Different Strokes: Attraction between opposites

Opposites attract, it is said. The big question is: do they remain attracted to each other, or do they drift apart after the early spark is gone?

Different Strokes: Attraction between opposites

Today, the word, "incompatibility," is an oft-used general expression.

It is also essentially used to explain the reason for a divorce, which, in actuality, means anything but reconcilable differences. So, you may well ask: is it "differences" that doom a marriage, or is it the inability of either one or both the partners to "reconcile" themselves to reality? Or, live happily with each other, despite such differences, and sometimes because of them?

Is it possible to cheerfully accept the differences in your partner, and you, instead of making them the sources of conflict? Is it possible for a relationship to be more enjoyable and enriching when you are with someone who is not just your reflection, but a person with a personality, so distinct and different from your own?

All of us are genetically, physiologically, psychologically, and historically different. Your conditioning is different, your experiences are different. You might have come from a different background and cultural upbringing, with different priorities and having a different set of values. Your frame of reference is, therefore, bound to be different from your partner in all matters. So, is it possible for two different people to co-exist and live in harmony?

The answer lies not in the differences, but in the awareness of those differences, and in the ability and willingness to find win-win ways of making the relationship a rewarding and fulfilling experience for both. In other words, to make a marriage tick, you should not allow the spirit of either one of the partners to be sacrificed. This is not all. It would also not be incorrect to say that it is not the differences, but what you do with them that determine the success or failure of a marriage.

Welcome addition

There are some differences and "unfamiliar" areas of life, which could, in fact, be welcome additions to your all-too-"familiar" lifestyle - e.g., different cultural traditions, new languages, different food habits, exciting hobbies etc., They could make your life more spicy and exhilarating.

Sarah married Rajesh, a nature lover, and learned the love of animals and the excitement of trekking, whereas Rajesh learned to enjoy the joyous spirit and revelries of Christian customs in a Goan family, not to mention mouth-watering Goan curries Sarah introduced him to. Both of them loved what they brought to each other's lives.

Inflexibility and imposition

On the other hand, Vikas was extremely autocratic in the way he laid down the law in the house. His pure vegetarianism and ritualistic upbringing made him restrict his Christian wife, Julie, in matters of food. Worse still, she could not enter the kitchen during her periods because his mother who was living with them would not want anything of it.

Listening to jazz and pop music was forbidden in the living room. The result was that though Vikas had initially said that it would be okay for her to have her kind of food outside the house, and she had felt that it would be okay, things started going wrong when Julie was pregnant, and she had cravings for fish and chips.

Vikas would not hear anything of it, because he felt that his child should be a vegetarian, and that Julie should not eat fish and meat during her pregnancy and/or breast-feeding. He also declared that she should not eat meat in front of the child at her parents' home or elsewhere so that he was not "wrongly" influenced. Besides, Vikas also wanted her to recite religious chants during pregnancy and after child-birth so that the child would benefit.

Julie was depressed and angry throughout the pregnancy. Her resentment only multiplied after childbirth when Vikas asked her to follow the ritual of keeping the kitchen "pure" during her periods by not entering it. The inconvenience of not being able to get food for herself, or for her baby during her periods without her mother-in-law being around, and the forced rituals and chanting, was totally unacceptable by her. She left Vikas on the grounds of inflexibility and also because she felt claustrophobic in his household.

The message: it was possible for Vikas to co-exist in harmony with mutual respect for each other's food preferences and religious values by negotiating a win-win scenario - where neither imposed their values on each other, and allowed the child to be exposed to both and/or decide his preferences for himself when he came of age. Unfortunately, Vikas chose to unbendingly hold on to and impose his personal fancies, or fads, on food and religious values.

So, there it is - though it is possible to co-exist with differences in religious or political ideologies, or matters of food and entertainment, it is often inflexibility and imposition on the part of one or both partners that bring disaster to a marriage.

Take the Middle Path

There are some very vital and closely-shared areas of a relationship in which differences can completely erode the very fabric of your relationship. A lifestyle difference of partying and free-flowing spirits or alcohol for one and curling up with a book or favourite TV show at home or going for a walk on the beach, for the other, can lead to a lack of companionship.

Differences in financial values where one wants to spend freely and often impulsively and the other wants to budget and save for tomorrow, or one wants to keep separate accounts, and the other wants everything to be joint, can create bitterness and distance. Also, differences in parenting values where one parent spoils the child by providing too much too soon, and the other believes in teaching the child to value money and not give in impulsively for instant gratification, can stoke trouble for both.

Also, disciplinary measures for children may vary in both, thus causing stress and strain in the couple's relationship. Loyalties to one's parents, as opposed to loyalty to one's own unit, i.e., one's spouse and children, can cause major problems that doom a marriage - if loyalties are different. Sex, of course, dooms many a marriage with one partner demanding certain sexual behaviour/s which is unacceptable to the other. Also, difference in sexual values where one partner values sexual exclusivity in the marriage, whereas the other wants an open marriage, can end many a marriage.

Last, but not the least, differences in physical hygiene, where one is sweaty and smells badly or reeks of alcohol and cigarette smoke and expects intimacy in the same state, while the other will not accept anything less than a freshly bathed partner in intimacy, can also amusingly separate many a couple.

Sonia and Vinay separated because Vinay wanted her to accept an "open marriage." Sonia believed in exclusivity and commitment. When Vinay demanded what she called "perverted sexual acts" from her, it was the end of the road for their marriage.

Khorshed and Sarosh had differences in money matters. They had separate accounts on Khorshed's insistence. Sarosh resented having to bear all the household expenses from his income. The marriage fell apart because Khorshed wanted a separate account to spend freely for herself as she saw Sarosh as a miser. She thought that "it's my money and not your money" would keep him quiet when she made a personal purchase. On the other hand, Sarosh thought it was untenable - Khorshed not wanting to be a part, but live as two independent individuals. It was because of this he would resent spending on home expenses and expected her to equally share those expenses. He disliked the idea that "his" money was for joint expenses, but "her" money was purely hers. Result: the duo fell apart on this one issue.

Inference? It is imperative, that, in spite of differences, it is possible to meet somewhere in the middle. This can happen if both partners introspect within themselves and resolve to change their own flawed and rigidly-held beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, habits and behaviours.

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Minnu Bhonsle
Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre

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