We've all heard the phrase "opposites attract." But what happens when that happy union of opposites starts to rub you the wrong way?
At my Soul Blazing Sanctuary, I often work with couples where one person is very intellectual and not interested in social activities, while the other person is quite the opposite -- very social and not considered intellectually gifted. Sometimes the differences don't matter and the couple manages to make it work. But more often than not, these specific opposite tendencies create stress, frustration, and feelings of inadequacy in at least one of the partners.
For example, Bill and Patricia (not their real names) recently came to me for help. Bill likes to go out with his friends who are intellectually his equal. He says that his wife is more of a "simple" person who can't talk at his level and engage in intellectually-stimulating conversation. While Patricia is indeed smart, she prefers reading about fashion, food, and the latest celebrity gossip instead of the philosophy books Bill reads. Whenever Bill mentions his friends, he often throws in phrases like, "You couldn't possibly understand our conversations." That's when her buttons get pushed. His words and actions make her feel that she's not good enough. Instinctively, she retaliates by saying derogatory things to him, which causes him to leave and go out with his intellectually-gifted friends. The next day they make up, and a few days later the cycle repeats.
Fortunately for couples like Bill and Patricia, it doesn't have to be this way. You can blend smart and social and make the relationship work. Here's how.
• Aim for Acceptance, Not Dominance
First, realize that it's not about determining which personality tendency is "better" than the other, and then forcing the other person to change. Neither tendency "wins" in life. Being intellectual has advantages, as does being socially-oriented. Rather, it's about accepting each other for who the person is, because you each are unique individuals. Remember, no matter how hard you try, you can't change another person.
• Know Yourself
If the differences between you and your partner are straining your relationship, get clear on what you can do to calm yourself. When the other person "pushes your buttons," how can you temper your reactions? I'm not suggesting you hide or ignore your feelings. Rather, I'm suggesting that you know what steps you can consciously choose to take to not let the other person's words or actions set you off. Does going out for a walk help? Journaling? Doing yoga? Figure out what helps you feel at ease so you don't erupt every time your partner irritates you.
• Focus on the Positive
Get in touch with your strengths and what you offer to the relationship. If you're not sure, ask your partner to tell you what they love about you, what attracted them to you, what they find desirable in you. Then, do the same for your partner. What strengths does he or she have that you like? Put your focus on these areas of your relationship -- on the strengths rather than on the differences.
• Like Yourself
Usually, when you start picking on others and focusing on their flaws and differences, it's because you're not happy with yourself. When you don't feel secure with who you are, it's easy to emotionally bully others by putting them down or fighting with them. So after creating your list of positive qualities, re-read them and think of examples in your life where you've exemplified the positive traits. Embrace the positive feelings that come with those memories so you can "fall in love" with yourself and all you have to offer to the relationship.
• Gain Understanding About What Your Partner Likes
Even if you don't like something, you can still appreciate it. For example, suppose your intellectual partner loves to go to the ballet or the opera. You may find these outings boring. To make it more interesting, learn about the origins of a certain opera or ballet you'll be attending. Also, read a few books about well known ballerinas or opera singers. The struggles and sacrifices these people made for their art may move you. At the very least, you'll gain an appreciation for what your partner enjoys, which will make attending the show with him or her more enjoyable.
Likewise, if you hate socializing at mainstream events, find one thing your partner likes to do (perhaps cooking) and take a class together that focuses on the activity. Meet the other people in the class and learn about what got them involved in the activity and what they love about it. Since most classes are small, this is a good place to start "breaking the ice" with regular people who share an interest that your partner has.
For both of these scenarios, remember that you're doing it for the relationship, so go in with an open mind. After some time, you may even develop a new interest in the topic or activity and realize that the two of you have more in common than you initially thought.
Happily Ever After
Ultimately, you chose your partner for a reason. You have a soul-level connection that can transcend any differences. Hold strong to that fact and you'll soon find that smarts and social can indeed go hand-in-hand in any relationship.
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