Please be Yourself!: Negotiating Differences in Relationships

“He’s applying for jobs all over the country, but he’s not thinking about if he can really do them or not. I mean, he’s qualified and smart, but what if he takes a new job and then he can’t follow through?” Jane had a quiver of fear in her voice. “Well, the last time you moved it was for your job. How did you approach that search?” I inquired. “I visited a career counselor and took a series of aptitude tests. I researched the national job market and selected the best part of the country for my field. Then…” “How does Doug make decisions?” I asked. (Yes, I interrupted Jane; it’s a myth that counselors always listen. Just like with good friends, sometimes you have to interrupt people.) “He gets excited and has some kind of ‘gut feeling,’” she explained forlornly.

Some people, like Jane, plan before they make a decision. They imagine all of the possible scenarios and outline in great detail what they would do with each one. Other people, like Doug, plan after they make a decision. Once Doug gets a job he will begin to research the company, explore the town, and think about the move. Often (as you may have guessed by now) people choose partners that are the opposite of themselves. When couples are aware of this they can build on each other’s strengths. Doug could benefit from Jane’s pre-decision research (he might get more job offers knowing more about the companies), while Jane might benefit from Doug’s trust in the process (she could be surprised by what happens when she lets go of some control). Where relationships fall apart is when one person tries to make the other more like themselves. Celebrating and building on differences has a much better success rate than forcing someone into your mold.

Jane went home, offered to help research, and worked hard on keeping her opinions to herself until Doug asked for them. In response Doug was more open about his thought process and started to ask for feedback. Where do you need to work on letting someone be themselves?