In a relationship, at what point do different personalities mean incompatibility as opposed to a healthy challenge and an opportunity for self reflection and improvement? During an “argument” with my loved one last Friday night I realized that most of my shear frustration was not what we were discussing, rather it was more the idea that his perception of the incident and his interpretation of it varied so much from what I was attempting to explain and convey. As a therapist, my communication skills are practiced on a daily basis and I do my best to protect and exercise them in the work environment; however, the therapeutic ethics books knew what they were talking when they wrote in a clause that frowns upon dual relationships. The reason? When emotions are involved, communication etiquette can easily get tossed out the window, no matter your profession.
It’s a scientific fact that opposites attract. In the 8th grade science class, I remember doing experiment s involving magnets rejecting or pulling towards each other. I recall my teacher asking my class about the type of relationship that the magnets have. “What type of relationship do they have with each other?” my teacher would say. The answer? The proton looks for what it is missing; and vice versa. I recall thinking, “Why don’t they just be happy with what they have?” Even then I lived in a gray space.
Although the concept works very well in the methodical spectrum, is it fair to say that it also works the same in the natural world? During a communications class my senior year as an undergraduate student, my favorite professor, Dr. Orbe, discussed the scales of compatibility and communication that each one of us has a spot in. No surprise to myself (or anyone that knows me), the results of my test displayed the most extroverted on the scale, with the most emotional style of communication. I respond to discussion that utilizes the words “I feel” or “I hear you saying…” located somewhere in the sentence structure. I respond to people “speaking up” and getting things out on the table. I do not respond very well to logical arguments or concrete facts. So maybe it’s not a shock that I have ended up in a relationship with someone who lives in entirely in a world of black and white; a world of right and wrong.
As part of the communication education that I learned in Dr. Orbe’s class, I learned that although I may respond to things from a purely poignant position, I can adjust the way that I approach situations when dealing with someone that does not. I recall telling a friend a very personal piece of information about how I felt towards him, that was sure to have an effect; however I know that he tends to shut down when tears and emotion are tossed his way. The solution? I went through the emotional stuff beforehand so that I could talk to him in fashion that I knew he could hear. After all, there certainly is a difference between listening and hearing.
Of course compatibility comes in the form of sharing the same interests, having the same goals, and accepting the quirks, virtues, and vices that someone has. The hard part of it comes in the form of communication. I often wonder what it would be like to date someone like myself. Every time I leave my apartment, I have to go back for something I forgot. For the most part, I somehow kill all of my plants (and a select few snails, frogs, and fish). I’m often too loud, when I’m supposed to be quiet. I break nearly everything I touch. My dreams far outreach my budget, and I think hanging out with my parents is a great way to spend an evening. Granted, these are all part of my personality, however they are all merely situational. It’s the idea of dating someone that responds to circumstances the way I do and sees things from my own, dare I say, naive, “I wish we lived in a world where everything was uncomplicated and honest” perspective. Maybe it’s a good thing to be with someone that reacts on a much more rational level; someone that looks at a situation for its facts and its problem/solution ratio rather than the visceral reaction that it can provoke.
So whether you’re the emotional basket case, the strict factualist, or in the gray space between, how do you know when inaptness outweighs compatibility? Or is it a never ending balance of both parties sacrificing the desire to be understood at all times? As always…feedback is appreciated.