Attention — 02 June 2005
When what you loved most becomes annoying

When they met, it felt perfect. She was attracted to his calm, strong, contained and level-headed energy, he was drawn to her bubbly, outgoing and socially competent style. She knew right away that he was the man for her. She needed the “anchor” to stabilize her sometime excessive exuberance and his wisdom and steadiness could do just that. He was so enamored by her free, open and confident way with people that he found so intimidating. He knew that she would make happen whatever he thought needed to be done. What a perfect match!

They married, had children, successful careers and a busy and full life. Yet, as time passed they both began to view each other differently. They still saw what they originally identified as special in each other, but with life’s demands and their divergent personalities, the adjectives assigned to the partner changed.

When she wanted to engage in many social activities, he found it too taxing. When he chose to stay home and listen to his favorite music, she found it boring. When she wanted to decorate, remodel and expand the house, he found it excessive. When he wanted to save for the future, she found it limiting. In her frustration she begun to criticize him and he said less and less.

Now they described each other differently: What she originally termed calm, turned to withdrawn and unavailable, what was once strong, became selfish, the level-headed attribution got reclassified as restrictive. He too, changed his view of her qualities: The bubbly style was re-labeled obnoxious, the outgoing energy was now viewed as controlling, and the social skills were re-termed meddling in other people’s lives.

These partners became silently angrier and angrier at each other. He felt unsafe to express his views due to fear of her criticism and aggression, she felt rejected and abandoned by his silence and passivity. She could not access his strength and he saw her as loud and dangerous.

So what happened?

Their attractive traits showed their full spectrum, including their less appealing aspects. These partners failed to see that what they loved the most in each other could at times be most unpleasant and inconvenient.

What this couple failed to do is continue to support and appreciate their differences and affirm the value of these differences to their union. They neglected to state their specific expectations and preferences and failed to communicate well when frustrations arose.

All couples need to be aware that they chose their mates, in part, to help them balance the less developed side of them. We say that opposites attract: the bashful may prefer the forthright, the emotional mate may look for a more contained partner, and the highly verbal person may seek a good listener. Those matches provide each individual with the option of being him/herself and benefiting from the mate’s valued strengths.

Regardless of the basis for mate selection, there is a clear need to continue to appreciate your partner’s traits. Those attributes that meant so much to you during courtship are still there; they have only been less favorably re-named.

We also need to know that every positive trait contains some troublesome sides. The partner who tends to help and care for you so readily, is also likely to, at your inconvenience, do so for others. The highly active, goal oriented partner may accomplish many tasks, but may not be as available for play as you may wish. The adventuresome partner, who exposes you to the most amazing experiences, may at times stretch your sense of safety. The assertive partner, who protects the family, may also be too direct with you as well.

The couple in the above example failed talk to each other as soon as they began to be disenchanted with one another. Trying to be nice and avoid conflict they suffered quietly as their views of each other soured. When a definite problem arose, they allowed their fear, disrespect and non-confrontational attitude to derail them. He became more passive and silent, fearing her criticism and control; she became more agitated and loud attempting to evoke a response from him.

They also failed to realize that what pains them is also what enriches them and they would not want their partner to be any different than he or she is. He would feel much less safe in the world with a withdrawn partner and likewise, she would be less secure without his stability.

There is no need to feel unhappy about that which you most admire in your partner:

• Frequently voice your appreciation for your partner’s cherished traits. If you find yourself reassigning less positive adjectives to your partner, remind yourself that this is another manifestation of the same traits you also cherish. If you ask yourself, “Would I want my mate to be different?” you may discover that you love the trait and resent the occasional behavior associated with it.
• State the ways in which your partner’s assets become difficult for you. Be specific and offer a solution: “I love the way you volunteer your services for all these good causes. I also miss your presence at home. Could we agree on a schedule that will leave some time for us?”
• Negative thoughts about a partner are harmful to the thinker and the relationship. Rid yourself of them through talk and solutions. For every annoying behavior of your mate, list for yourself three pleasing ones.
• Plug repeated positive adjectives in your mind regarding your mate. It will keep you in love and your relationship will continue to flourish.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life.

Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions.

Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column “Relationship Matters” for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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