Thursday, January 17, 2008

Differences Deemed Irreconcilable

As explored in “Focus on the Flaws,” it is my pseudo theory that relationships are often abandoned despite the presence of decent attributes, thereby rendering the good features we have and search for virtually meaningless.

Another facet of this concept is differences. While they are not necessarily flaws, differences can sink a relationship with the voracity of an iceberg. They are usually more apparent, yet more readily dismissed. We tend to hide our flaws (since we know what they are...sometimes), but a person’s reaction to our differences is unpredictable.

“Whatever combination of similarities and differences brings two people together, once we’re in a relationship some differences have a way of magnifying themselves…” says Mira Kirshenbaum, psychologist and author of Too Good to Leave Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay in or Get Out of Your Relationship.

Just like that fatal flaw, a single difference can spell damn for a relationship, even when everything else is compatible. Kirshenbaum emphasizes one difference that can mean everything or nothing, and that is lifestyle.

Kirshenbaum stresses this difference as critical. "Think back to the relationship choices you’ve made. It’s never just a person you wanted to be with. You wanted that person combined with the lifestyle you’d have (or you thought you’d have) with that person," she states.

It reminds me of a basic marketing concept that I learned in advertising theory: people don't just buy wine; they buy the candlelit dinner, the grinning partner, and the marriage proposal they saw on the commercial.

It’s how we want a person to mesh with our vision of life. Kirshenbaum states that lifestyle differences are not issues if they're agreed upon and accepted by both parties. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. He's the Republican "Governator" of California; she comes from a line of prominent Democrats that includes former President John F. Kennedy. Both are passionate about their political affiliations.

This match wouldn't work for a lot of people; I balk at conservative discussions on TV (i.e., most things on Fox…), so it definitely wouldn't fly for me at the dinner table. But somewhere along the way, Schwarzenegger and Shriver had to accept how their political differences affected their individual visions of life.

According to, as of 2005, Shriver decided to forego any public support of her husband's proposals. Now, if it meant everything to Schwartenegger that his wife march side-by-side with him in all his political endeavors, or if Shriver refused to become the public figure that First Ladyship entails, their divorce would have been sprawled across tabloid covers years ago.

A pardonable dissimilarity for one couple may be non-negotiable for the next. Think of really fit people--the gym jocks, the health nuts, the yoga yuppies...people whose fitness is a lifestyle. They more or less hook up with other fit folks. But then you look at radio personality Tom Joyner, who is pleasantly pudgy and proud; he's happily married to the ultra toned fitness and exercise expert Donna Richardson-Joyner. It all depends on how significantly a difference impacts your vision of life.

Kirshenbaum puts it like this: "If it’s clear that you’ll be happier living that lifestyle without your partner than living with your partner without that lifestyle, then you’ll be happy if you leave and unhappy if you stay. You live a life, you don’t live a relationship."


It's so practical that it’s practically impractical.

This approach simmers down to two main points --being cognizant and honest about each other's flaws and differences. It requires a lot more honesty and analysis than anyone wants to do, including me. A huge part of my Self emobodies all things carpe diem (my decade would have been the 60s). I love the warm-and-fuzzies of "Boo-dom" and living in the moment, ridin' it 'till the wheels clank by the side of the road. Who wants to dampen romance with pesky stuff like the imperfections we all want to forget?

We could spare ourselves a lot of pain if we just note the things we ignore about the people we deal with. We've all seen the teary-eyed men and women on talk shows discussing their partners' infidelity, drug problem, spending habits, or whatever. The host asks the inevitable: "Did you have any idea this was going on?" or "Didn't you notice this before?" Nine times out of ten, they did.

The point is not to get caught up in what we like, what feels good, what we have in common. The old adage is right: what’s too good to be true, probably is.


Anonymous said...

very informative! I am going to buy that book.


Anonymous said...

I agree with this in some areas and disagree in others. I think differences are important in a relationship.

First off, God NEVER makes clones. We're all unique. We all have differences. We all have differences/things that we can't STAND about our loved ones. However, when it comes to family, we say, "I hate that about my brother, but that's my brother and I love him." So, no matter how big the difference is, we sweep it under the rug. Why can't we do the same in our relationships?

Why can't we accept each other's likenesses and differences and realize that we can simply agree to disagree?

Certain areas are tougher than others. It's tough to be with someone who wants to smoke a blunt on Sun. morning while you're on your way to church. You come back and want to work out and he wants to finish off the blizzy from this am and then finish off the tostitos.

There are times when you and a person can be walking side by side in life, taking the same path. Then for no reason, the two will take different paths and still try to maintain the relationship. Not to say that one path is right and one is wrong, now they're just headed in different directions. When this happens during a marriage, the couple HAS to find a way to weather the storm.

Well, I speak for myself. I don't believe in divorce. Better or worse till death do us part. I'm taking vows before God, that I commit myself to you, and the only way out of this Holy Union is if you commit adultery.

However, if this happens pre-marriage, then a lot of times it's best to let it go. Looks like another love TKO.

~Dee Man

Delect said...

I agree with you on your point about family, how we are so forgiving when it comes to our family, our kids. No matter what they do, guess what...they're still fam. You don't leave them.

And ultimately, that IS what I want in marriage. Unconditional love. I want it and I want to be able to give it. Like you said, I'm not trying to get divorced. So with God's guidance, I'll wind up with someone whose differences are doable.

I really enjoyed researching this column because the book that's mentioned gives great insight on the idea of "difference." Differences in and of themselves are not bad, but for some things, people need to be on the same page.

A comedian (might've been Chris Rock) said two crack heads can stay together forever. Why? Because being a crack head is a specific type of intense lifestyle that both people have to be into it for the relationship to survive.

A personal example for me is my spirituality. Church. I love couples that worship together. And if one isn't there the other one still goes. I love that. I want that. Because I'm at church or participating in something at least three times a week, if not more. That is a major part of the life I want with my partner. That's an irreconcilable difference for ME.

Now, if Sally Sue (who is Christian) wants to marry Joel Goldstein and they celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas and get along fine, then apparently a difference of religion isn't that serious. It's "different" for everybody.

Anonymous said...

Okay, but what if you marry someone who's going to church. However, later, he falls away. He's not as close to God, and not going to church at all. Five years go by, and he doesn't have the slightest interest in attending, or hearing about it when you come home from church. Then what, is that an irreconcilable difference?
~Dee Man