We live in an age where people denigrate difference. In the United States, the Republicans and Democrats who used to work together for the common good of the country barely speak to each other, and when they do, it is mostly to berate each other. Respect has given way to disdain and sometimes outright hate.
Such negative behavior works poorly in politics but in relationships, it can and often is, fatal. Couples need to be respectful of differences; often, they no longer are.
Annie and Justin are on the rocks. They knew when they got together that they had differences, but at that point, they viewed the differences as quaint, cute, and sometimes, just plain fun. Annie could not imagine why anyone would want to attend or even watch a boxing match. Who wants to see people purposely hurt each other? But she took what she viewed as a “Let boys be boys” mentality and sometimes even admired Justin for his love of sports that did not appeal to her at all. Justin was happy to see Annie go to her book clubs and social-action meetings, but he would not be caught dead at any of them. He would be mocked mercilessly by his friends if they found out. But he was quietly happy to be married to a wife who was a lot more intellectually oriented than he was. She did the reading for the two of them.
That was then. Today, Annie finds herself increasingly distressed over Justin’s sports passions. Baseball? Sure. But boxing? What kind of person screams and shouts in joy when he sees one person knock another out? She married someone who is thrilled with violence? Meanwhile, Justin is tiring of what he sees as Annie’s increasing intellectualization of life. He doesn’t want to hear about her books anymore or about her social-action groups. He feels that these are the same people who think their worth in life is their SAT scores.
In one way, nothing has changed. Annie and Justin are still doing the same things they did before they got together. No two people, even in a close relationship, are identical and each has to find their own interests. But today, Annie and Justin sneer at the differences they once respected. Annie and Justin have lost one of the key ingredients in any successful relationship: mutual respect.
Today, people seem to be less tolerant of difference than they once were. Who knows why? Social media? The pace of life? Increasing intolerance of difference? When this intolerance seeps into relationships, it is a relationship killer. It is not unusual, in a relationship, for differences that were once viewed as acceptable or even cute to become annoying. How much snoring can one take? Or how much of hearing the same jokes, over and over again? Or how much of bad table manners that are always supposed to get better but never do?
In the early stages of a relationship, passion tends to be at its highest. Because of that, people often overlook differences that, in anyone else but their significant other, would be bothersome to them. As passion moderates over time, though, the differences may seem starker, more imposing, and definitely more annoying. The thing to remember is that we all have peculiarities that can be annoying to other people. No two people are identical. Relationships are tough: For them to succeed, we have to learn to tolerate and, where we can, respect differences between ourselves and our partner. That is a major key to success.
That said, we all have to draw our lines. If a bit of drinking turns into binge drinking or alcoholism; if a tendency to flirt turns into outright disloyalty—we just may have to draw a line in the sand. But remember that, just as you are putting up with behavior in your partner that may challenge you at times, so is your partner putting up with challenges you create. And if you were to leave the relationship tomorrow and find a new partner, sooner or later, you would be back in the same situation. In the end, not respecting your partner’s differentness is a sure-fire relationship killer. Respecting differences makes relationships prosper and grow.
Did I mention that Karin is a martial arts queen? She is a black belt in karate as well as kung fu, not to mention a brown belt in judo. Me? The idea of ever intentionally hitting or punching someone is beyond what I can grasp! But I’m really proud of Karin and her devotion to martial arts. And Karin puts up with hearing too many sour notes from me on the cello. How can she stand it? Yet she respects me for my drive to play and improve. We respect our differences, and well, that makes all the difference.