ONCE THE HEADY CHEMICALS of new love — which transform one’s sweetheart into the very picture of human perfection — wear off, each partner discovers that no matter how compatible they are, there is a least one thing (and sometimes several!) that each dislike about the other. Each possesses some habit, behaviour, or personality quirk that annoys, infuriates, and/or disappoints the other person.
As the relationship continues, the pair may remain very much in love, but their respective idiosyncrasies can become a source of lasting conflict. Each partner wants the other to change ‘X’ behaviour, and each partner frequently fails at doing so – even if they try to make the change. And so, the conflict continues …
Those failures can often cause one partner to feel disappointment and even contempt for the other. “If she really loved me,” he thinks, “she would change.” But, unfortunately, changing a deeply ingrained behaviour can be almost impossible. Try asking yourself how successful you’ve been at changing one of your deeply set personality traits. Probably not very! In fact, research shows that nearly 70% of marital conflicts are perpetual and unresolvable – in other words, they last a couple’s whole life.
The only alternative to the typically fruitless hope of getting one’s partner to change is by simply accepting that they’re never going to. To accept their idiosyncrasies as a part of their, and your, life. Although this can also bring its own difficulties; someone can desire to accept their significant other’s flaws and yet truly struggle to move this sense of acceptance from their head to their heart.
Let me suggest a paradigm that I think will help make this shift in mindset. Through it, you can come to not only accept your partner’s ‘flaws’ but even appreciate them.
We typically think of the things we love about our partner and the things we dislike as being sorted into two very separate categories. The reality, however, is that they’re often inextricably linked. They’re two sides of the same pole of energy – one a ‘light’ side, the other a ‘shadow’ side.
For example, a wife loves that her husband is a man’s man – who’s rugged and stoic and makes her feel safe, but dislikes that he isn’t more empathetic and emotionally expressive. However, the energy that fuels his very masculine side is the same that inhibits his tenderness.
And a husband loves that his wife is artistic and creative but dislikes how flaky she is about keeping plans. But the energy that gives her that more esoteric side is the same one that makes her mind a little more spontaneous and scattered.
The same energy that creates the side of someone you love is frequently also responsible for the side that drives you crazy! So, you shouldn’t really pine for an impossible scenario where you can retain that which you adore, and excise the part you don’t. In other words, you can’t pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other! Once you recognise that someone’s flaws are just a different manifestation of the same energy in them that you love, these faults become easier to accept.
For example, Kate really struggles with being on time – she’s always late for most everything. She likes the rush of cutting it close – of trying to beat the clock; I’m someone who likes to be punctual, so this tendency of hers can bug me – especially when it comes to catching a flight! She wants to get to the airport without a minute to spare, while I’m 100% what we affectionately call a nervous travel dad. But I don’t let Kate’s lack of punctuality bother me too much, because I recognise that it’s driven by the same excitement-seeking aspect of her personality that adds plenty of fun and adventure to our lives – which I love!
I realise they’re just two sides of the same coin, and I treasure that coin.
On the other hand, my struggle with depression and a melancholy, changeable disposition can be difficult for Kate. It’d be easier on our relationship if I was consistently in a good mood every day. But Kate recognises that without this serious streak in my personality, I wouldn’t be the person she loves. She sees my melancholic and pessimistic disposition as just the other end of a pole that also makes me more conscientious and empathetic, and less flighty and shallow.
And she thinks it’s ultimately been good for AoM, setting a steady tone and keeping it from falling into the traps of effervescent, hype-driven promises, rah-rah platitudes, and goofy Instagram influencer posturing, that plague so many other ‘lifestyle brands.’
This isn’t to say that you must accept a person’s flaws 100%. Sometimes they’re not tied to anything positive! And sometimes, a particular energy’s negative effect on the relationship can outweigh its positive impact.
While it’s generally unreasonable to expect anyone to fundamentally change their essential personality traits – something nearly impossible to do – you can reasonably expect your partner to mitigate their downsides … at least a bit … to maybe rub off their sharper edges.
So, for example, Kate really tries to be on time (or at least only a tiny bit late) for something that’s important to me/us. And I do my best to keep a leash on the black dog of my depression.
Ultimately, once you realise that the parts of a person you dislike simply come along with the parts you adore – and that you wouldn’t cut out the energy that drives the latter in order to resolve the former – it’s much easier to accept, and even celebrate, one’s romantic partner (and friends for that matter) for who they are.
When you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other, and if it’s a good one, you hold onto it and don’t let it go.