Here's a list of minor differences, taken from an article called "27 Mini-gripes That Can Split Any Couple's Seams," that could split yours:
- Leaving the stereo or TV on as background music vs. not.- Thinking the garbage should go out now vs. thinking it could go out later.
- Thinking dimly lit rooms are romantic vs. leaving all the lights on.
- Thinking the cat should go anywhere she pleases vs. believing the cat belongs on the floor.
- Sleeping late on Saturdays vs. "getting a start on the day."
- Believing bills should be paid the day they arrive vs. the day the second notice does.
- Thinking "on time" means arriving when invited vs. being fashionably late.
- Leaving the window open a crack in the winter vs. shut.
You can probably list differences that irk you in a relationship - ones that could potentially drive a permanent wedge between you and another person. Fussing over differences can, in fact, be hazardous to a couple's health. It is the gradual buildup of little annoyances, rather than any event occurring on a grand scale, that almost always causes the demise of a relationship.
So what to do? How do you learn to live gracefully with the differences that come with the territory of living with, or relating to, someone else?
- Simply decide to overlook the difference. Consider your irritation to be your problem - a reaction you need to change in yourself.
Relates a woman: "I spent five years sputtering constantly at Jack, and I finally decided I had to get a handle on what was going on. For one week, I wrote down everything he did that got me mad. It was an eye-opener. He liked his toast well done, almost burnt, and he makes a lot of noise buttering it. He refills the ice-cube trays too high, and the water spills over and makes ice mounts in the freezer. He twiddles the control dials on the TV. . . . I decided that I was a first-class crank to let those things upset me so, and I decided to stop it!"
In your quest to acquire a "thicker skin," consider using your relationship as a means of hastening what Robert Seidenberg calls the "humanizing process" - in part, learning to accommodate to another and to exchange ideals and values.
Seidenberg, author of "The Equal Marriage," says of the individual growth and stretching that can take place in a relationship: Knowledge of one's ability to adapt to another is "apt to be purely theoretical until one is confronted with the realities of everyday give-and-take which the intimacy of marriage provides. Here, then, can be an opportunity for getting to know what and who one really is, instead of retaining theoretical images that one has lived with up until then. One can then find out how generous, how tolerant, how unselfish . . . one really is."
As you consider becoming more tolerant of a partner's idiosyncrasies, then, view your efforts as benefiting you by extending your own growth.
- Think of "his way," "her way" - and then a "third way" - a way that suits you both. Says Anne Barry, author of an article called "What To Do If You're Red Hot Mad:" "If you leave the top off the toothpaste and squeeze from the middle and he caps the tube and rolls it up from the bottom, buy two tubes. . . . No one solution will work for everyone: the point is to avoid the polarized thinking that has you at loggerheads."
- Try "leaning into" differences rather than fighting them. Author Judith Viorst illustrates how she accommodates to one of her husband's quirks: "Instead of whining about how he's freezing me to death by keeping the thermostat down to 60 degrees, I simply push up the thermostat . . . because I have finally grown smart enough to know what drives him insane, and mature enough not to do it - most of the time. (Which is why I push up the thermostat only after he leaves the room.)
- Look at the big picture. In his book "Love and Marriage," comedian Bill Cosby speaks of his wife Camille's habit of being late - and the keen perspective that sometimes gives him regarding his relationship.
Sometimes when Camille is late, Cosby says, he begins "to fantasize with a desperate heart: Has she been kidnapped by gypsies or run away with the circus or simply gone someplace where nobody scratches the back of his head? . . . Why did I ever get angry at her for a silly little thing like keeping me awake till three in the morning with her light on while she read magazines and scattered cracker crumbs on the bed?
"I'll never get angry at her again, no matter what she does. I don't care if she wants to use the bed to feed pigeons. I want her back, even if she comes a half-hour late, because she's the best thing that ever happened to me."
- Be willing to truly extend yourself to accommodate. It's worth the price. And so it's necessary for a good relationship. As Dolly Parton aptly puts it: "The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."