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Romantic Partners: Vive La Difference!

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Healthy relationships

Romantic Partners: Vive La Difference!

Romantic Partners – The case for letting it ride

When romantic partners encounter differences, they usually try to talk about it.  Conventional wisdom tells us that this is an essential way to work things out. Unfortunately, talking about it often leads to arguments and hurt feelings.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, NOT talking about it can be a good idea.

That’s right.  A psychologist, who makes her living “talking about it,” says, “Don’t talk about it!” There is, of course, a world of difference between romantic partners talking about it and a psychologist and client talking about it.  Only one is being paid for expertise by a presumablly willing, even eager, client.

The case for letting it ride  

1)  Getting the effect you’re hoping for by talking about it requires an exceptional partner. 

While we are infatuated, we believe that our partners are exceptional.  We mistakenly believe that being in love inspires exceptional willingness to make accomodations.  And, though we say we don’t believe in fairytales, we believe that our love story will be exceptional.

Sooner or later, it becomes apparent that our love story is no fairytale, and we feel compelled to confront our romantic partners and talk about it.  Then, we learn that our partners are not at all exceptional in one very important way.  They seem unwilling or unable to change to better suit us.

2) Spouses are not renovation projects. 

As differences emerge and disenchantment sets in, partners air dissatisfactions, hoping for behavior change.

  • I wish you would pick up after yourself.
  • I wish you were more interested in sex.
  • I wish you shared my interest in golf.
  • I wish you saved more money.

When we air dissatisfactions and request behavior changes, we think we are being reasonable.  We tell ourselves and our partners that we are simply giving feedback, offering constructive criticism, trying to improve the relationship.  In fact, we are attempting to renovate our romantic partners.

When we receive requests for behavior change, we recognize that our partners want to change us. We feel criticized, under-appreciated, attacked.  We react defensively or counter attack.

Unhealthy habits of interaction take shape.

3)  Although you cannot change your partner, you can change yourself.

To improve your relationship, practice these behaviors:

  • Assume that your romantic partner is a well-intentioned adult who is appropriately interested in your welfare.  If you cannot safely assume this, see previous posts: Great Mistakes: The Big Six Red Flags – Parts 1 & 2.  Otherwise, don’t be surprised when behaving like a parent – trying to tweak your spouse’s behavior – elicits child-like behavior.
  • Stop talking about your “issues.”  Live free of all those stupid arguments that invariably result from bringing up, for the umpteenth time, pet peeves, perceived mistreatment, and unresolved conflicts.  Live free of histrionic bids for sympathy and understandingor attempts to extract long overdue apologies.
  • Give up trying to change your partner.  Imagine receiving the gift of love, free of disparaging comments or demands to justify behavior. Give that blessed gift to your partner.
  • Improve yourself rather than your partner.  Learn to manage expectations, insecurities, anxieties, and dark moods.  Direct energy toward taking command of negative reactions and inhibiting impulses to blame your partner.  See previous posts: The One and Only Marital Obligation, How to Train Your Dragon, Walking the Path Alone: Self-responsible Spouse.
  • Connect with your partner on anything and everything except your “issues.”  When you talk, discuss shared interests and concerns, express positive reactions and emotions, and reinforce desired behaviors.

Author’s Books and Kindle – Click for Amazon Reviews

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Christine Meinecke received a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Kansas in 1983. She interned at Colorado State University Counseling Center and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine. Dr. Meinecke is in her nineteenth year of full-time private practice in Des Moines, Iowa. Prior to entering private practice, she worked in hospital mental health settings She has taught psychology and psychotherapy classes to undergraduates, graduate students, and medical residents. She is also a playwright. Her full-length, comedic play, Flutter the Dovecotes, was the 2009 winner of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop competition and was premiered by Tallgrass Theatre Company in January 2010. For more information about Flutter the Dovecotes click ”works” tab. For thirty-plus years, she has practiced yoga and taught yoga classes in various settings. She met her beloved wrong person while both were graduate students at University of Kansas. They have been married twenty-nine years.

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