I think one of the hardest things about dating is figuring out if the conflicts and/or differences you’re having with your partner are the result of the fact that we’re all different/flawed human beings and no relationship is perfect, or if the conflicts/differences are signs that this relationship is not the right fit for you. This can be a particularly difficult decision if you just want this relationship TO. WORK. SO. BADLY.
Last week, I introduced you to one of my favorite books, and the best book on dating that I’ve read to date: How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk by Dr. John Van Epp.
Dr. Van Epp outlines three areas to assess when considering your compatibility with your partner. They are: chemistry, complementarity, and comparability. Last week, I outlined some benefits of chemistry, as well as how chemistry can emit fog over the critical thinking parts of our brains, which can affect our judgment when it comes to choosing a partner. Dr. Van Epp provides some great questions to consider in his book regarding how to assess if the “love feelings” you’re experiencing are chemistry or just a temporary fireworks show. You can read last week’s blog post here.
Today’s word of the day is: complementarity. (My spell check keeps underlining it in red, but I’m copying the word straight from Dr. Van Epp’s book, and it shows up on Google dictionary, so spell check will have to deal.) Dr. Van Epp defines complementarity as “the extent to which differences benefit both partners.” In other words, opposites may attract and when they do, both people benefit, as opposed to one person overtaking another. Allow me to share a personal example of how complementarity can work to your benefit.
I am (and always have been) extremely frugal, probably to the point where you could call me cheap. Ask my childhood best friend about our shopping trips to the mall in high school together. I would stare at myself in an outfit for several minutes, analyzing all the different ways and places I could wear it if I purchased it. It was almost painful for me to make decisions like this (and it’s not like I was shopping at Coach or Gucci – we’re talking Gap, Old Navy, here). My agonizingly thorough decision-making was not necessarily a product of a sense of responsibility, but it was largely prompted by fear – if I parted with my hard-earned $50 of babysitting money for this outfit, what would happen if I needed or wanted that $50 for something better down the road?
Fast forward to meeting, dating, and marrying my husband, who happens to be an accountant. Being married to an accountant has been an extremely freeing and eye opening experience for me. My husband understands money (this should go without saying, given his occupation!). He is frugal and responsible, saves and invests. Unlike myself, he doesn’t live in fear of money. Sure, there’s some anxiety when unexpected expenses come up, but he pulls out our budget spreadsheet and readjusts our plan. As a result of knowing what our parameters are for spending money on certain things, I feel freedom knowing I can buy a shirt or phone charger for the car (long story…) because it’s in our budget, and won’t cause us to go broke because we’ve already planned for these things.
Dr. Van Epp writes that “people are attracted to those qualities they lack, and they want to vicariously experience and learn. In many cases, you end up adopting some of your partner’s strengths because of your union with that partner.” Even though I know I could leave budgeting up to my husband completely because he’s good at it and I trust him, I want to be involved in the process because I want to learn how to not let my fear of money control me. And in the time we’ve been married, I’ve felt money’s grip on me loosen quite a bit, especially as he’s sat with me and discussed our saving, spending, and investing accounts for the hundredth time.
I decided to ask my husband if and how my frugal spending habits have rubbed off on him. He referred to this past Saturday night, when he invited some friends over to watch the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight. He said: “You have emboldened me to ask other people to kick in their fair share for things that previously I would have just paid for myself. For example, the pre-Julie version of me would have just paid $100 for the fight on Saturday night and not asked the guys who came over to pay for anything. But you’ve helped me realize that it is not unreasonable or stingy to ask others to contribute and I shouldn’t feel obligated to always ‘pick up the check’ for everyone, and thus I asked each of the guys to kick in $10 on Saturday. I think this is due not only to your frugality, but also you helping to reinforce my sense of worth and standing up for what I deserve, so to speak.”
I was really surprised by his response! My frugality actually challenged my husband’s sense of obligation, reminded him of his worth, and influenced him to advocate for himself? Maybe this is what he has in mind, when Dr. Van Epp writes: “No personality has it all, and a healthy blend of differing personality styles broadens your perspective, reinforces autonomy in you and your partner’s identity, and promotes stimulating discussions and perspectives.”
So, how do you determine if you and your partner’s differences will help or hinder your relationship?
Dr. Van Epp recommends some guidelines:
- Acknowledge the differences between you and your partner. Again, he refers back to the importance of giving your relationship TIME. At the beginning of a relationship, the love chemicals are flowing strong, building the potential for heavy chemistry fog. Eventually, the fog will lighten, and each other’s differences will emerge. Recognize and identify these, so that you are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your differences.
- Reach agreements that result in mutual gain. Conflicts due to personality differences are inevitable. “However,” Dr. Van Epp says, “if you are moving toward complementarity, these battles should not conclude with one partner dominating the other.” This may be where compromise or taking turns comes in.
- Appreciate each other’s differences. Although I sometimes gawk at my husband’s ability to easily drop money on things, like a Steph Curry jersey, I appreciate the fact that he is unafraid to spend money because he knows what the parameters are and he is unafraid to spend within those parameters, whereas I would have the tendency to over-analyze the purchase: “the Warriors aren’t even your favorite team,” “when are you ever going to wear that?,” “you don’t live in the Bay Area or even a city with a NBA team!” And apparently, my husband appreciates the fact that I don’t spend money out of obligation or fear of appearing “stingy!”
Some other questions to consider when finding out if you and your partner can complement each other well:
- How often do you and your partner become locked in power struggles?
- Do you feel criticized or put down by your partner?
- What do you respect and not respect about your partner?
Again, check out Dr. Van Epp’s awesome book, How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, on Amazon here. I’ll be back next week to write my final review in this series about assessing your compatibility with your partner.
Van Epp, J. (2007). How to avoid falling in love with a jerk: The foolproof way to follow your heart without losing your mind. United States of America: The McGraw-Hill Companies.