incompatibilities and marriage success
True or false? Partners
with fewer areas of difference and incompatibility have more successful
relationships. Most people would answer true, but this is at least
a partial misconception. All couples have areas of difference and
incompatibility, to greater and lesser degrees. It's been said that
when couples with "irreconcilable differences" part ways,
they are just trading in one set of five to seven differences for
a different set of similar magnitude with their next partner.
Everyone knows that opposites
attract. Differences can be very interesting and stimulating in
your partner. We often seek partners who can complement our style
with some of their strengths. The socially active partner brings
something valuable to a relationship with the partner whose interests
are more domestic, and vice versa. The bluegrass music fan who hooks
up with the opera buff is headed for some disagreements over listening
selections, but both may be stimulated by the opportunity to expand
their music appreciation.
Differences aren't so
conflictual in the early stages of relationships, so couples don't
pay that much attention to them. Couples focus on similarities,
as they are absorbed in getting to know each other. They may be
very excited and enthralled by some of their differences, as well
as their commonalities. As relationships progress, similarities
become more familiar and less novel. When the couple moves into
practical relationship tasks like advancing their careers, starting
and raising a family, and managing finances, differences become
more apparent and prominent. Sex, finances, and chores are the most
common focal areas of conflict, although more important differences
often lie elsewhere.
Couples with more differences
have different styles of marriage than couples that are more similar
in outlook. But they can be just as happy or even happier. Couples
who have a successful 'volatile' relationship style can tolerate
more areas of difference. Their conflicts just seem to offer more
opportunity to kiss and make up. At the other end of the spectrum
are successful 'avoidant' couples. (It's not as bad as it sounds.)
They know what areas of steer clear of with their partner and accept
this arrangement. But avoidance only works well when differences
aren't too critical and there are large areas of common ground.
What's important is not
so much the degree or type of difference. It's how couples manage
their areas of difference and incompatibility, and whether their
relationship style is appropriate for the degree and type of differences
and similarities that they have. It's especially important that
they take advantage of their areas of similarity to maintain a positive
emotional tone. Couples must avoid becoming stuck in trying to convert
their partner to adopt their viewpoint.
If couples allow differences
to disrupt the sense of mutuality in a relationship or lead to disinvestments
or lives that are too separate, that's big trouble. When couples
split up, they often attribute it to overwhelming incompatibility.
But they become overwhelmed by their differences, not just because
they have them, but because they never learned to manage them constructively.
Many couples are blindsided
by their differences as their relationship advances beyond the more
exclusively romantic early stages, because they never systematically
explored their expectations and differences and adopted strategies
to accommodate them. Couples who understand, prepare and plan for
their areas of incompatibility are less disconcerted and generally
fare better. They have more realistic expectations and know what
they are signing on for.
In the long run, the
challenge of difference will be an impetus to growth in both partners.
Learning to support and validate yourself independently will help
you to manage more successfully to your relationship's areas of
difference and incompatibility, especially when these lead to conflict.
Of course, we all rely on our partner for emotional support. It's
one of the best things about being in a relationship. But one of
the times when we need support the most is when we are in conflict
with our partner. And that's just when you can't get support from
This can magnify the
distress: Not only are you in a stressful conflict, but you are
also deprived of one of your principal sources of support. No wonder
you can feel so disappointed and angry when these conflicts arise.
This deprivation is typically more acute for men, since they often
rely more exclusively on their partner for their emotional support
system. Women's support systems tend to be more diverse. If couples
know about this dynamic and expect it, they will be better equipped
to turn it into an opportunity for growth.
Partners who are less
well prepared to support themselves may turn the conflict into a
fight or may give in to avoid one. It's very important to the success
of a marriage relationship that partners learn to adequately support
and validate themselves, so they can deal productively with conflict
with their partner without putting aside their own vital needs and
interests. We all need a sense of security and a mature perspective
to understand ourselves well enough to know when to compromise with
our partner and when we have to stand our ground. Personal strength
and a strong, non-defensive sense of identity help us tolerate our
anxiety while our partner goes through this same process.
The demands of a long-term,
committed marriage relationship guide us toward developing these
qualities. Few people bring this personal strength to their new
marriage fully formed, and it doesn't happen overnight. This is
one of the reasons why many marriages go through a rough patch early
on while the partners are growing and developing their self-support
Marriage Success Training
helps couples to understand their areas of similarity and difference,
which are to be expected in every relationship. More important MST
teaches strategy and skill options for managing these in accord
with different relationship styles and helps couples to protect
the mutuality and positive emotional tone of their relationship.
MST guides couples in building a marriage that supports and thrives
on their individual strengths and identities.
Click here for info on private premarital prep packages and marriage / relationship consultations, including phone
Click here for info on premarital educaton seminars.
/ rescue seminar - Click here if you're married more than a year
2003, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article
for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this
copyright notice, author credit and stayhitched.com source citation