How To Deal With Differences In A Long-Term Relationship
A frequently cited statistic – that nearly half of marriages end in divorce in the United States – has an emotional pull on the intuitions of many, says scholarly writer D. Scott Trettenero.
Recent data suggests, however, that the 45- to 50-percent divorce rate is not presently accurate, as our divorces apparently have been lowering in numbers since the 1990s. Does this mean that we are becoming better with our relationships and making our marriages work?
There is an important caveat, Trettenero says, as a study from Pew Research Center shows that fewer people are getting married. In fact, it has been shown that around 50 percent of adults are married today, compared to 70 percent five decades ago.
People are now waiting longer to marry – if they marry at all. More couples are opting to simply cohabitate without making their relationship official. Better birth control is preventing unwanted pregnancies and resulting in fewer marriages, so if and when couples split it doesn’t show in statistics.
“Marriages and other long term relationships can be difficult for many of us, despite mutual love and affection,” he says. “There will surely be conflict with our differences in temperament, values, goals and much more. It is no secret that life-long marriages are not guaranteed, and that if our differences prove stronger than our understanding or commitment, we’ll wind up in divorce.”
Trettenero, author of “Master the Mystery of Human Nature: Resolving the Conflict of Opposing Values” (www.masterthemysterybook.com)
• In terms of personality and temperament, consider that you may be married to your complete opposite. “After I was married, it became increasingly clear to me just how different my wife and I were from each other,” Trettenero says. “Everything became a conflict between ‘my way’ and ‘her way.’ In such a dynamic, even if you get your way, your spouse loses and you have to live with them being unhappy. This scenario doesn’t help your relationship in any way.”
He realized that his wife is someone who processed life mostly through her feelings, whereas Trettenero was someone who filtered life through logic and reason. The diagnosing of this dynamic was critically important to move forward. He learned there are other preset dynamics that set up reasons to have conflict.
• Dr Martin Luther King Jr. gives us hope for our relationships when he said: “Life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” And, the opposite of Dr King’s message is equally true: “Life at its worst is the destructive division of opposites fighting for their points of view.” Fighting over our conflicts is the way of the world and it’s frequently true within marriages. When we jump into the fray and spend our energies fighting for our positions, we are contributing to making the world a worse place to live, Trettenero says. From our point of view, the only solutions are to change the other person’s mind or annihilate our opposition, he says. How often does anyone really change their minds over core issues? There must be a better way.
• Learn to appreciate how your partner’s temperament compliments yours. We are all born with a certain set of strengths and weaknesses. When we can accept our partner’s point of view that differs from ours, it can expand our own understanding and lead to personal growth. We have an opportunity to develop new skills in life when we can place another’s concerns above our own.
“When we learn about human nature in general and then learn where we and our partner fit into the overall scheme of things, our conflicts can become less personal,” Trettenero says. “If approached properly, these conflicts of opposing values can become teachable moments where we can learn how to become better and more effective people than we were before. What we learn from our marriage can help us in all other aspects of our lives.”
• Making it all work … Learning about the important elements that make up so much of our personalities: the values of our inherent temperaments, how we see and perceive the world, how we can better handle society’s demands personally and professionally, finding balance in our lives—these all can be explained by a model of competing values, he says. We live in world that is built on conflicting and opposing values. How can we unite?
“If you really want solutions, you must be committed to respecting and listening to your partner and then accepting their differences as a challenge to your understanding, rather than another reason to fight over who is right and wrong,” Trettenero says. “If we want to solve our conflicts both large and small in perpetuity, we have to avoid playing ego-driven games, which are short-sighted and dividing.”