SALT LAKE CITY — I read in Psychology Today recently that 70% of the most common conflicts in any relationship (even good relationships) are perennial conflicts, which means they are conflicts that never get resolved and happen over and over again.
These conflicts are usually based on character and behavior differences between the two people that irritate the other person. Most of these differences are in a person's subconscious programming and innate wiring, and most are not going to change. I am talking about things like being late all the time or not being organized.
If you want to have a rich and healthy relationship you are going to have to accept some of these things about your partner and quit trying to fundamentally change them. You are going to have to choose to love who they are.
That doesn't mean you can't bring up behaviors that bother you; but if you decide to do that, you better take stock of your own faults, flaws and quirks first. You must decide to forgive your spouse some of their flaws and quirks because you want some of yours forgiven too. You must be more accepting and less critical, let small irritating things go, and try to laugh at the funny ways you are wired differently.
Note: This article does not address relationships where abuse is happening. It is directed to those who have run of the mill conflicts, arguments, offenses and irritations with their partner, but there is no emotional, mental or physical abuse happening. If abuse, infidelity, dishonesty, cruelty, or other problems are in play, acceptance is not the answer and you should seek a mental health professional.
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Here are some things you can do to become more accepting of your partner and reduce the perennial conflicts.
- Accept that your partner is not going to behave or function in the world the same way you do. They had a different upbringing and different life experiences. They have different perspectives and are wired differently than you are. Expecting them to think and behave as you do is unrealistic.
- Understand your way of behaving is not the right way and theirs is not the wrong way; they are just different ways. Your way might be better in your opinion, but that is just an opinion. Everyone is entitled to see the world the way they see it. You will not have a healthy relationship if you make your partner "wrong" every time they behave differently from you. You must give them room to be themselves or you don't really love them.
- Accept that you cannot change or "fix" your partner. No amount of begging or pleading or threatening can make another person change. So, if your focus is on changing them (more than accepting them), you are going to have problems.
- Accept that your partner may not share the same value system you do. Chances are good that you value different things. Do you highly value being social, getting tasks done, looking good, or appreciating ideas and principles most? Which does your partner value or focus on most? One is not better than another; we are just wired to focus on one most. If you are a principle person and married to a social person, this difference can create lots of challenges. But if you are committed to allowing your partner to be different, and even celebrate the differences, you can make it work.
- The more you try to change your partner, the more they will dig in and defend their right to be as they are. Accepting them fully as they are actually leaves your partner room to decide to improve themselves on their own. They might change because they love you and want to give to you, but you only if you don't try to change them. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but it's still true. Encouragement is a better motivator than disappointment.
- Don't be disappointed in your partner. If they feel you are disappointed in them, they will be less motivated to try to please you. In fact, your partner will more likely get resentful or passive-aggressive. Accept that they are not perfect, and neither are you. You are both going to disappoint each other on occasion, so think about how you want them to treat you on those days. Show up with love and acceptance and reassure them that they don't have to be perfect to be worthy of your love.
- Make a list of your faults, flaws, character deficits, and quirky behaviors. Ask your partner to do the same. Sit together and talk about the flaws that are probably never going to change and will require understanding and working around. If your partner is always late, how can you deal with that and work around it? If they are forgetful, how can you allow that without getting mad every time it happens. You will be willing to forgive them some flaws so they will do the same for you.
- Understand your different love languages. Your partner doesn't give or experience love and security the same way you do. The things that make you feel loved may do nothing for them. You must take the time to learn what makes them feel safe and loved, and make sure you are giving that to them daily. They must do the same for you.
- Never play the victim. Never blame your spouse as the cause of the problem. Every problem is a two-way street. They might do this irritating thing, but you might also be too sensitive to that thing. You both must stay responsible for what you could do better, and be quick to offer lots of sincere apologies for any little part you play. Apologizing more and blaming less is key.
- Remember that the qualities you like in your partner and the qualities you don't like are usually inextricably linked. Every good quality has a shadow-side negative. A person who is disciplined and organized is also picky and hard to please. A person who is always late is also easy going and low key. Try to find the benefits that go with the qualities that bother you and remember you don't get one without the other.
- Understand most annoying qualities or flaws aren't that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. How much will this conflict matter in 10 years? Is there any chance you are making a mountain out of a molehill? Would it be more mature to let this one go? Are there more important strengths and good qualities your partner does have? Could you focus on those?
- Consider if your partner's flaws are triggering a long-buried issue that really belongs to you. For some irritations, if you didn't already have a sore spot in that area from your past your partner's problem wouldn't bother you. Is there any chance you have fears, triggers or issues — even from your childhood — that are making your partner's fault bigger than it has to be, or adding meaning that isn't really there? This is a good question to ask whenever you get triggered by anything. Take responsibility for your side of every annoyance and be willing to do some work on you.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is don't give up. Bumps in the road are inevitable, but most can be resolved through increasing your understanding and acceptance of the person you love and yourself. A healthy relationship also requires lots of forgiveness and room for both of you to be imperfect.
You can do this.
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