The Big Five: Making Relationships Work
Dr. Paul | January 23, 2019 |
In January, our Behavioral Health team sees a tsunami wave of couples who held it together over the holidays, and now they’re coming in for help.
Love and living under the same roof are intricate. While love tends to be simpler, cohabitation requires constant communication, negotiation, and trust—all of which can be diminished by vast differences in temperament and personality.
It seems to be a human trait that opposites attract—and then these very different adults spend the next 20 years trying to get the other person to be just like them! A recipe for misery.
The beginning months of romantic love can obscure these differences and challenges—but sure enough, when couples move in together, sparks can fly. Add children, in-laws, and a joint checking account and life gets a little more interesting.
What are the usual suspects for conflict in committed relationships? Sex, children, money, in-laws, and housework—the Big Five. Challenges in communication, which are common, make it more difficult to resolve these differences.
Mary wants to have sex 3-4 times a week, while Joe is happy to make love once or twice a month. Bill thinks that kids shouldn't have any screen time, but Mary feels that an hour a day is just fine. Jim wants to buy a new set of golf clubs and his wife thinks that a new television set makes more sense. The list can seem endless.
Who does the housework and yardwork? Joe doesn't care about the yard, but his wife wants everything to look manicured. When she complains about his lack of follow through on the lawn, he says “If you don't like the way I do it, do it yourself!” Mary works full time and somehow, she ends up doing the lion’s share of the housework. She feels resentful.
How can couples find more harmony?
Discuss your differences.
Don’t try to sweep this dirt underneath the rug. Talk about your differences, expectations, and needs. LISTEN to what your partner is saying and try to understand her. Recognize that you probably married someone who is completely different than you and doesn't do things the way you do them.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Since I’m the cook in my family, I like to have a clean kitchen before I start dinner. Diane’s idea of a straightened-up kitchen is different than mine. Ask yourself, how important is this? Let go of the little things and work on negotiating the differences that are important to you.
Accept your partner for who they are.
This is tough. Your spouse is not going to become a clone of you! And their personality is not going to change. Acceptance doesn't mean that you like everything about your partner, it means that you accept him for who he is.
Don’t give up on differences that are important to you. Keep at it over the long haul and each of you will make baby steps toward each other. It took Diane and I a long time to come together over different approaches to the kids—but we finally did.
Human beings are terrible mind readers.
Don’t expect that your partner should just “know” what you want and need. Use your words.
Avoid "fight or flight".
When we feel threatened, we can go on the offense or withdraw and escape the argument. Neither one of these strategies are effective in intimate relationships. Become aware of how you react to conflict and take the high road.
Good will is the fuel for a healthy, loving relationship. When both partners are generous with each other, there is a lot to go around. It’s deeds of loving kindness that build trust and connection. If each partner thinks, “What acts of love can I perform today for my honey?” and brings them into being, the tank of trust will overflow with good will.