Make your relationship last through any personality clash! Learn to channel conflict into a happier, healthier connection.
By Jenna McCarthy
My husband, Joe, has a habit of flipping on the TV-to check a score or make sure the TiVo is set-then leaving it on, even when he has no intention of watching. I relish silence, so this act drives me insane. Joe is often still awake (working, watching the aforementioned TV, obsessing over the stock market's latest dip) at 2 A.M., whereas if I'm not in bed by 9 P.M., I might collapse from exhaustion. In my dream life, our family inhabits a modern loft in a bustling city; Joe pines for a quaint cottage surrounded by acre after endless acre. Every once in a while we say to each other-good-naturedly, although we both know there's some truth in jest-"How did we wind up together?" Opposites attract, we usually chirp. And in many ways, our disparities keep life interesting. But I wonder, Would it be easier to be with someone more like me? Joe hasn't issued a "move to the farm or lose me forever" ultimatum, but what if he did? Are there cowboy boots cute enough to make rural life appealing?
Researchers at the University of Iowa in Iowa City found no proof to support the old "opposites attract" axiom. What they did find, however, is that we're most often drawn to people who hold similar values and attitudes, but not necessarily to those with parallel personality traits such as extroversion, compassion or oh-my-God-you-left-a-crumb neuroticism. The kicker: Once you're in a relationship, it's your honey's initially irrelevant quirks that determine your happiness.
"If you and your partner are opposites in one or more areas, it can result in more communication, thought-provoking conversation and sharing of ideas," says life coach Charles Orlando, author of The Problem With Women…Is Men (BookSurge). "But it also can lead to bickering." Clashing, though, isn't always a bad thing. Many studies, Orlando notes, show that sensible sparring, rather than full-blown battling, helps pairs "air opinions rather than suppress them or explode later."
Even better news: "Being dissimilar is manageable if both partners are emotionally intelligent and mature in maneuvering through it," says psychotherapist Patricia Covalt, Ph.D., author of What Smart Couples Know: The Secret to a Happy Relationship (Amacom Books). In an effort to foster peace for partnerships everywhere (OK, in my home most of all), I asked experts to offer tips on navigating seven daunting relationship divides. Use the insight to appreciate your differences and forge a closer bond.Pssst! We found honest answers to your most intimate questions. And we're willing to share!
For more than a decade, I've had the joyful pleasure of spending day after glorious day with Joe by my side, each moment more enchanting than the last. It's only at night that I fantasize about smothering him. To say Joe snores would be like saying an inferno is warm. The man is a human buzz saw, a manic military rifle and a mother whale pining for her pups all rolled into one ear-splitting (albeit sexy) package. And I have company. Nearly 70 percent of women say a partner's nocturnal noise bothers them, according to a Self.com poll. That's a lot of dream disruption.
If your bedmate is starting to complain about your snoring, it may be time to hit the gym.
Experts encourage those of us with boisterous sleepmates to realize this is a physiological problem and not a subconscious (or worse, conscious) plot to make us miserable. "Would you be as bothered if it were your daughter?" asks Mollie Marti, Ph.D., a psychologist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Frankly, I might if she were sleeping in the bed with me, but I probably wouldn't punch her in the arm repeatedly and bark at her to roll the bleep over already.)
Liz Owen, 41, an entertainment publicist in Los Angeles, admits her snoring has increased tremendously during her nine-year marriage. "We have a rule in our house that's solved many of our biggest arguments: Whoever cares more, wins," Owen says. So when her hubby told her that he feared her snoring sounded unhealthy, she agreed to participate in a sleep study. The experiment revealed that Owen, who was also overweight at the time, had severe sleep apnea-a life-threatening condition that affects more than 12 million Americans-which was causing her to stop breathing 100 times an hour. Owen began using a continuous positive airway pressure machine (or CPAP) to maintain air pressure in her throat and prevent the airway collapse that apnea sufferers experience. Even though the unsightly contraption (imagine an amalgam of Darth Vader's mask and the faceplate worn by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs) eliminated her snoring, she ultimately decided to lose weight, as well. "I've shed 50 pounds, and the apnea is almost completely gone," she says. "My husband's nudge saved my marriage and my life."
Get inspired by Owen and explore every option you can: nose strips, throat sprays, earplugs, different bedtimes, etc. Some experts say reducing dairy in your diet can help, theorizing that milk products coat digestive linings and air passages, causing the inflammation that worsens snoring. Others think sleeping on your stomach is a cure (and some slip a tennis ball into a pocket sewn onto the back of a nightshirt to prevent snoozing faceup). "Be compassionate and keep researching," Marti says. "People say, 'We've tried everything.' But really? Have you sought professional help?" Sleep science is a continually evolving field; one day, a fix is sure to surface that puts a permanent end to the epidemic.
There's no secret to coexisting happily with a sedentary sweetie, says radio host, author and power walker Revvell P. Revati of Altadena, California. "Life's easier when people don't expect others to be like them," she explains. "Nagging puts strain on the relationship. Rather than bug my husband about his inactivity, I remind myself why we got together in the first place: because I love him."One expert has a surprising theory on why lust often fades when a couple commits-and how you can get it back.
It's simple to hop on the soapbox and preach the superiority of your ways, particularly if you're the fitness-fanatic half of a couple: Exercise is healthy. It can help you lose weight, decrease stress, ease depression, promote better sleep and lengthen life span, just to name a few benefits. And it's something you can enjoy together, if he got his rear in gear. All true, but consider this: He's a grown-up, he likely knows all this and-oh, yeah-you're not his mom.
If you clash over your commitment to cardio, look inward, says Karen Romine, a marriage therapist in Seattle. "When a workout habit is part of who you are, not about shoring up your identity, your mate's opinion won't matter. But if the practice is based in insecurity, the fact that he's different might threaten you."
Desk jockeys, on the other hand, have to resist the urge to get defensive or to accuse their partner of trying to make them feel guilty. Nobody can make you feel anything. Plus, divergent interests allow you the free time to maintain other relationships. "Healthy couples don't rely on each other for every aspect of emotional support or entertainment," says Elizabeth R. Lombardo, Ph.D., a psychologist in Wexford, Pennsylvania. "One person cannot fulfill all of your needs." Why not use your partner's marathon training runs to catch up with a friend over coffee?
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