Often, I work with couples who’ve begun to ask that question. “I used to love that she was so different,” he’ll say, “it was exciting. But now it feels like we have nothing in common.” Or, “I used to love that he challenged me,” she says, “and now it just all feels like work.”
What does it mean to be a match, and to stay that way, long-term? To be complementary in your differences, instead of just feeling opposite?
In the beginning of relationships, physical attraction and chemistry can smooth over a lot of rough edges. That’s part of the excitement of choosing someone unlike ourselves. What’s foreign is mysterious; it’s sexy.
But once a couple spends more time together, once they contemplate joining their lives, they have to figure out how well they actually fit together. This is a dynamic process, a negotiation of sorts. There can be a push-pull: “You’re trying to change me,” one partner might accuse.
Damn right. In a healthy relationship, the partners do change each other. The question is: Is it for the better?
I think that there are great couples where the partners are very similar to one another, and great couples where the partners are extremely different. The former case has its challenges (how to keep things from getting dull, for example), while in the latter case, what separates the great from the not-so-great is whether the partners are growing together rather than apart.
What I mean is, being intimately connected with another person will change us. We’ll absorb one another’s concerns and habits to a certain degree by osmosis. But sometimes there’s more of a design to it.
Sometimes the other person has a quality that we want. We could use more ambition, or more organization, or more access to our emotions; we chose our partners–perhaps on a subconscious level–to learn.
But if instead of being open, we become closed and angry and resentful, if we start to realize that we don’t want to learn what they have to teach, that’s where a relationship can falter.
At a wedding, I once heard a wise comment: “Don’t be afraid to let marriage change you for the better.” It’s wise because change is often a scary and uncertain process, even if it’s ultimately going to improve our lives.
Being with a partner who’s very different can be challenging, but there can be inspiration in that, too. Figuring out how to fit together–how to become a match, rather than lamenting that you aren’t–is at the heart of personal growth.
Couple’s legs photo available from Shutterstock