Spending six days over the holiday with a two-decade-married couple gave me ample opportunity to watch their relationship up close for days on end. Usually when we visit friends or relatives we spend from several hours to a few days with them. When others are around, most of us are on our best behavior. Only after sufficient time do true behaviors and patterns emerge.
I felt a mix of friend, confidant, and behavioral scientist watching their patterns displayed in everyday activities. So when the woman shared some of their hiccups, I began to see where the breakdowns occurred.
A recurring event transpired when one of them suggested doing something his/her way and the other expressed, in an irritated tone, the desire to do it another way. They both sounded irked until one of them acquiesced. The acquiescer, though, showed his/her annoyance, but out of view or ear shot of the other.
So the dance continued. These are both highly intelligent people who have worked on their relationship. But they continued to repeat patterns of “My way is best” until one gave in. And they wondered why there was resentment.
Finally, near the end of my stay, unable to keep quiet any longer, I spoke up. “You two are both capable, competent and good problem solvers. You seem to get annoyed when the other doesn’t see the wisdom of your way of doing something. Rather than realizing that the best solution could be a combination of your ideas, or that either of your fixes would work just fine, you make the other wrong.
“Think of each other like a tree. No, I’m not going all Barbara Walters here — ‘If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?’ But let’s say you (the guy) are an oak tree. What is great about oaks? They are strong, majestic, and provide acorns which feed wild life. But they aren’t very flexible and would not ride out a hurricane very well.
“And you (the woman) are like a palm. What is great about palms? They bend in high winds, provide shade from the heat, and create dates or coconuts. But palms survive only in tropical or subtropical weather, so the environment has to be just right to thrive.
“You two go about your life together getting upset that the other doesn’t operate like you do. The oak gets upset that the palm is so wishy-washy (flexible) and that her seeds (coconuts) are so big they smash the acorns to bits when they fall. The palm is irritated that the oak is so rigid and his seeds are so tiny you can’t find them.
“If you would just step back and appreciate what each of you bring to the party. How each of you is magnificent in your own way, and encourage each other to be more of what you naturally contribute to the relationship. Embrace it and strategically utilize each other’s strengths rather than constantly wishing the other were more like you. I think you’d have more peace and love in your relationship, which is what you say you want.”
I left shortly after this discussion, so don’t know if it made any impact or not. Perhaps this can be a reminder for all of us to appreciate the different strengths each partner brings to the relationship, rather than wishing s/he were more like us.
Have you had success appreciating and embracing your partner’s differences rather than condemning them? If so, share how you did this.
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