As a couples counsellor I frequently hear partners say: “this is not working, we are so different, we argue all the time! We are so incompatible, maybe we shouldn’t be together?”
So is ‘splitting up’ the answer to these relational disruptions?
I now think of marriage like I think about living in my home state of Minnesota. You move into marriage in the springtime of hope, but eventually arrive at the Minnesota winter, with its cold and darkness. Many of us are tempted to give up and move south at this point, not realizing that maybe we’ve hit a rough spot in a marriage that’s actually above average. The problem with giving up, of course, is that our next marriage will enter its own winter at some point. So do we just keep moving on, or do we make our stand now – with this person, in this season? That’s the moral, existential question we face when our marriage is in trouble
Therapist, educator, researcher, author and speaker
The Doherty Relationship Institute
Problems are an inevitable part of a relationship. If we consider that each person brings to their relationship different opinions, values, beliefs, needs, wants, assumptions, expectations and many more differences , why are we surprised when partners get on each other’s nerves?
Some conflicts are just minor irritants but others seem to be overwhelming and complex. Doubts, fear and reactive behaviours begin developing and as a result finding mutually satisfying resolutions to these issues is not easy. Some couples begin feeling ‘gridlocked’ in negative patterns and emotional distance between them is created as a coping mechanism.
Dr John Gottman’s evidence based research has determined that couples interactions, whether they are simple annoyances or all out wars, can all be divided into 2 categories: Solvable or Perpetual issues (meaning that they will be part of your relationship forever in one way or another).
Unfortunately most of the conflict experienced in couples’ relationships – 69% according to Gottman- falls into the Perpetual category.
In his book “After the Honeymoon” psychologist Dan Wile says : “When choosing a long term partner… you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.”
In other words, ending a relationship and entering another one in order to find a more compatible partner is just an exchange for a different set of 69% perpetual differences between two people!
So is there hope for our romantic relationships? Yes!
When the famous evangelist Billy Graham was asked his secret of love, being married fifty-four years to the same person, he said: "Ruth and I are happily incompatible.”
The late Billy Graham and his wife Ruth are a good example of couples that manage to find a way to navigate life and create an emotionally safe environment in their relationship where solvable and 69% perpetual issues can be dealt with!
To continue learning how to live ‘happily incompatibly’ with your partner read on in this blog series.