Opposites Attract, but Do They Last? How to Negotiate Key Differences in Your Relationship

By Marissa Gold

Perhaps you’re a healthy eater and you’re in love with someone who orders extra sausage and pepperoni on his pizza. Or maybe you’re a neat freak who can’t stand it when your guy leaves piles of his stuff all over the house. What seems like no big deal at the beginning of a relationship can escalate into a deal-breaker once the honeymoon phase ends. Anne Brennan Malec, Ph.D., author of Marriage in Modern Life: Why It Works, When It Works sheds some light on common clashes—and the key to sorting them out peacefully.

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Healthy Eater vs. Junk Food Lover
“I can practically hear the argument taking place: ‘I can’t believe you eat that stuff!’ as expressed by the healthy eater and the junk foodie. What can make this difference relationship-threatening is if a lack of flexibility, openness, and respect exists. For example, one partner is only eating fast food and not open to considering alternatives, or if the [healthy] partner is so strict it makes going out, cooking, or grocery shopping a tension-filled endeavor,” says Malec.

What to do: “Working to eliminate judgment from your relationship vocabulary will save your romance from breaking down,” says Malec. And when you are deciding what to cook or where to grab a bite, “be mindful of your tone of voice.” Better yet, find restaurants that suit both of your tastes, or instead of arguing about where to order delivery, just do your own thing and eat at the table together.

Neat Freak vs. Mess-Maker
This tricky combination is more common than you think, Malec says. But, “It is very important to be what I call a ‘good roommate’ for your partner. The messy one needs to be respectful of any shared space, and the neat freak also has a responsibility to be more flexible.”

What to do: “Keep your anger in check; yelling out of frustration never lets you achieve your desired outcome, it just gets your partner angry and defensive,” says Malec. She suggests divvying up the household tasks based on preference so it’s clear who’s responsible for what: “if you hate taking out the trash, and your partner doesn’t mind it, he takes it out. If he hates scrubbing pots, and you find it less bothersome, you take on that task.”

Fashionably Late vs. Always Early
“If one of you is always running late, promising to be somewhere at a specific time and failing to meet your commitment, this is very disrespectful to your partner. The message you are sending is ‘your time is not as important as my time.'”

What to do: “For the on-time partner, your frustration with this issue should be communicated with the goal of problem-solving together. For the partner who is always early, try to determine what drives you to be early and what you fear about being late. Communicate this to your partner so he or she understands why this issue is important to you.” A strategy that works? Agree on the departure time, and head out together. “If you are heading to a party on Saturday night, spend a few moments in the afternoon discussing and agreeing on what time you plan to leave. Same goes for a restaurant dinner reservation: Discuss ahead of time what time you will walk out the door.”

Low Libido vs. High Libido
“This is one of those differences that is more difficult to solve then wanting your partner to put his clothes in the hamper or rinse the dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. Sex is a complex and multilayered issue in relationships. For partners with significantly different sexual needs, communicating about these differences is mandatory. Feeling rejected and unwanted sexually can quickly take a toll on a relationship. Dismissing a partner’s sexual needs can feel belittling, and not feeling heard or understood can feel disrespectful and uncaring.”

What to do: “Do not minimize or be critical of your partner’s needs or his or her disinterest in sex&,dash;talk to each other, educate yourselves about foreplay and different sexual positions, make sure each of you is reaching orgasm. If not, consider meeting with a sex therapist for help in resolving your problems.”

Workout Lover vs. Workout Hater
“This is one of those relationship differences that has the potential to grow more significant over time, putting yourselves at risk for growing resentful of or treating one another disrespectfully. The workout buff needs to communicate the importance of exercise for him or her, and then brainstorm options for activities they can do together. Exercising together can help solidify your relationship, and finding enjoyment in the same activities creates a strong connection.”

What to do: “If the couch potato despises strict workouts or going to the gym, brainstorm less strenuous activities that still offer time for connection and a way to be more active, like going for a walk in your neighborhood or riding bikes together,” Malec says. “Be clear with each other about why you care to share in this endeavor together.”

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