marriages perceiving one another as compatible, only to discover down the line that the sources of potential conflict that they thought would be resolved in time, or that wouldn’t pose a serious threat to the relationship, blossom into full-blown irreconcilable differences.
The Opportunity of Incompatibility
Most couples do not know that among the initial attractors to each other is that they are different. These differences are the result of the way they adapted to their childhood frustrations. When the differences emerge in their relationship and produce conflict, they interpret the complementary traits as indicators of being mismatched. The fact is that every couple is mismatched in this sense. We all marry an incompatible person. That seems to be the way Nature set it up. The purpose of the attraction of opposites is to create the chemistry of growth through conflict. Through the conflict, the opportunity presents itself to each partner to develop in themselves the strength in their partner to which they were attracted. When this process is mutual, it leads to an original felt sense of connecting and joyful aliveness for both.
So many couples who seek counseling failed to acknowledge the red flags of potential conflict before they were married, however it’s never too late to begin to create the loving relationship you’ve always wanted with your spouse, and for positive change to occur, if you and your partner truly have a desire for the relationship to improve and are willing to learn some new ways of relating to one another.
Tips for Mismatched Marriages (i.e., All Marriages!)
By following these principles, even the most “mismatched” couples can use their differences to turn their marriage into a safe and growth filled relationship.
- APPRECIATE YOUR COMPLEMENTARITY. Develop an appreciation of the ways you and your partner are different and recall that it was these differences in part that initially attracted you to one another and are the source of your potential growth. Begin to praise one another for the positive gifts that your differences bring to the relationship. Attention on the positive will bring about more of the positive. You’ll be surprised at how much more often the desired aspects of your partner begin to show up!
- BECOME WILLING TO STRETCH YOURSELF TO MEET YOUR PARTNER’S NEEDS. Growth is often painful, but some part of you wanted to grow if you were attracted someone as different from you as you perceive your partner to be. You unconsciously saw traits in your partner that you yourself wanted to develop. To stretch yourself to meet your partner’s needs means that you must go beyond what is comfortable and natural for you. The rewards of stretching are a greater appreciation for your partner’s differences and the newly discovered similarities you have.
- FIND CREATIVE WAYS TO SHARE EACH OTHER’S WORLDS. If your partner is a sports fanatic and you’ve kept a distance from his favorite pastime up until now, here’s your chance to learn about his favorite sport and your spouse! Sharing in one another’s different worlds can be just the remedy for intimacy…if you’re willing to move through your resistance. Tell him about an activity you’ve always wanted to share with him or teach him about a hobby that’s been just yours all these years. Or, discover a new endeavor together! Different no longer has to mean separate any more.
- LEARN THE HEALING POWER AND BEAUTY OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. When couples can give to one another – no strings attached – something magical happens. Loving your partner just for who he or she is…not for what he or she does for and gives to you, is freeing and uplifting for both of you. All of us crave this type of love…a love that’s unconditional. When you demonstrate your loving this way, you let your partner know you care deeply about them, that they are a precious part of your life, and that the love between you is more important and stronger than any seeming differences that could ever come between you. Unconditional love is the building material of a growing, lasting marriage.