Marriage Musings: Opposites Attract…and Then They Fight

Posted September 7th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot
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By Robert Fontana

relational 1relational 2Jane Venus and John Mars are have been married about seven years, have a couple of kids, and are beginning to wonder how they ever married in the first place.  THEY ARE SO DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER.  He’s shy; she’s outgoing.  He loves to read, play board games, do the daily crossword puzzle; she loves to bike, swim, and eat out.  They argue over how “she drives,” and he is such a “neat-nick,” and she “overcommits,” and he is such an “Eeyore,” and she is “too busy for sex,” and he “is never satisfied with the sex they do have,” and…  I get all this information from their intake forms.  The last question on the form asks, “When counseling has ended, what do you hope will have happened?”

Jane wrote: I want us to communicate better, and John to have a better attitude about life, and be more fun.

John wrote: I want Jane to pay attention to the details of our life, be less critical and more responsive sexually.

 In other words, they came to see me, each hoping that I could get the other to change, and, in fact, to be more like themselves!  The first thing I do with Jane Venus and John Mars is to ask them how they met, what attracted each to the other, and why they decided to marry.

Jane: We met at a bar.  I noticed him right away, shy, standing off in the corner, very nice-looking.  He would look at me and then turn away.  I knew there was no getting him to talk to me unless I acted first.  So when he walked by me to go to the bathroom I tripped him.  (John laughs and affirms that was true.)  I helped him up,    apologized, bought him a beer, and we talked into the night.  He was so interesting, so different from me: thoughtful, scholarly, and kind.

John: Never in my life did I think such a competent, outgoing, and beautiful woman would be interested in me.  We did things together that I would never have done on my own, like stay up all night on the Summer Solstice to watch the sunrise.

Jane: I married John because he grounded me.  I felt so safe and secure with him.  I loved him and wanted him to be the father of my kids.

John: I married Jane because she took me out of myself and into the world.  She is so alive and free.  I loved her companionship and could not see myself going through life without her.

Opposites attract… and then they fight.  All the traits that attracted Jane and John to one another when they first met and then led to their marriage – how different each was from the other – have now, seven years later, become the very reasons they are fighting – how different each is from the other.  This is common among couples; and it explains why many couples divorce after five to seven years of marriage. The gift of being “different from me” that each spouse brings to the relationship begins to wear thin.  In Jane’s case, John used to “ground” Jane; now Jane feels constrained by John.  In John’s case, Jane used to make John feel alive; now Jane’s free spirit causes John anxiety.

WHAT TO DO? According to the marriage researcher, John Gottman, about 70% of all conflicts in marriages have to do with personality and temperament differences between spouses.  In other words, they are unsolvable.  The issue is not the specific issue at hand, but how each spouse is simply very different from the other.  If couples do not recognize this, they will misinterpret the other’s behavior as being mean and hurtful.  They begin to think that love has left the marriage.  Not so.  Because there is no “right or wrong” solution to these conflicts, what is needed is “communication” and “accommodation.”

Jane still needs John to ground her, but lately it’s been too much.  She needs him to “lighten up a bit” and have fun with her (and the kids).  John still needs Jane to pull him out of himself, but he also needs Jane to be sensitive to his anxieties and his need for “down-time.”

running on beachSpouses who are very different from one another and who learn to communicate about and accommodate to each other’s differences come to an amazing insight: “I would rather be happy than right.”  They stop trying to change one another because they know that it is a useless effort.  The other will not, cannot change.  But in the successful marriage, each spouse can lovingly communicate hopes and needs, and willingly accommodate the other, giving her / his spouse the space to be himself / herself.



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