Driving You Crazy

how to improve your relationshipIt’s the formula for classic romance. It’s why Harry runs to Sally in the middle of the night in When Harry Met Sally. It’s why Noah tells Allie, “We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you,” in The Notebook. And it’s why Mark makes his “just as you are” speech in Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Sometimes opposites attract.

We can easily fall in love with people who are very different from us. It’s common for us to be drawn to people who are very much like us in some ways, and very different in others. It can make for an exciting adventure.

And, it can also be trying.

As a relationship develops, we inevitably reach the point that we have to deal with those differences. Some of the very things that were interesting and cute at first have the potential to become real obstacles later. What do you do, then?

Traditional couple’s therapy says to work toward improving positive feelings and interactions by encouraging both of you to change. Break the habits that frustrate the other person, undermining your connection. Embrace the things that build the two of you closer. It’s a proven method.

But there’s another approach.

Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy, or IBCT, focuses more on teaching you to accept the differences between you and your partner. When both halves of a couple relax about the fact that their partner is going to do a few things that annoy them, the relationship often improves. The annoying things suddenly annoy you less because you’re not focused on them. Plus, you don’t have to worry about making big changes before allowing yourself to take a deep breath and enjoy what’s good.

Basically, either you work to create change, or you work to accept him. So, which is better?

That depends.

If your number one goal is short-term improvement in emotional closeness, accepting your partner the way he is will get you there faster every time. It’s immediate stress relief, and it doesn’t even require a long relationship talk.

But if you’re in a long-term relationship and concerned that a specific pattern of behavior is going to eventually drive you and your partner apart; that approach won’t work. In that case, you may need to buckle down and work with your partner to find compromises and solutions.

Be warned, though. Working to create change will cause some additional distress in the short term. The payoff only comes after you’ve worked through it.

There is also a third option I’d like to suggest. Combine the two.

Try to be as accepting as you can of your partner. When he does things that drive you crazy, accept him as he is right now. Acceptance is power. It empowers you to work toward change from a mental state of relaxed strength rather than desperation or anger. Share your feelings and your desire for him to make some adjustments.

This approach relieves stress in the moment and still leaves the door open for long-term change.

how to improve your relationshipMake a decision based on your relationship goals. If you need quick relief, work on accepting him, quirks and all. If you want to guarantee long-term intimacy, start talking to him about the things you can’t accept.

No matter how wonderful another person is, you will always have differences. Focus on the ways you enrich each other’s lives. Accept your differences to reduce your own stress. Enjoy everything you can about your partner. It’s a formula for relationship success.

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8 thoughts on “Driving You Crazy

  1. Amee said:

    What do I do when the thing I have to accept about him is that he does not accept me. I constantly have this heavy feeling in my chest that I will never meet up to the standards he expects. Like he is disappointed in me as a whole package. There is never any affirmation just criticism but he gives it in quiet non- confrontal way so he feels he is doing nothing wrong. I am also in the third year of my psychology degree an I happen to know that he is projecting these things onto me. I am not saying I do no wrong but I really try and I do consider all of his criticism. He has to fix him and he has no problem with himself. We have been married 12 years. I just want unconditional love. Is that too much to hope for?

  2. Anette said:

    Oups, sorry – bad spelling.

    We *Are* able to live relatively peaceful together. Our various differences stems from other things at least 😉

    He’s a wonderful man, he gives me so much emotional backup and support and shows his love in every romantic fashioned way one can imagine. But… He is just a night sleeper. And that’s how it is. None of us are wrong – we’re just very different. Control/structure/morning person meets laize faire/loose/night owl – recipe for disaster or a daring challenge if you’re up for it 🙂

  3. Anette said:

    Oh my – I’d really say your blog post hits the spot right there.

    My BF and I are almost opposite in every way – from the outside look and style to our sleeping habbits. I’m a morning person – he’s a night person. Literally. He sits up in the nights and for a long time we struggled (mostly I) with accepting the fact that he didn’t feel the need to go to bed. I took it as an offense. He usually tuck in around 4:00 – 6:00 AM – just around when my system is about to prepare to wake up. And when he came in to the bedroom and got to sleep I woke up not able to sleep more but still without enough sleep. Over time I got rather cranky!

    Luckily we found a solution: When he turns in for sleep, he takes the couch. Then, when I get up around 8 AM, I wake him up, and then he returns to the bedroom where he sleeps untill 3 PM.
    In the meantime I get my alone time while he sleeps. It have worked wonders for us. We respect each other’s habbits and is not able to live relatively peaceful together.

    He has agreed to get up earlier and go to sleep earlier if we have an important appointment or are going out together. Maybe this can offer some help to other couples with different sleep habbits 🙂

    • caroline said:

      Annette thank you for your post. Me and my fella are so different in every way. We are apart at the moment and so I have time to consider and I’m confused. We have exactly the same issue you write about he sleeps at 9pm to me this is still evening. I stay up late. He smokes I don’t he likes heavy rock I hate it. I like to live a little healthy he won’t. I like sun he likes cold. I like decor he likes white walls.
      I have trouble accepting the way he is, but I see you are making ways to work through the differences.

      • Mary said:

        I was in the same boat as you for 15 years…..and if you have that many differences in lifestyle, let me tell you, it’s miserable! I finally dropped him, and I am beaming with life all over again. I will never take “accept him for what he is” ever again…….especially if there are THAT many differences! Life is too short to stay miserable in a relationship that is sooo wrong.

  4. Julie said:

    I so desperately needed to hear this. I am struggling so much today with the need to hear him say affirming things to me. He doesn’t. He shows his love through action. I also think at times he holds back verbal and physical affection because it shows too much vulnerability. I know if I were to leave he would be very upset. But, I think he might be a little to comfortable with my accepting “who he is and how he is”. There is only what I mentioned that I would change. Its the only thing I cant stand. It hurts. But, maybe I put too much weight on it. Maybe its me?

    James, Thank you for all of your advice. It has helped me. I was married 20 years. I hated getting the divorce. I loved being married. But, that relationship had to end. I reconnected with someone I knew in high school. He is fantastic with my kids and we work great together and I adore his children. We have tons of fun together. Sometimes I think I pay for his ex’s mistakes. Not sure what it is. But, I need that verbal and physical reassurance on occasion. Like once a week, a hug that isn’t initiated by me. Or tell me I am pretty just once a month or so. Again, maybe I am asking too much. Or just not asking it in the right way.

    I will keep watching your posts and taking your advice.



  5. Maggie said:

    As if like by magic, you’ve done it again…here was your message just when I was stressing about my love not texting and calling as often as I would like…now that you’ve taught me to focus on the good and that acceptance is Power…I’m no longer feeling unhappy and am celebrating having this wonderful man in my life!!!

    Thank you once again James!…:))))

    • James Bauer said:

      Glad that was useful to you, Maggie. 🙂


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