Vagdevi Meunier, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified Gottman therapist, dedicated to helping couples have healthy, fulfilling relationships that last. In Verily‘s current June/July 2013 issue, Dr. Meunier took part in a Q & A titled “Avoid the Apocalypse and Other Good Relationship Advice.” Here is one of the outtakes.
My boyfriend and I are total opposites. They say opposites attract, but I don’t want to be so different that it’s impossible to keep a relationship going long-term. What are the signs I should look for to ensure long-term success?
Lots of couples who are opposites in many areas can make a strong relationship work, depending on the areas of opposition. Most couples are likely to be opposite on preferences and values that are not “deal breakers”, such as wanting to live in the city or suburbs, being social or an introvert, being clean versus messy. But there are definitely some “deal breaker” issues that can be hard to overcome. Two examples of these “deal breakers” could be strong differences in religious beliefs, or gender role expectations—that is, where one person wants a traditional husband and wife relationship whereas the other person wants a progressive, egalitarian relationship. These differences cut deep into who you are and what you believe in at the core of your identity and can be difficult to reconcile if both of you are truly on the opposite ends of the continuum.
Take Heart. Most couples who fall in love don’t pick people that radically different from them. In fact, the research shows that up to 69% of all disagreements between a couple are unsolvable, regardless of whether they are in a happy or unhappy relationship. So most of us have to accept certain things in our spouses and partners that are the opposite of us and will never change.
No Such Thing As A Commitment Cure. If you catch yourself thinking: “Once we make a commitment, like moving in together, he will be more X or do more Y”—that is a clue that something really important to you is not working.
Talk About Your Differences Early. Talking about your differences early in the relationship—and arriving at an understanding of how you are going to honor what is important to both of you— goes a long way towards preventing gridlock later on. Think about what is non-negotiable to each of you. Does he want kids right away and you would be happy never experiencing parenthood? Does he expect that his family can come by anytime and spend lots of time with the two of you, while you grew up in a family with lots of privacy and boundaries?
Have Fun with A Quiz Night. There are some pre-marital assessment tools that are really helpful for dating couples. There are more formal assessment tools, such as Prepare-Enrich—conducted by a prepare enrich councelor—or RELATE, which you can take yourself. There are also informal tools you can buy such as books with questions to ask each other before you make a commitment. Make it a fun and light-hearted exercise, maybe a game you play at dinner where you each pick five questions to ask the other person. When doing the exercise, make sure both of you are spending lots of time understanding each other and not trying to judge or persuade your partner to think more like you.
(Photo by Shannon Lee Miller)