“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other.
Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”

– Katherine Hepburn

Anyone who knows us will tell you that Bob and I have plenty of differences. I’m more practical and Bob is more philosophical. I’m the neat, organized one, while Bob is more carefree and relaxed. We are opposites in many ways. We use those differences to stretch each other, though we used to argue about our differences.

We had conflict about which way was right and which way was wrong. Was it more important for me to have everything put away at night or for us to spend time together? Did we have to be exactly on time, or could it be that running a few minutes late wasn’t the end of the world, and wasn’t worth arguing about? We finally realized we were both right.

When we stopped making each other wrong for our differences, we recognized how to use them in a more positive way. I helped Bob organize and attend to more of the details in our life. He helped me develop patience and learn to relax. I helped him speed up and he helped me slow down.

Do you and your partner blame each other for your differences?

In practice we hear:

  • You leave the house such a mess. VS You want the house to look perfect.
  • You make too many plans. VS You don’t want to do anything.
  • You spend too much money. VS You don’t save for our retirement.
  • I need more intimacy. VS I need more space.
  • Let’s relax on vacation. VS We have to see all the sights on vacation.
  • You always fight when we differ. VS You always leave when we disagree.

The usual pattern is that our differences are overlooked in the beginning when we are in the honeymoon stage. Down the road we start to blame our partners for not being like us. We fall into the trap of making our way right and making our partner’s way wrong. Then we judge and criticize them for doing things their way. The result: chronic arguments about these differences.

Most couples have significant differences in their personalities and ways of living. Opposites do attract. The key to staying together forever is to learn how to accept, respect and manage these differences, instead of allowing them to become stumbling blocks.

Just how do you do manage your biggest differences when your partner’s messiness or overspending drives you crazy? Communicate.

Here are 5 steps to manage your biggest differences:

  1. Acknowledge your differences without making each other wrong.
    For instance, some people feel better when their house is organized. Clutter on the outside makes their insides feel cluttered and closed in. That’s me. I don’t know why clutter annoys me, but it does. I can’t concentrate or relax unless things around me are in reasonable order. Others, like Bob, would rather relax then straighten up and the mess doesn’t bother them. No one is right or wrong. Our brains just work differently. Over the years we have both come into the center.
  2. Communicate your feelings about the issue to each other, one at a time and hear your partner’s point of view.
    For example, ask, “Help me understand your need for organization.” “Help me understand how you can leave things disorganized.” Be interested in the difference and curious about it, instead of judging or invalidating it.
  3. Listen and acknowledge your partner’s feelings, even if it makes no sense to you.
    You may never truly understand why your partner needs the house tidy, or why it doesn’t bother you, but believe each other that the feelings are real.
  4. Agree to respect your differences instead of trying to make it about right and wrong.
    For example, say, “I recognize you would rather relax, and I want to clean up.” Try to come to center; e.g., “Why don’t we clean a little and then relax.” Or, “Let’s relax tonight and tomorrow I will work with you to straighten up.”
  5. Figure out action steps as a team to make it work for both of you.
    For instance, agree that you will make sure the house is clean and neat when you have company coming, and on some weeknights. And, if you are not finished straightening up by 9pm, you will leave it for the next day and relax.

Following these steps has helped us and many of the couples we have worked with. It is an exercise in putting the relationship above your individual needs. Partners who want to stay together for a lifetime develop the ability to accept each other and love each other, despite their different ways. And isn’t that what commitment is all about?


Your relationship deserves the highest level of support. Relationship Experts, Bob and Lori Hollander are committed to helping individuals and couples build connection and deepen bonds in a world that often makes it difficult.

Call them at 410-363-2825 or email them today, info@relationshipswork.com.


Photo credit Tijana Prodanov on 123rf