This was first published on KSL.COM
My marriage is in trouble because of some major differences. We have always disagreed on politics, but recently my spouse has also decided to leave the church we attend together and is very vocal about his feelings that all religions are false. This is driving a huge wedge between us because he basically hates something that I love. Plus, he is very confident and I am more insecure, so he makes me feel small for being a believer. How do you maintain a strong relationship when you are polar opposites in so many ways? Can you have a good relationship if you are this different from each other?
Yes, you can. It is possible to have a good, healthy relationship even though you are very different and have different beliefs — if you both can work on the following things:
1. Learn how your partner is wired
I am a big believer in personality types, love languages and other tools that help you understand how your partner sees and functions in the world. They help you get below the behavior and understand the fears and values that drive their behavior. You need to take stock of all the ways you are the same and different.
Make sure you know what issues trigger bad behavior in your partner and strive to make them feel safe with you every day. If they fear they aren’t good enough, you should be sensitive to that, avoid criticism and give lots of validation. If they fear loss or mistreatment, make sure they know your intent and that you would never mean to offend or take from them in any way. If they get triggered and upset, remember all bad behavior is a request for love, safety and reassurance.
For detailed instructions on how to do this, read last week's LIFEAdvice article.
2. Work on your self-esteem so differences aren’t so threatening
Your No.1 job is making sure you like yourself and are happy. When you like yourself and feel safe in the world, you can then create a healthy relationship. Also, make sure you know the difference between ego confidence and real, fearless confidence. Ego confidence is overcompensating for low self-worth and trying to pretend you don’t have it by acting strong and defensive. Real confidence comes from knowing your worth is infinite and not being afraid.
3. Develop a healthy mindset about your journey in life
Life is a classroom and we are all here for one reason: to learn and grow. When you keep this in mind, it's easier to see every experience as the perfect classroom you need to grow today. You can see how your current situation is here to give you and your spouse a chance to stretch in your abilities to love. It’s easy to love someone who is the same as you because they trigger no fears. A person who is vastly different from you pushes all your buttons and gives you a chance to work on yourself, your self-control, your maturity and your acceptance of others. I believe you marry your perfect teacher and your marriage is the most important classroom of your life.
4. See people as the same — not better or worse, or right or wrong
This is the most critical piece. Make sure you see all human beings (including your partner) as having the same value, no matter what they do or believe. You can disagree with their views, but don’t let their views influence their intrinsic value. Ellen DeGeneres taught this recently in defending her friendship with President George W. Bush. She explained that friendship (or any relationship) should not be based on having the same views.
5. Honor one another's beliefs and values
Make a promise to honor your partner’s beliefs and values, and ask them to honor yours. If you feel dishonored, talk about that in a mutually validating way. I have written many articles about how to have these safe, validating conversations. If you feel like the conversation is triggering one of you and is headed into a fight, call a timeout. Both agree to walk away and get yourself back in balance (safe instead of in a state of defensive fear) and try again.
Differences in religion are hard because they trigger a great deal of fear (since many value them of eternal consequence). You must both remember that neither of you can absolutely prove your religious views are true so, in the end, you are both choosing beliefs that work for you. Honor your partner's religious beliefs and their value in his or her life.
No matter what difference in belief or value is, see your partner as an equal and make it a rule to never talk down to him or her.
One final suggestion: Read this article together and ask what you can do to make your partner feel safe, honored and respected, and let him or her know what you need from them.
We get into trouble whenever we see any person, or group of people, as less, wrong, bad, or off-base and see ourselves as better, right, good or accurate. Humans tend to divide ourselves into groups and adopt arrogant, ego-driven ideas about how we are better. This is a tendency we have to become aware of and stop because I believe it is literally the cause of all the conflict on the planet.
If we can master some of the above suggestions first in our own homes, and create peace and love despite differences, we might bring peace to the rest of the planet. But it has to start with you and me.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.