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Relationship - Accepting Our Differences.
(Because we have them)

Goldstream Gazette

Dear Paul

When my husband and I have our differences we are so quick to react to one another. He quarrels. I get into it with him.. Then I withdraw. I hate it.. It’s exhausting. Help. Donna


In any relationship, but most certainly in a marriage, we have significant differences. Obviously, you and your partner are VERY DIFFERENT. You have different ways of being, different views, opinions, different likes and dislikes, different values, temperaments. From the simple to complex:

He wants to have salt on the table or ice cream in the freezer. You don’t.
She wants to "ground" your oldest son. You don’t.
He wants to go for a third credit line for renovations. You don’t.

Our differences are varied and extreme and a natural part of being in relationship.

The problem isn’t that we have differences or conflicts. We definitely have them, The problem is how WE ARE with one another when faced with differences.

To begin with, notice that for the most part, we are very identified with, very attached to, our ways, our ideas, our wants, our opinions. As such, our partner's views appear to make our way, our style, our view, wrong, Differences appear oppositional. They appear as a threat to us.

This is significant. As once differences are seen to oppose one another, appear as a threat, we protect. We become lost with the other in the “protective circle” of right and wrong.

Reacting or protecting in the face of differences is all part of being a human being - part of the primitive emergency reaction system human beings have in response to danger. Notice the danger or threat can be real or imagined – it doesn’t matter, the human brain does not know the difference. It simply reacts to protect its view.

Like two porcupines with its quills out, once in conflict people protect in a variety of ways.
There’s the “aggressive” style. We will blame the other, attack, coerce, control, defend, disapprove. We may use guilt and drama or logic in an attempt to get our way or be right.

Or some of us become “passive” in the face of conflict. When we are passive we are avoiding, denying, withdrawing or retreating from conflict, withholding ourselves.

All our protections, both the aggressive and passive styles, have a “pay-off”. Regularly the pay off is the sense of power or control, the feeling of being right.- and making the other wrong. This strengthens our sense of “self”. . Look for yourself at the truth of this.

In addition to a pay-off, our protections have a huge cost. The cost of the aggressive style is the injury the other may feel and the weakening of a sense of trust and connection between partners. It also disturbs our good feelings about ourselves.
In the passive style the pay off is we get to avoid the experience of conflict. Having avoided conflict we feel some immediate sense of relief. The cost of being passive however, is that conflicts are seldom resolved, remain and repeat themselves,. We fail to learn and grow, and come to feel resentful.

While our protections seem to protect us at the time, the reality is our protections don’t really protect us at all. They cause a great deal of suffering and resentment and ultimately undermine our sense of partnership and intimacy.

Being aggressive or passive in the face of conflict – neither works.

So Donna, the first step to meaningful change is to become aware of what these kind of interactions begin to do to our feeling of safety and affection for one another. Sounds like you’re recognizing this.

Second we can become aware of our protections at the time we are doing them. This calls us to observe ourselves and to acknowledge the real intentions of our behavior. Can we see when we are protecting, when we are defending, when we are not open? Can we see when we just want to be right. Can we see when we’re “fighting” their way, their view, making them wrong, when we’re no longer listening?

Once we see this and have some sense what it costs us to protect together we can stay conscious and alert when conflict appears. When we see conflict as healthy, as normal, we can stay open to, even welcome, the differences we have with others.

When we're not threatened by differences, we can accept and flow with them. We can give ourselves to listen and seek to understand. We can respond creatively and resolve conflicts as they appear.

I’m sure we’d all agree our world could use more of this.

Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist on the West Shore. He may be contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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