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Differences Aren’t Inherently Problematic

But denying them can be.

As a little girl, I witnessed and experienced the pain caused by uncontrolled anger and I adopted a strategy of compliance to protect myself from others’ intense reactions. I knew that whenever feelings got too heated, someone was likely to get hurt, and it might be me. So I tried to ignore differences and avoid conflict whenever possible. Whenever I found myself feeling angry, I immediately stuffed it and pretended that everything was fine. I relied on this tactic well into my marriage, until I eventually came to recognize its hidden costs.

Young couple with problemsAlthough Charlie and I didn’t fight very much, I spent years grumbling with resentment, feeling like a victim whenever we argued and feeling sorry for myself over how unfair our relationship seemed to be. It was I, not Charlie, who wouldn’t accept the angry feelings. When we did fight, it was often over the issue of my failure to honestly express myself. Charlie would get angry when he uncovered feelings of anger that. I had been trying to conceal. Eventually, all my withholding created a tension within me that became unbearable; and I could no longer keep up the pretense that everything was fine.

With Charlie’s encouragement, I began to express, rather than repress my anger when it came up.  He encouraged me to express my feelings, even when they came out  full of judgment and rage. I learned that when you’re recovering from a pattern of withholding, you’re probably going to have to go through a period of unskillful venting before the pendulum can swing back to a middle ground of respectful honesty. After practicing what felt like radical honesty, I discovered that my worst fears did not materialize. Charlie wasn’t shattered by my emotional outbursts nor did he retaliate and counterattack. What I had feared would destroy our relationship, in the long run has greatly deepened and strengthened it. And the pendulum has definitely swung to a middle ground.  I’ve learned not to fear our differences but to appreciate them and see them as an essential ingredient in the passion and intimacy that we share so much of in our relationship these days.

My experience has taught me that differences themselves are not inherently damaging to relationships, but the way we deal with them may be. They can be used as evidence that one of us is right and the other is wrong, thus justifying a negative view of the other person. Or they can be used as a means of creating greater awareness, appreciation, and understanding of each other’s unique perspectives. It is, after all, our differences more than our similarities that attracted us to each other in the first place.

Becoming less afraid of the conflict that can arise from these differences is one of the bonuses that I have experienced in confronting anger more directly. Now I don’t cringe when I anticipate a flap occurring between us, but instead feel a sense of curiosity and interest, perhaps even a touch of excitement. I never believed that I could lose my fear of conflict, but I have. To call this a miracle may seem a bit dramatic, but that’s what if feels like to me!

Differences Aren’t Inherently Problematic

Bloomwork

Linda Bloom LCSW and Charlie Bloom MSW are considered experts in the field of relationships. They have been married since 1972. They have both been trained as seminar leaders, therapists and relationship counselors and have been working with individuals, couples, and groups since 1975. They have been featured presenters at numerous conferences, universities, and institutions of learning throughout the country and overseas as well. They have appeared on over two hundred radio and TV programs. Linda and Charlie are co-authors of the widely acclaimed books: 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last (over 100,000 copies sold) Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love, and Happily Ever After...and 39 Other Myths about Love: Breaking Through to the Relationship of Your Dreams. The Blooms are excited to announce the release of their fourth book, That Which Doesn't Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places. They live in Santa Cruz, California, near their two children and three grandchildren. To view our upcoming events and to sign up for our free newsletter, visit our website at: www.Bloomwork.com


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APA Reference
Bloom, L. (2014). Differences Aren’t Inherently Problematic. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationship-skills/2014/01/differences-arent-inherently-problematic/

 

Last updated: 18 Jan 2014
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.