Allowed to be different: A guide for a more satisfying relationship
When we decide to commit to a long-term relationship, we hope that finally, we won’t be alone, there will be somebody around with whom we will share our life, somebody, who will be there for us, love us and support us. We hope for nurturing, satisfying and enriching relationship. But most of us believe that this is only possible if we are very much alike our partner, if we think the same, feel the same, want similar things in our lives and almost always agree on everything. We believe that disagreement creates chaos, is detrimental to our relationship and may eventually lead to rupture of connection. Therefore, we try to go great lengths to avoid it and maintain a seeming state of balance and peace by adjusting to each other, agreeing, trying to be “understanding”. Several more years of living together like that and we are in a relationship that has lost its aliveness, passion and love. We end up either arguing constantly out of dissatisfaction and disappointment or living our own separate lives, distant from each other and disconnected.
Why with all our great and valid dreams and hopes for the relationship we end up being disconnected and disappointed? Why does this happen, despite the fact that we are trying so hard to maintain peace and do everything possible to preserve our relationship? Robert and Rita Resnick, couples therapists from Los Angeles, California, with more than 40 years of experience of working with couples (www.gatla.org), suggest that it is the western model of marriage, where partners are supposed to become “one”, that is too old for the quickly changing and developing society. The fusion model of relationships does not support people’s individuality, their interests, wishes and needs, but serves to eradicate differences and make partners look alike. Life together, where partners’ individual needs are not respected and recognized, where differences avoided and not supported, eventually leads to a dispassionate, disconnected marriage or divorce.
Resnicks offer to couples to replace the fusion model of marriage with the connection model, where partners are supported as separate individuals, with their own interests, dreams, wishes and needs, capable of connecting, and separating, and connecting again, etc. with/from each other. In the connection model there are always two people, bringing who they are, their similarities and differences to the relationship, connecting through them, and creating something different, the third and distinct entity - the relationship between them. This can only be possible when both partners will begin to recognize and accept that each of them have their own and distinct look on the world, and that it is not necessary for them to be similar and agree on everything. In fact, when there are no differences between us, then the experience of two people connecting is lost.
But the first step is to allow those differences to stand, even if we don’t like them, and are afraid that it will lead to a rupture in our relationship: Yes, I do like the vanilla ice cream and you like the chocolate. It is possible, and I am glad we can find the way to be together and be satisfied with being who we are and doing what we like. Instead of: How can you like chocolate ice cream? I just can’t understand how people eat this! Or the same about vanilla… When I am ok with what I like and I am ok with what you like, then there is a chance for both of us to find a way to live a life where our differences are mutually respected, and our souls nurtured…, life, where differences become a point of connection and growth, leading to more intimacy and sense of aliveness in our relationship.
I would like to end this piece with the beautiful words of Reiner Maria Rilke:
“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
Wishing all partners happy sharing and connecting with each other,
Svetlana Vasilyeva, MC, RCC.
Sveltana is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Relationship Specialist at Vida Relationships who is accepting new clients for couples and individual counselling in Vancouver, BC. Contact her here to book and appointment.