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Published on October 7, 2017

How to Stay Together When You Are Different From Each Other

How to Stay Together When You Are Different From Each Other

The strongest relationships are the ones in which both partners can be themselves. Intending to change the other person or dramatically changing yourself to fit someone else’s ideals dooms couples to failure.

When two people have beliefs or habits that differ too much, it creates friction. For example, if one partner is devoutly religious and the other is an all-out atheist, it might be difficult for the couple to find common ground on the way that the universe functions. When a neat-freak has to put up with the habits of a slob, there will be arguments. Opposites may attract, but they don’t always have staying power.

Having two people from completely different worlds can be problematic, but even couples who have a lot in common need to make trade offs sometimes. It’s not as though two partners need to be exactly alike, after all. Any healthy relationship involves compromise.

Unresolved small differences can cause huge problems.

Our partners are not our clones. If you stay with anyone long enough, you’re going to have disagreements. You can compromise to work through some conflicts, but when the problem illuminates a difference in core values, the dispute becomes personal. Couples may criticize or blame one another for not thinking or behaving in the same way.

If two individuals’ core values are completely misaligned, communication will be nearly impossible. Both may try to constantly prove themselves right and conflicts will be common. Values and beliefs are one’s preference. It’s difficult to change one’s core values because there’s no right or wrong in terms of core values. Of course, not every core value needs to overlap, but there needs to be some, and it needs to be shared. You can read more about the importance of shared values in my other article Why A Shared Life Is Not Enough to Maintain A Relationship

Small disagreements can also highlight breakdowns in communication. I had two friends who attended marriage counseling. One of the major gripes in their marriage was over the dishes. The wife hated having dishes in the sink. Her husband didn’t mind them, and he often told her that he would do the dishes. She became frustrated when he wasn’t operating on her timeline, and she’d do them anyway. She thought he was being spiteful, but he was really just lackadaisical about the chore.

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She viewed his nonchalant attitude about the dishes as a personal attack. If they hadn’t gone to counseling, that small breach in communication would have continued to create tension.

When a couple has a disagreement, it is important to have time to communicate about it. In some cases, compromise is not possible. In other cases, the argument was based on a flawed understanding of the situation. Either way, these problems will worsen the relationship if they aren’t addressed.

Most people tackle differences in a way that makes their love lives worse.

People handle differences between each other in plenty of ways. Yet they don’t realize the way they try to tackle differences is worsening their relationship and their love lives.

Some are unwilling to give anything up.

Some people think that if you have to compromise, then the couple is a poor match. They may unconsciously demand that the other person fulfill requirements by asking them to do a certain thing like initiating a dating idea every time.

If the partner can never meet the lofty standards put in place by their significant other, they’ll become exhausted, frustrated, and sad. The significant other who has placed the demands will be constantly disappointed by their partner’s inability to meet their expectations.

Imagine what could happen if one member of a couple places a high value on fashion while the other one can barely match their socks. They might have disagreements about going out. The fashion forward partner may decide that their less-stylish partner needs to improve their style because it’s embarrassing to go out with someone who looks sloppy.

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Instead of compromising by choosing less-formal outings or trying to help the less-stylish partner, the fashionable partner mistakes this lack of style for a lack of care about their relationship. The less-stylish partner, however, feels like it’s impossible to look like a a magazine photo. These two will have a hard time making their relationship work.

Some compromise more than their partner does.

When people start a relationship, they may be willing to make some sacrifices because they genuinely like the other person and want to be liked.[1] One person may attempt to minimize difference with his or her partner by giving up their own interests.

There is some compromise in this, but because one person gives up more than the other, the relationship is out of balance. Eventually, the person who gives up too much will be exhausted and unhappy.

I had a friend who was newly in love and made a lot of sacrifices to be with her boyfriend. She loved all types of music, and her boyfriend was a musician. The only problem was, he was very opinionated about the bands that he liked. When she talked about a band that he didn’t like, he would pick on her. Instead of standing up for herself, her response was simply to smile, nod, and never talk about how she felt about bands that she knew he disapproved of.

Choice in music may seem like a minor thing, but in a relationship that centered around music, this was a huge sacrifice for my friend to make. The boyfriend didn’t have to give up anything that he enjoyed in this exchange. Needless to say, they didn’t work out.

Some sacrifice way more than they should.

Compromising on core values and beliefs is another recipe for frustration and exhaustion. You can give up small things in the name of love, but if your core values are at stake, this might be a bad match.[2]

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You’ll see this behavior when one person thinks that they need to change themselves in order to live up to the other person’s standards. In this case, one or both parties may have the mistaken belief that there should be no differences between them. Making a partner happy at the expense of one’s own happiness only worsens the relationship. In the end, at least one partner is not able to do the things that they value the most. Read more here about How “Love Is All About Sacrifice” Ruins Our Love Lives

Compromise only when it makes both happier and better.

There’s no such thing as a universal style of compromise because every couple is different. At the same time, successful compromises do share some common characteristics.

Talk about expectations and negotiate up.

Bad habits and things that have become normalized in a relationship can be challenging to address. It’s tough to know when to let it go and when to speak up. Discuss expectations, boundaries, and ways that you can support one another so that the compromise doesn’t feel like a personal attack.

It is possible to create a win-win situation from a disagreement. Work together so that you are both gaining something you want. Making a change doesn’t seem as daunting if you don’t feel like you’re losing out.

Both partners should give something up.

When a couple is working well together, each partner may have to adjust something that they do so that it fits with their partner’s lifestyle. Instead of having one person sacrifice everything, each person gives a little to create harmony.[3] If you ask your partner to make a change, be ready to make some changes for yourself.

But making adjustments doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice. When partners ask for an appropriate amount of change, neither feels like the shift creates a major imposition. Both are still willing to make changes to strengthen their partnership.

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Be aware that core values can’t be negotiated.

Having a respectful disagreement is healthy, but expecting someone to alter their beliefs to stay together is not. These things are difficult to change because they make people who they are. Partners can learn to respect and accept differences, but they can’t force change.

Let differences pull you closer to your partner.

It’s nearly impossible to find two people who do everything in exactly the same way. Being somewhat different from your partner can make your relationship more fun and exciting. You might get the chance to look at things in a new way, or experience things you wouldn’t have tried on your own.

Compromise is a natural part of putting two distinct human beings together. It can be a celebration of our uniqueness. As long as both partners are willing to make adjustments or give things up for the sake of a better relationship, then the process of negotiation will only make you stronger.

You don’t have to give up who you are to be in a relationship, but you can work with your partner to bring out the best in one another.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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Anna Chui

Communication Expert

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Published on July 13, 2018

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

What if you could discover some tools and methods that could improve your relationships? What if by gaining a little knowledge you could understand your relationship dynamics better and give them a boost up?

By learning what secure attachment is and how to restructure your thoughts, you can become more self-aware of your relationship dynamics. After becoming more aware, you can then take a few steps to make them better than ever. That’s something that many of us could benefit from.

When we hear the term secure attachment, our mind typically goes to a relationship. And that’s exactly what it’s about.

In this article I’ll discuss the concept of secure attachments in more detail and how restructuring your thoughts can help you strive towards achieving better relationships.

Relationships are a hugely important part of our lives and whatever we can do to improve them is a good thing for everyone involved.

What is attachment theory?

Let’s do a quick overview of what attachment theory is. This will provide a good foundation for the rest of this article.

The esteemed psychologist John Bowlby first coined the term attachment theory in the late 60’s. Bowlby studied early childhood conditioning extensively and what he found was very interesting.

His research showed that when a very young child has a strong attachment to a caregiver, it provides the child with a sense of security and foundation. On the other hand when there isn’t a secure attachment, the child will expend a lot more developmental energy looking for security and stability.

The child without the secure attachment tends to become more fearful, timid and slow to explore new situations or their environment.

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When a strong attachment is developed in a child, he or she will be inclined to be more adventurous and seek out new experiences because they feel more secure. They know that whoever is watching out for them will be there if needed.

Bowlby’s colleague, Mary Ainsworth, took the theory further. She did extensive studies around infant-parent separations and provided a more formal framework for the differing attachment styles.

How attachment develops

Simply put, attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Attachment doesn’t have to go both ways, it can be one person feeling attached to another without it being reciprocated. Most of the time, it works between two people to one degree or another.

Attachment begins at a very young age. Over the history of time, when children were able to maintain a closer proximity to a caregiver that provided for them, a strong attachment was formed.

The initial thought was that the ability to provide food or nourishment to a child was the primary driver of a strong attachment.

It was then discovered that the primary drivers of attachment proved to be the parent/caregivers responsiveness to the child as well as the ability to nurture that child in a variety of ways. Things such as support, care, sustenance, and protection are all components of nurturing a child.

In essence a child forms a strong attachment when they feel that their caregiver is accessible and attentive and there if they need them; that the parent/caregiver will be there for them. If the child does not feel that the caregiver is there to help them when needed, they experience anxiety.

Different types of attachments

In children, 4 types of attachment styles have been identified. They are as follows:

  • Secure attachment – This is primarily marked by discomfort or distress when separated from caregivers and joy and security when the caregiver is back around the child. Even though the child initially feels agitated when the caregiver is no longer around, they feel confident they will return. The return of the parent or caregiver is met with positive emotions, the child prefers parents to strangers.
  • Ambivalent attachment – These children become very distressed when the parent or caregiver leaves. They feel they can’t rely on their caregiver for support when the need arises. Even though a child with ambivalent attachment may be agitated or confused when reunited with a parent or caregiver, they will cling to them.
  • Avoidant attachment – These kids typically avoid parents or caregivers. When they have a choice of being with the parent or not, they don’t seem to care one way or the other. Research has shown that this may be the result of neglectful caregivers.
  • Disorganized attachment – These children display a mix of disoriented behavior towards their caregiver. They may want them sometimes and other times they don’t. This is sometimes thought to be linked to inconsistent behavior from the parent or caregiver.

What attachments mean to adults

So the big question is how does this affect us in adulthood? Intuitively it makes sense that as a child, if we have someone who will be there when we need them, we feel secure. And on the other end of the spectrum, if we aren’t sure someone’s going to provide what we need when we need it, we may become more anxious and fearful.

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As an adult, we tend to wind up in one of three primary attachment types based on our childhood experiences. These are secure, avoidant, and anxious. Technically, there is a fourth one, anxious-avoidant, but it is quite a bit less common. They are described as follows:

  • Secure – When you have a secure attachment, you are comfortable displaying interest and affection towards another person but you’re also fine being alone and independent. Secure types are less apt to obsess over a relationship gone sour and handle being rejected easier. Secure types also tend to be better than other types with not starting relationships with people that might not be the best partners. They cut off the relationship quicker when they see things in a potential partner they don’t like. Secure attachment people make up the majority of the attachment types.
  • Anxious – Folks who have an anxious attachment style typically need a lot of reassurance from their partners. They have a much harder time being on their own and single than the other styles and fall into bad relationships more often. The anxious style represent about 20% of the population. It’s been shown that if anxious attachment styles learn how to communicate their needs better and learn to date secure partners, they can move towards the secure attachment style.
  • Avoidant – Avoidant attachment style represents approximately 25% of the population as adults. Avoidants many times have the hardest time in a relationship because they have a difficult time finding satisfaction. In general, they are uncomfortable with close relationships and intimacy and are quite independent. They are the lone wolf type person.
  • Anxious-avoidant – The anxious-avoidant style is relatively rare. It is composed of conflicting styles – they want to be close but at the same time push people away. They do things that push the people they are closest to away. Many times there can be a higher risk of depression or other mental health issues.

Here’s where it gets really interesting:

Move towards secure attachment

The good news is that it is possible to move from one style to another. Specifically, it is possible to move towards a more secure attachment style.

Now as you might imagine, this is not an easy or a quick process. Like any type of big change where you are attempting to alter such a deeply ingrained mindset, it takes a strong will to accomplish.

The first step is developing an awareness of your attachment style. The next step is to have the desire and drive to move your attachment style towards the more secure style.

If someone with an anxious or avoidant style has a long term relationship with a secure type, the anxious or avoidant person can slowly get brought up more towards a secure style.

The opposite is also true, they could bring the secure person more towards their attachment style. Therefore, you have to be conscious of your type and if you want to move more towards secure, it takes persistence.

Therapy is an option as well. Anxious types many times need to work on their self-esteem, avoidants on their connection specifically and compassion.

How to restructure your thoughts

Ready for the way to do it? Here we go:

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For the Avoidant Style

As with any type of change on such a deep level, the first step is awareness. Realize you have an avoidant style and be aware of it as you have interactions with your partner(s).

Try to work towards a place of mutual support and giving/taking. Try to lessen your need for complete self-reliance. Allow your partner to do some things that make you a little uncomfortable that you would normally do yourself.

Don’t always focus on the imperfections of your partner. We all have them, remind yourself of that.

Make yourself a list of the qualities that your partner has that you are thankful for.

Look for a secure style partner if at all possible, they would be good for you to be with.

If you have a tendency to end relationships before they go too far, be aware of that and let it develop further.

Get into the habit of accepting and even instigating physical touch. Tell yourself that it’s good for you to have some intimacy. Intimacy can help you feel safe and secure.

And over time you can realize that it’s okay to rely on other people.

For the Anxious Style

For the anxious style, the #1 thing to work on is learning to communicate needs better. This is a huge issue for the anxious style.

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First and foremost if you communicate your needs more clearly, you will have less anxiety, that’s already a big win. This will also allow you to better assess if a potential partner is good for you.

Try to bring your feelings more to the surface and most importantly, share them with your partner. Remember that secure attachments typically communicate pretty well, this is what you are working towards.

For the Anxious-Avoidant Style

The anxious-avoidant is a very small percentage of the attachment styles. Since this type tends to be anxious in the relationship AND more or less a loner, the key here is working hard to be very self-aware of your actions.

Use the parts of striving towards secure attachment from the anxious tips and the avoidant restructuring of your thoughts to consciously work towards being more secure.

When you find yourself pushing someone away, ask why. If you feel worried that your partner is going to leave you, again, ask yourself where this is coming from. Have they shown you any reason to believe this? Many times there is no real evidence. In that case, allow yourself to calm down and try not to obsess over it.

For the Secure Style

Since the goal is to move towards a more secure attachment style, there isn’t much needed here as you might imagine.

Something to be aware of is being in a relationship just because it’s “okay”. Don’t stay if it’s not a good place for you and your partner. If your partner is of an anxious or avoidant attachment style, stay mindful to not start developing characteristics of those styles.

Strive towards Secure Attachment

As we wrap things up, you’ve probably developed a good idea of the benefits of secure attachment. If you don’t currently have a secure attachment style, here are some benefits of restructuring your thoughts more towards this style:

  • Positive self esteem and self image
  • Close and well adjusted relationships
  • Sense of security in self and the world
  • Ability to be independent as well as in relationships
  • Optimistic outlook on life and yourself
  • Strong coping skills and strategies for relationships and life
  • Trust in self and others
  • Close, intimate relationships
  • Strong determination and problem solving skills

If you are an anxious or avoidant style or the combination of anxious-avoidant, it is possible to move towards a secure attachment style.

It takes self-awareness, patience and a strong desire to get close to being secure but it can be done. You will find that putting the effort into it will provide you with more open, honest and satisfying relationships.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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