Do you have a friend who is always late, but you put up with it because she’s always there for you no matter what? Or what about that friend who constantly complains about her life and takes no action to improve it, but you accept that about her because you know she’s in a tough spot?
If you mentally scroll through your friend list, none of them are perfect. You take the good with the bad with your friends because you think they’re awesome, they add richness to your life, and they support you. Chances are when you see them, you have no plans on fixing them.
Do you do the same with your partner?
Well, if you’re like most of my clients: probably not. Perhaps you wish your partner was more organized. Or maybe better with money. Or more romantically expressive.
In my years as a relationship counselor, I’ve discovered that what makes happy couples successful is that they recognize the uniqueness of their partner, have no plans on changing each other, and learn to live with the inevitable differences that come with any relationship.
That’s right. Inevitable differences. Let me explain.
Not all “issues” can be solved—and that’s OK.
Research shows that 69 percent of relationship problems are perpetual. That means even in absolutely terrific relationships, couples deal with the same problems over and over again, triggered by differences in personality, lifestyle, values, dreams, needs, childhood, and life experiences.
Couples can easily get stuck because they criticize each other, make the other feel wrong, and overall convey a lack of acceptance of one another when dealing with these unsolvable issues. But the thing is: This only exasperates the problem. Even if they were to change partners, they would simply swap a different set of problems.
The good news is that having perpetual issues is entirely normal. These kinds of problems don’t have a solution; rather, they need to be managed and not solved. It’s how you handle them that makes all the difference in whether your relationship will be happy.
Honoring your partner and compromising is key. Here are six ways to handle perpetual issues:
01. Recognize that you’re dealing with a perpetual issue.
Consider the kinds of flaws or quirks you and your partner have always had. Perhaps he has the tendency to micromanage during stressful situations. Perhaps you’re not very good at cleaning up after yourself. Then ask: Did you or your partner have these inclinations while you were dating? Are these issues you’ve dealt with outside of your relationship? If the answer is yes, you’re most likely dealing with a perpetual issue.
02. Look at the specific differences that are creating conflict.
If your partner is chronically late but you’ve accepted that and don’t pick a fight when he is late, it’s not really a problematic perpetual issue. However, if you are annoyed and a fight ensues every other week because your partner has made you late again, then it’s the kind of issue that will need to be addressed and is worth a conversation.
03. Convey acceptance.
During this conversation, use affection, humor, and an overall positive attitude when talking about these issues causing conflict. The way you talk to your partner about these issues can either lead to ongoing, positive dialogue or cause a chronic feeling of rejection and hurt. You want to show your partner that you accept him—preferences, values, and quirks—just the way he is. Not only is this step more loving, but by going this route your partner will actually be more likely to take initiative and make behavior modifications—simply because they feel liked and appreciated as they are.
04. Identify the underlying reasons for each other’s tendencies or stances.
Your partner has valid reasons for why he acts, thinks, and feels the way he does. So sit down and talk about where these beliefs come from. This will make it much, much easier to empathize and understand. You’ll soon discover these tendencies will be wrapped in your partner’s values, hopes, aspirations, dreams, and even experiences from his childhood or adulthood. Ultimately, they’ve become attributes tied to his identity and perhaps even what gives him a purpose to his life.
Keep in mind that what you think is not necessarily better than what your partner thinks: It’s just different. The goal here is to understand, not necessarily to agree.
05. Name your non-negotiables.
Talk to your partner about what you’re both unwilling to budge on. What do you really need to see from your partner? Does the toilet seat really need to be down? Or is there something more important? You’ll want to keep your non-negotiables to a minimum. What can’t you live without? Or what behavior drives you so crazy that you want it to stop? Things can become rather touchy during this part of the conversation, so take breaks when you need them—and refer to #4 frequently, so you both understand where you’re coming from.
06. Recognize areas where you can be flexible.
If you want a loving relationship, you’re not going to get things your way all the time, so in what ways can you be flexible? Specifically, think about the when, where, and how. When doesn’t it matter if he’s exactly on time? Where is it OK for you to be a little messy? How will you handle things when you both disappoint each other when you’re too busy?
Compromise won’t always feel perfect, but it’s necessary for you both to be honored and for your relationship to always “win.”
You can’t get everything that you want in a significant other, just like you can’t get everything from your friends. Before you start swapping problems, jumping from one relationship to the next, accept there will be inevitable differences even with your most compatible match—and that you’ll just need to manage those differences with respect, humor, and affection.