Linda Lewis Griffith

Deal with differences gracefully

Every new couple has inherent concerns that significantly impact their relationship. They stem from a variety of sources, including contrasting philosophies, backgrounds, goals, age disparities and health needs.

Sometimes the issues are major. For instance, a husband has two children from a previous marriage who live with him on the weekends. At other times, they’re relatively trivial: She’s a health nut who runs two marathons each year, but he hates exercise and is 15 pounds overweight.

These concerns aren’t necessarily deal-breakers. Both partners may possess the character and commitment that will make them desirable spouses. Still, the issues will crop up throughout the marriage and influence how well they get along.

Listening to loved ones

Built-in differences are often crystal clear to outsiders. Family members and friends have no trouble seeing a partner’s drawbacks and assessing where problems are likely to arise. In addition, they watch how both people interact and see which topics cause conflict.

Loved ones may even express their concerns. A man pulls his soon-to-be-married brother aside and says, “You know, she’s going to want kids. And yours are already grown. Do you really want to start over with a new family at this stage of your life?” Unfortunately, couples too often turn a blind eye to potential problems. They gloss over the importance of their differences. They rationalize that love conquers all. Couples may even rebel against loved ones’ input, choosing to marry despite glaring pitfalls. As a result, they’re broadsided by troubles they were hoping to avoid or sweep under the marital rug.

Examine issues early

The best time to discuss difficult issues is early in the relationship, as soon as the topics crop up. That way, partners can determine whether they’re compatible before becoming too emotionally involved.

If one person repeatedly tries to downplay the inherent issues, or if the topics turn out to be insurmountable, it’s a sign that the relationship shouldn’t continue. It’s best to end it ASAP so both members are free to find a better match.

Of course, adaptation is required in all relationships. And new problems appear along the way. But going in with both eyes open helps you prepare for whatever comes.

HOW TO RESOLVE INHERENT ISSUES

Identify sources of conflict. Notice the situations and topics that seem to lead to long, intense discussion or acrimonious fights. These denote your relationship’s rough edges, the places where the two of you don’t mesh.

Listen to others’ assessment. Friends and family members can be more objective. It’s good to hear their input.

Devise a plan. Create specific strategies to make your marriage work. For instance, if your fiancee has a large credit card debt, decide how you’re going to pay it off and live within your means.

Stay calm. These are difficult issues, and nothing’s written in stone. Be sensitive and respectful during your negotiations. Let your partner know you care.

Recognize your differences. No matter how hard you work, you’ll still be two unique people. Honor what each one of you brings to the relationship.

Allow your relationship to evolve. Old problems will fade into the background. New ones will inevitably creep in. Your marriage will continually ebb and flow as your needs and concerns change.

Seek help. A skilled, neutral person can help navigate touchy topics. Find a pastor or therapist to assist in your negotiations. Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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