You may not be that couple that wears matching pajamas and jackets but you love how much you think alike. Maybe you are that couple that proves that “opposites attract”. Wherever you are on that spectrum there are some important principles to consider.
In Psychology we talk about this continuum using words like: independence, co-dependence, inter-dependence, enmeshment, emotional abandonment, etc.
How much alike or different we are from our partner is really not the issue. Where we can choose healthy or not, is in how we choose to influence each other.
In enmeshed family units there is “encouragement” to think alike, associate with like-minded people, and feel the same way about things.
“Enmeshment is a description of a relationship between two or more people in which personal boundaries are permeable and unclear. This often happens on an emotional level in which two people “feel” each other’s emotions, or when one person becomes emotionally escalated and the other family member does as well. … Enmeshment between a parent and child will often result in over involvement in each other’s lives so that it makes it hard for the child to become developmentally independent and responsible for her choices.” https://www.fulsheartransition.com/enmeshment-symptoms-and-causes/
As a couple what does this mean? It means that we can feel threatened if our partner thinks differently and behaves differently from us or from what we think is ‘right’. The response to this is often an attempt to ‘correct’ their thinking and/or behavior through the use of argument, emotional withdrawal, use of guilt and/or shame, anger or a variety of other passive-aggressive choices.
So how can we enjoy each other but not try to control each other?
First, coming to peace with the fact that you are separate from your partner. Their behavior reflects on them, not you. This is a hard one and one that society sends us contradictory messages about. There is some very twisted thinking in our cultures that imply that a ‘good wife’ or a ‘good husband’ can control and should control the behaviors or their spouse. This twisted theory concludes that if your partner is behaving in certain unacceptable ways it is your fault for not keeping them in line.
This is incredibly unhealthy in so many ways.
There is such freedom in only being responsible for yourself!
What are the alternative ways of giving each other feedback then? How do we communicate what we want without manipulating?
1. “I” statements can be helpful. E.g. “I would really appreciate if you dressed up more for this event.” or ‘I feel x when you do y’.
2. Admitting that the other person’s behavior is troubling us but also admitting that it may indicate something we need to work on instead of them.
3. Practice stepping back and seeing the unique beauty in your partner that is different from who you are. Gratitude goes a long way.
4. Make a habit of humbly acknowledging when you have used unhealthy ways of communicating in an attempt to control the other person’s behavior.
We have choices on how we react to other people. This is not about accepting unhealthy behavior towards you. It is an acknowledgment that we can’t change someone else. We can only change ourself and choose what our actions will be in light of someone else’s actions.
Diversity combined brings strength! The areas where I am weaker and Bill is stronger offer me opportunities to grow and a safety net.
Where do you benefit from your partner’s differences?
In what areas do you need to just accept their differences and stop trying to make them conform?
Whatever this holiday period means to you personally, I hope it brings you time to enjoy each other and enjoy some time to pause and reflect!
Until next time,
Marilyn Orr, The Luv Life Coach
Marilyn Orr is a relationship coach with Luv Life Coaching, passionate about equipping couples with the tools for real and lasting intimacy.
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