Author: Robert Solly is a licensed clinical psychologist who leads a private practice at Noe Valley Center, San Francisco.
In the modern world, a person is more consciously thinking about choosing a car than about choosing a life partner, writes The mission
When I ask couples who come to me for consultations, what attracted them to each other, most of the answers are physical attractiveness, ease and comfort in communication. Sometimes it sounded like "I was comfortable with him" or "she was so cute."
In principle, this is a normal reaction, which makes it clear what interests the person in the partner in the first place. And it is a pity that very few paid attention to the strengths and weaknesses of both the partner and their own, and whether they fit each other.
Usually, the couple concludes a “life contract” in which the children then fit in, and this happens without any prior thorough deliberation. They begin to think later, when they are on the verge of a divorce and come for a consultation.
The couple blames each other for the presence of negative qualities and character traits that existed from the very beginning, but no one noticed or did not want to recognize them. In this situation, therapy is already ineffective, it would be more likely if both came when the problems had just begun.
Did you ever think that all these negative qualities of character are a kind of the same traits that you loved each other in the beginning?
The most common type of couples is when two opposites meet. Active, expressive person and quiet, calm. The active partner likes restraint and poise, and the quiet partner likes the emotionality of his energetic chosen one. However, over time the situation changes. Active begins to irritate the passivity and prudence of the quiet, and the quiet - excessive emotionality and activity. And this is just one such example, and there are many of them.
If it is easy and convenient for you with a new person, this is, of course, not bad, but sometimes it may indicate that people just don’t talk about important things, they don’t think about them. And this is a kind of unconscious memory associated with patterns of behavior in deep childhood.
At the very beginning of a relationship, we are attracted by some traits of character that seem familiar to us, and we cannot fully appreciate or foresee negative moments in the future. But over time, we realize that the chosen one has some character traits that are similar to those of our parents, and very often this begins to annoy. Because it was precisely these traits that were problematic in relations with parents.
There are two statements: that people are looking for something similar and that opposites attract each other. I think both statements are true, but in different ways. A person is drawn to those who have similar interests, to those whose character traits complement their own. As in the case of active and calm. In fact, the value of common interests is exaggerated. It is nice to have common interests or hobbies - to have the opportunity to enjoy something together, but this is not the main thing. But when relationships begin to fall apart, it is precisely the lack of common interests that becomes a weighty argument. And the problem lies much deeper.
The more important areas to explore are personality and its values, and when it comes to character traits, your partner’s ability to handle stress becomes a key issue.
At first, when everything is still relatively carefree, you have no real opportunity to assess this ability in your partner, but the first symptoms may appear that would be worth paying attention to. Each person has their own way of dealing with stress, and there is no certainty that you will like your partner's ways. Blaming, resenting, ignoring, denying, trying to fix everything, telling you what to do, gluttony, starvation - these are not all examples.
Before you enter into a serious relationship, you should know how the anger and stress manifest in your partner and how he reacts to them, how he deals with them. It would also be worthwhile to show your mechanisms to your partner in order to find out how he will react to them. Of course, the best way to find out such things is to watch yourself and the partner in a stressful situation and find out what features of character the partner has. That is why it is important to get more experience of living together before making a serious decision. It is necessary to have time to consider an absolutely real person.
Dan Wyle, a famous American psychotherapist with 40-year experience, claims that in any partner, whoever you choose there, there will always be a set of character traits that will not cause you to delight. Ideal people do not exist, even if it seems that way to you at the beginning of a relationship. The most important thing is to find out what you can put up with. There are actually a lot of categories and subcategories, so it makes no sense to describe them all, but there are those that occur most often for those couples who turn to me. For the rest - think about the difficulties of character or problems you are willing to accept, and with what - no.
One of the easiest ways to clarify the picture is to ask a partner about stressful situations in childhood. Especially about what happened before the age of 12-13. Ask about how the parents lived, if there were any quarrels, if he tried to interfere with them, if they were. If there were stressful situations - ask how your partner dealt with them. The “interventionist” is likely to be aggressive in a state of stress, while the one who avoids is likely to be passive or self-contained. Certain behavioral reactions that have developed in childhood tend to persist throughout life if a person does not try to work on himself and change something. But even in these cases - it is impossible to completely get rid of, but it is quite possible to learn to control.
It is likely that your partner will say that he had nothing like that in his childhood. Rarely, but it happens. More often, such an answer may be a sign of denial, because stress actually existed, but the person separated himself from them in order not to understand, not to feel, not to analyze his condition. It also happens that the stresses were minor, insignificant, but the psyche reacted with indifference or simply a low level of emotionality.
In addition to the variability of personality and emotional state, there is another factor that I mentioned - the value of a partner. Make sure that you agree on most of your values, and that those in which you do not coincide will not become a problem for you in the future. The main topics for which partners argue are: money, sex, children, life, relatives, friends.
Your opinions on each of these topics should be similar.
For example, money. Save or spend. One person has a goal - to save money, save money, another - to live for today, spend money on fun. Disputes over freedom and discipline can arise in the upbringing of children. In sex: frequency and intensity, routine against novelty, spontaneity against planning.
There are principles that unite almost all categories, and they merge into one character trait. For example, novelty versus stability. One person happily tries to learn something new, try, experiment, travel, and the second is totally opposed to constantly changing something in their lives.
Some are more tuned to new experiences: finding new sources of excitement, adventure, and so on. Others put safety and caution as the main value, which is reflected in the desires of such things as routine, planning, organization and security.
The person who is focused on stability is likely to be thrifty and economical, will prefer predictable sex, and most likely he will like a comfortable life and order in the house.
With all these oppositions of values, do not forget that neither of the two extremes is bad or good - both are useful, and this is primarily a matter of balance and agreement between partners.
In addition to all important values, there is also a psycho-emotional state of a person. One needs constant communication, feeding with emotions, constant intimacy with a partner, and the other needs more time for himself, independence is needed.
John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, world-renowned psychologist who has won acclaim for his work on stability in marriage and the likelihood of divorce, calls the way you feel about emotions - meta-emotions.
The main difference is whether you need to pay attention to emotions, whether you need to discuss them with a partner or not. If one partner is a supporter of the discussion, and the other is not, then the situation worsens. In addition, people who do not value emotions will never agree to a joint consultation if the relationship starts to deteriorate.
Most of the values come from the family, and much can be understood by observing the family of your chosen one. People usually either fully accept the values in which they grew up, or rebel against them. Sometimes there is an explosive mixture of accepted and rejected.
And some of the high-level values that relate to character traits, such as stability / novelty, can be a mixture of acquired values (upbringing) and temperament (nature). Genetics and atmosphere within the family of their own - all of this has a definite effect. For example, genetic ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) + adventurous parents = recklessly risky, and otherwise genetic shyness + adventurous parents = slightly risky.
In general, the most suitable partners for the relationship will come from healthy families, where people may have disagreements, but they treat each other with respect and kindness.
In addition, there should be an open and clear attachment to each other and the absence of dependency or abuse, including that of the parents.
If one of the above is missing, the relationship will need much more consultation and therapy.
And two more factors - anxiety and attraction. These two factors are very strong and can distract us from really important things, although they are not significant when choosing a partner.
If you have already chosen your partner, but you have a lot of differences for any factors, then you have two ways. You can grow as an individual, develop your abilities, learn to accept a partner as he is, and work on reducing opposites. And you can give up all this and look for another option, other relationships that will be more suitable. In both cases, therapy can help.
The only way that leads nowhere is to blame your partner for everything and wait for him to change.