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How the Differences in Your Relationship Can Be Gifts

“We need not think alike to love alike.” ~Ferenc David

Our commonalities were small, insignificant perhaps, but being in high school, we were both uninterested in comparing notes on religious beliefs or political affiliation. I appreciated his humor and he my smile, and that was the end of that—until we became bona fide adults, that is.

After a year of bliss and a few declarations of, “no, we don’t fight at all!” we began to notice the things that set us apart and the experiences that shaped us in vastly different ways.

He came from a broken family while mine was still firmly in tact; he was staunchly conservative while I leaned more to the left; I could be labeled “New Age,” while his religious upbringing was more traditional.

Firmly rooted in what I believed to be “right,” I ignored the differences in hopes that we could eventually learn to think and believe the same way.

This, as you might have guessed, never happened.

With these monumental differences laid out in front of us, we had every reason in the world to say our goodbyes and move on. But it was in our decision to stick together that we learned far more about who we were as individuals than we would have had we found carbon copies of ourselves.

We certainly didn’t think alike, but we loved alike. And in doing so we both learned some of life’s sweetest lessons.

Lesson #1: Right and wrong is a matter of perception.

When it comes to religion and politics, most of us choose what we think is right. The right way to run a country, the right way to reach a higher power—the list is extensive. But oftentimes our idea of what is right is simply a perception that stems from our life experiences thus far—how we were raised, what we learned in school, and what type of community we grew up in.

This doesn’t mean that our beliefs as individuals aren’t valid. It simply allows us to paint the world in shades of gray instead of strictly in black and white, thus opening the door to acceptance and growth.

So convincing others that what we believe is right isn’t our job. Our job is to respect that other beliefs, opinions, and thoughts are worthy of consideration too.

Lesson #2: Differences open doors to new experiences.

It’s in our nature as humans to gravitate towards those who have interests similar to our own. And in many ways, this serves us well. On the other hand, it doesn’t leave much room for experiencing all that life has to offer.

Shortly after high school, my significant other joined the military, taking me on a journey that I wouldn’t voluntarily have chosen for myself. Along the way I met people and did things that have profoundly shifted my view of the world for the better.

I wouldn’t have had the privilege of experiencing these things if I hadn’t been willing to look beyond what was familiar.

By opening ourselves up to another way of living and being, we can make more educated decisions about what we want our own lives to look like. These varied life experiences allow us to express ourselves more fully and be more authentically present in the world.

Lesson #3: Problems we see in others are issues we have with ourselves.

When relationships reach a rocky patch or fail altogether, it’s easy to cite another person’s flaws as the culprit. Pointing fingers is, after all, far easier than self-examination.

Yet, if you recognize that all your relationships, romantic or otherwise, serve as a mirror for yourself, you’d realize that these “flaws” are present in you too. Getting angry or irritated after recognizing them in someone else means that you are denying them in yourself and not fully accepting the “bad” with the “good.”

With personalities on opposite ends of the spectrum, there were things I saw in my significant other that I would have given anything to change. And in concentrating on them, they seemed to grow, expand, and become even more irritating. But if I accepted and loved them in him and in myself, they seemed to dissipate.

Strange how things work.

While I never sat down to write a concrete list of qualities I expected in a mate, from the time I was young I carried with me the idea that when two people entered into a relationship, they were meant to fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Destiny, I thought, should be easy.

What I learned is that fitting together doesn’t mean finding yourself in someone else. It means learning to reexamine who you thought you were and bending to grow together. It means seeing the world through a different lens, and accepting that you may not have all the answers.

It’s not easy. But the most worthwhile things rarely are.

Photo by mikebaird

Avatar of Kayla Albert

About Kayla Albert

Kayla Albert is a Social Media Specialist by day and a personal growth blogger by night. You can follow her on twitter @KaylaAlbert33 or check out more of her writing samples at www.kaylaalbert.com.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Greg Miernicki

    Sometimes I have to remind myself of the benefits that can be had from choosing a life partner from half way around the world. Being 2 completely different people, as much as possible in fact, like 2 different sides of a magnet definitely has its challenges.

    However, it also has great and very deep rewards.

    It’s very interesting to me as of late how you have to experience everything in life, ups and downs, hots and colds, love and hate, to truly live. Like they say in the movies, the sweet just isn’t as sweet without the sour.

  • http://www.veganadvantage.com Sylvia Black

    I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about Lesson #3. I find it does help me resolve difficulties sometimes – when someone else does something that annoys me, I ask myself if I’m guilty of sometimes doing the same thing. Usually I am, and then I ask what I need to do to resolve this problem in myself. It helps sometimes just to accept the parts of me that I don’t like or don’t want to acknowledge as well as working towards changing them

  • http://www.eighteen04.net Stewart S

    This is a very tough post.  I agreed with it whole-heartedly.  I’m actually reeling from a very recent breakup, devestated because I changed what I envisioned my life to be, in order to be with her.  She, however, has an X, Y, and Z approach to life which was unyeilding.  We both love each other deeply and truly. It actually was tough for her to let me go, but felt her life laid on another path.  Being true to herself despite the pain she caused me is an admirable trait, yes, but wouldn’t bending her path as the article suggests be just as admirable?

    Just yesterday, I came to the realization that while our love was the most amazing thing either of us had felt, it simply wasn’t enough to sustain our differences.  That’s the exact oposite of this article’s theory.  Hmmm… a difficult article for me indeed.  To accept it’s theory is to accept that I was actually the stronger partner.  Perspective is an odd mistress sometimes.

    Beautifully written, Kayla and definitly giving me pause to think.

    -Stewart

  • http://twitter.com/chaicreativity Dave Rowley

    Viewing our relationships as a mirror of our own lives is such a useful practice. As you point out, it’s a great way to see our own shortcomings as we project them out into the world. 

    I’ve done a lot of community development work in the past and built up some strongly held political views through my experience. One thing I try to do is loosen my grip on those views, and be more willing to let other viewpoints in. Even if I disagree with someone, we still have a lot to learn from each other and it seems a shame to cut that opportunity off.

  • Kayla Albert

    Hi Dave-

    I agree completely. Different viewpoints are what make the world go ’round, so why not appreciate the opportunity so see things a little differently?

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  • Kayla Albert

    Stewart-

    I’m so sorry to hear about your breakup, that is certainly one of the toughest things to deal with. 

    Unfortunately to make a relationship with so many differences work, you both have to be in it whole-heartedly. If nothing else, maybe the relationship broadened your horizons and made you see the world from an entirely new perspective. 

    Thank you so much for the positive feedback. 

  • Kayla Albert

    Sylvia-

    Yes! It can really tough to recognize certain traits in yourself when you’d rather just blame someone else, but the reward is so much greater when you do. 

    Thanks for reading!

  • Kayla Albert

    Greg-

    I agree whole-heartedly. Being with someone that comes from a completely different background can be a HUGE challenge but it also comes with HUGE rewards. 

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Caitlin

    Beautiful… I read snippets to my husband. We are very different, and have clashed a lot along our journey. Thanks for the post! Best of luck in your relationship. xoxo

  • Mikeschurko

    Great post Kayla!

         It’s amazing how we can learn to co-exist in our individual life experiences.  We are all unique, and will always find grounds to agree and disagree, so more important than finding a “perfect” partner, is learning the ability to understand that other’s opinions are right to them, be as supportive of each other as possible, and grow together as individuals!

    Keep up the great work!

  • Neha Gupta

    Great post Kayla!

    In India we have this concept of “arranged marriage”. You meet the boy a couple of times and in those few meetings decide, if this is the person you want to spend your life with. I always wonder, if I am ever in that situation what would I do.. on what basis would I make that decision … Wouldn’t you rather pick someone with similarities because at that point you don’t know if the differences are something you can live with. But after reading your post i feel maybe what you need to see is if you “love alike” and the rest will fall into place.

  • Anonymous

    “Lesson #1: Right and wrong is a matter of perception.” This is something that I have struggled with especially in my last relationship.  I wanted to control him and thought it had to be my way or no way.  Obviously this wasn’t the best way to have a relationship.  Needless to say that with some other issues, caused us to break-up.  But in the time after, I had time to reflect and grow and realize that just because I believe something to be right, it’s just that a belief and it can be changed and not everyone will agree with my beliefs.

  • http://twitter.com/whitespacelover poNg

    thank you! ;-)

  • adult forum

    There are some interesting points in time in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well

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  • Talkingmylifeaway

    wow, this really spoke to me! thanks!

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  • http://melodieofmovement.com Melodie Of Movement

    “ It means seeing the world through a different lens, and accepting that you may not have all the answers.”

    Beautifully put. Thank you

  • Reneeb4

    Thank you so much for this contribution!  This is truly insightful and incredibly eye-opening. 

    This piece got to me the most: ”learning to reexamine who you thought you were and bending to grow together”I really appreciate your break down of the fundamental differences in a relationship and how to embrace those differences in order to grow together.  I like that you don’t discount the individual, you simply find ways to utilize individual differences to function as a coherent team.

  • Erin

    I love this article. My significant other and I are complete opposites. In the beginning, I was interested in being perfect around him, until I realized that he was just being himself the whole time. We used to fight a lot as we are complete opposites, but the second I decided to accept him completely as he was as opposed to trying to change him, things got better. We still disagree every once in a while but we have so much more fun because we accept each other as we are, without judgement and without trying to change each other. We just try to understand, accept, and move on. This article really spoke to me, thank you. 

  • Sarah Lewis

    Thank you Kayla for putting words to my feelings. My partner and I have been living together for a few months now and are really being to see the differences between us, although we also have plenty in common. I’ve believed from the start that our acceptance of each other as we are is the key to us weathering storms. You’ve confirmed this and also helped me see that not only can we survive our differences but that they are of great potential value.