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Aug 29 2013

Partners who are very different understand something important about what makes a relationship work.

Published by at 4:54 am under Knowing Relationships BLOG


Partners who are very different

By Philip Alan Belove, Ed.D. All rights reserved

For the past three years Marilyn Bronstein and I have been interviewing couples that have been together a long time and who have relationships they are very pleased with. (It’s been very interesting and very different from talking to troubled couples. The book will be available in October. We’re very pleased. More news about it on the sidebar.)With some of the couples in our research, the partners came from very different backgrounds – different languages, different cultures. To some extent we all have to deal with how we differ from our partner. This is the source of most of the challenges in a marriage, and the greater the differences, the greater the challenges. The people we spoke had to find positive ways to think about their differences. They have figured out something important for the rest of us. They have insights to share. First I want to share some examples of what we heard.

She:    It’s a beautiful dance that we get to do because our differences are actually not opposite. They mirror each other.

He:    There are so many Yin and Yang things about us.

This is the essence of emotional intelligence, this sense of how the two sides fit together, I am calling it “A Feeling for the Relationship,” as in “an intuition about the relationship.I saw it in those couples.

If there is a “The Secret to Good Relationships,” I think this is it, this understanding of how the team works.  It requires 1) a fairly accurate self-knowledge plus 2) a pretty good sense of the partner, too, plus 3) a sense of how the form a larger and more complex unity (including the disharmonies).

 “Sometimes I can be a little stubborn, especially when it’s about anything scientific. Sometimes she relies on that, likes it, and sometimes she needs to snap me out of it and get me to be more emotional.
“I’m always coming up with ideas that are ‘helpful,’ you know, with quotation marks. I know I mean well but sometimes being ‘helpful’ isn’t very helpful. Sometimes I have a suggestion before I even hear the end of his story and he has this really nice way of saying, ‘let me finish, dear, before you try to help me.’”

An understanding like this doesn’t develop overnight. It isn’t something intellectual, a concept that can be grasped all at once. It’s the sort of knowledge or lore that’s accumulated bit by bit. It’s what people understand about each other after they’ve been through a thing or two, after they’ve had their habits challenged and changed. It’s a deeper kind of learning.

It’s the sort of thing one learns after a commitment has been made. Once you’re committed to a relationship weird stuff still comes up. But then you say to yourself, “I have to deal with this. How am I going to make sense of this?”  How am I going to work with it? How can I respond to it in a way that is constructive? I have to decide because no matter what happens, I’m still going to be here.”

One husband in the book spoke about how grateful he was for how his wife re-shaped him. He liked himself so much better. She said, “It was like dropping water on a stone.”  A feeling for the relationship is a sense of when and how to move carefully with each other.

Sometimes as you acquire this intuition about the relationship you also understand how you have been changed for the better because you are in that relationship. There is a freedom to be your best. Having the intelligent and “knowing” support of a respected partner is like growing s set of wings.

Partners have a sense of how they have a positive impact on each other’s lives.

Ronnie:        I know that my role is to take her out of the practical world, the world that she’s so competent in.  My role is more to be a force for her in a poetic, sublime interaction. And I think that’s where we came together. There was always an awareness that we were more to each other than what anyone else could see.

A Feeling for the Relationship (FR) is, first of all, an intuition, an over-all sense about how the elements of the relationship fit together. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where specific ideas come from. We absorb information about relationships in so many different ways. But after a while we can have a pretty good sense of its rhythms, possibilities and pitfalls.

What these couples learned, because of the extreme nature of the challenge, was first how to pay attention to all they’ve absorbed from being with each other, and second, how to be changed by what they’ve learned. The result is this Feeling for the Relationship. When you have that, then you can shape the relationship so it is mutually satisfying.

The articles on this web page, “Reading and Righting Relationships,” are designed to help you develop your relationship intuition, your Feeling for the Relationship. They give you ways to recognize, respect and think about your emotional experiences.


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