It’s the formula for classic romance. It’s why Harry runs to Sally in the middle of the night in When Harry Met Sally. It’s why Noah tells Allie, “We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you,” in The Notebook. And it’s why Mark makes his “just as you are” speech in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Sometimes opposites attract.
We can easily fall in love with people who are very different from us. It’s common for us to be drawn to people who are very much like us in some ways, and very different in others. It can make for an exciting adventure.
And, it can also be trying.
As a relationship develops, we inevitably reach the point that we have to deal with those differences. Some of the very things that were interesting and cute at first have the potential to become real obstacles later. What do you do, then?
Traditional couple’s therapy says to work toward improving positive feelings and interactions by encouraging both of you to change. Break the habits that frustrate the other person, undermining your connection. Embrace the things that build the two of you closer. It’s a proven method.
But there’s another approach.
Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy, or IBCT, focuses more on teaching you to accept the differences between you and your partner. When both halves of a couple relax about the fact that their partner is going to do a few things that annoy them, the relationship often improves. The annoying things suddenly annoy you less because you’re not focused on them. Plus, you don’t have to worry about making big changes before allowing yourself to take a deep breath and enjoy what’s good.
Basically, either you work to create change, or you work to accept him. So, which is better?
If your number one goal is short-term improvement in emotional closeness, accepting your partner the way he is will get you there faster every time. It’s immediate stress relief, and it doesn’t even require a long relationship talk.
But if you’re in a long-term relationship and concerned that a specific pattern of behavior is going to eventually drive you and your partner apart; that approach won’t work. In that case, you may need to buckle down and work with your partner to find compromises and solutions.
Be warned, though. Working to create change will cause some additional distress in the short term. The payoff only comes after you’ve worked through it.
There is also a third option I’d like to suggest. Combine the two.
Try to be as accepting as you can of your partner. When he does things that drive you crazy, accept him as he is right now. Acceptance is power. It empowers you to work toward change from a mental state of relaxed strength rather than desperation or anger. Share your feelings and your desire for him to make some adjustments.
This approach relieves stress in the moment and still leaves the door open for long-term change.
Make a decision based on your relationship goals. If you need quick relief, work on accepting him, quirks and all. If you want to guarantee long-term intimacy, start talking to him about the things you can’t accept.
No matter how wonderful another person is, you will always have differences. Focus on the ways you enrich each other’s lives. Accept your differences to reduce your own stress. Enjoy everything you can about your partner. It’s a formula for relationship success.