For better or worse, almost everything in life that matters comes as a package deal. In general, for example, I love our house for its large rooms, quiet location, and quality build. But it really could use one more room, and part of the lawn is on a steep hill that makes the grass super-hard to mow. I like my car, a Honda Accord, for its sure performance, sporty look, and roominess in holding a family of five. But the shape of the trunk is weird, making it very hard to reach suitcases at the back, and the Bluetooth system doesn’t work right. My cell phone, too, is great except when it’s not. That’s just the way life is. You can unbundle things, but only so far. You can’t buy our house, for example, with a flat lawn and an extra room. Being happy in life is, in part, reveling in the positive features in our life and living peacefully with the negatives.
Close relationships are the same way. When you enter a close relationship, you get a package deal. You can’t unbundle a person to separate out the features you like from those you don’t like. A really major determinant of happiness in any close relationship is appreciating the positives and living peaceably with what you perceive as the negatives. If you cannot do that, you never, ever will find a relationship that will make you happy.
None of us is perfect. No one ever has been. We bring to our relationship our good points and bad points. In the earlier days of a close relationship, this tends not to be a problem, for several reasons. First, if you quickly find you can’t live with the bad points, you get out of the relationship. So, you never get beyond the first days or weeks or months. Second, in early days, people tend to be on their best behavior, trying to highlight their strengths and hide their flaws, at least as best they can. Third, in the early days, it is human to try to overlook a partner’s flaws. Indeed, we may be so in love that we don’t even see the flaws, or we may believe that we know the flaws but are fully prepared to live with and maybe even help correct them. Finally, in the earlier days, you, as a couple, may not yet have encountered the kinds of situations that truly test the relationship and that highlight the negatives in a person’s personality or character.
As time goes on, however, things begin to change. You have decided to stay with the relationship; you both are no longer always on your best behavior (assuming you are human, like everyone else!); you begin to notice flaws more as their irritation value increases; you encounter situations where the negatives shine through, whether we like it or not. Now, the true test of your ability truly to love and make a relationship work is, at least in part, in your ability to enjoy the positives and either overlook the flaws or find ways—preferably in collaboration with your partner—of mitigating their negative effects on your relationship
As an example, I believe I have some truly positive features. What are they? Ask Karin! But I also have some truly annoying features, to the point that they even annoy me. I am a hopeless collector; I collect too much. Worse, I have trouble letting things go, including clothes I last wore when I weighed either 30 pounds less (maybe I’ll lose that darn weight!) or weighed 30 pounds more (what if I gain even more weight and have nothing to wear?). Like unwelcome mold spores, I tend to invade rooms, and my stuff, once in a room, is as resistant to leaving as are mold spores. I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea.
Karin and I have been married for about 12 years and were together for a while before that. We’re still together and happy. Sometimes Karin gets really irritated with my bad habits. (So do I.) She tells me; we work on it; but somehow, most of those bad habits never quite go away. I sell one collection, only to start the next. I am really grateful that she has chosen to focus on the positives instead of letting the negatives undermine and corrode our relationship from within. And yes, Karin has negatives too, most of all her unwillingness fully to appreciate my endless collections of ill-fitting clothes that I haven’t worn since the Dark Ages but that, someday, just might fit me again. (Only kidding, in case you didn’t notice!)
So, as you negotiate your relationship, keep this in mind. You will never meet a partner who is flawless. We all have flaws. That means you too. If you find quickly you cannot live with a person’s flaws, get out of the relationship early. But once in you are in a relationship that you want to work, learn to live peaceably with the negatives, if possible, working with your partner to correct them as much as you both are able. And learn to enjoy the positives as much as you can. Life is short; make the most of what you like about it.
When I was younger, I thought the normal state of life was to be happy and problem-free and that problems were an abnormal state that had to be corrected as soon as possible. That was then. I now realize that having problems is the normal state of life. It never ends. As soon as you solve one problem, the next problem will come along, or the solution to the first problem with bring about the next problem. When it comes to your partner’s negative traits, see if you can’t work your way through them, realizing that your partner is doing the same thing with you. That’s the way to enjoy a long happy life and a long happy relationship.
Take your relationship one step further:
- Does your partner have any annoying habits?
- How do you deal with them?
- What do you do when you really have trouble coming to terms with those habits?
- Do you have any tips for us? Let us know in the comments below!