Differences – How Healthy Marriages Welcome Them – Ryan Couples Therapy

Differences: How Healthy Marriages Welcome Them

Practice #4 of 6 Core Practices to Create a Healthy Marriage

My ebook, Transform Your Relationship: 6 Core Practices to Create a Healthy Marriage, details essential practices you and your partner can work on to strengthen your connection and build a better relationship.

The fourth practice I write about in the ebook is Accept, Welcome and Integrate the Differences.

If you want a great example of how to accept, welcome and integrate the differences between you and your partner to create a healthy marriage, please watch RBG, the documentary on the life and work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

My husband and I just watched this documentary and I felt a lump in my throat for most of it for two reasons: first, because this tiny woman has been one of the strongest power-houses for women’s rights and equality; and second, because of the relationship she had with her husband.

Healthy Marriages: Individuals Who are Strongly Connected

As a couples therapist who wants to help couples create relationships that thrive, I was inspired to see the relationship that Ruth Bader Ginsberg had with her husband, Marty.

Their relationship thrived because of two things:

1. Each of them was supportive of the other’s individuality.

2. Each of them nurtured a strong bond that allowed them to truly and deeply understand each other.

These two things are at the core of healthy, strong, and intimate relationships. It is essential that each partner feels they have the space, time, and freedom to pursue their life’s work, purpose, and joy.

It is also essential that each partner nourishes their connection to each other based on a foundation of integrity, curiosity, time together that is enriching, and intentional effort.

The Positive Feedback Loop of Support

Ruth’s and Marty’s support and respect of each other blossomed because of their integrity, continuous curiosity, and intention.

The more they understood each other, the more they supported and respected the other.

And the more they supported and respected each other, the more committed they were to cultivating deep understanding.

The Key Elements in Healthy Marriages

When couples can support, respect, and understand each other not only in the good, easy times but also during conflict or times of distress (we all have those days), they create a healthy marriage.

Some of the key elements in healthy marriages are: acceptance of the differences, welcoming the differences, and integrating the differences into a relationship that thrives.

In order to do this, each partner must be self-aware, other-aware, attuned with curiosity, and intentional in their commitment to create a marriage that can grow and be strengthened over time.

Mutual Support and Reciprocity

Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her husband easily reciprocated their support of each other depending on what was going on for each of them.

They did this when:

  • Ruth organized a team of peers to help Marty keep up with his law school demands when he was sick.
  • Ruth moved to NYC and left Harvard Law school after her second year (she finished at Colombia) when Marty got a job in the city as a tax attorney.
  • Marty moved to Washington D.C. when Ruth was nominated to the supreme court.
  • Marty cooked dinners and took care of the children while Ruth worked long hours.

Knowing we can count on our partner to pick up the slack when we are busy with a special project, or are taking care of a loved one, or when we are sick, is half of the equation in creating trustworthiness and reliability.

The other half of the equation is that this kind of support needs to be a reciprocal process. Meaning that each partner takes turns in being the one who is supported or the one who is supportive.

Sometimes this reciprocity takes place within the course of a day. Sometimes one partner is in the supporting role for a longer period of time until the roles switch again.

Acceptance and Welcoming Leads to Integration

The ability to create reciprocal support is rooted in the acceptance, welcoming, and integration of the differences between two people.

When we can accept and welcome the differences, we are able to do what we can to support each other’s growth. This is when integration takes root.

Without the acceptance and welcoming, we will resist, argue, and defend ourselves in order to ignore, avoid, or minimize the differences. And when we are doing this we cannot be supportive of each other.

Similarities and Differences: Both Essential

Similarities create connection as do differences. When a couple shares an experience or has similar opinions, ideas or feelings, it solidifies their bond by creating a reality of, “we are in sync with each other”; “we are a team”; “we can count on each other”.

When a couple discovers areas of difference, that also can solidify their bond by adding interest, dimension, energy, and inspiration.

However, so often in intimate relationships, the differences between partners can create feelings of anxiety, fear, jealousy, inadequacy, and misunderstanding.

When partners interpret differences as a threat to their safety and security, this can lead to a de-stabilization and a weakening of their connection.

Esther Perel talks about the important role that differences and individuality serve in long-term monogamous relationships. She emphasizes that couples need to have a “gap to bridge” (meaning a space) between them. This gap fuels interest, creates longing, and cultivates desire.

When each partner spends time developing their best selves by pursuing their life’s work, purpose, interests and hobbies, talents, or creativity, this infuses the relationship with the energy of renewed curiosity, the surprise and delight of new discoveries, and the stimulating spark of desire.

The difference found and respected between two separate selves offers a quality of connection that is a central ingredient for long-term relationships to thrive.

Reflections

If you are anxious when your partner expresses his/her different opinions, or ideas or interests, it would be helpful to reflect on the following:

  • Are you afraid that the differences will come between you?
  • Are you afraid that if your partner shines it takes away from your gifts?
  • Do you define being loved by how much you and your partner agree and share similarities?
  • Does it trigger insecurity when you see areas of difference?
  • How were differences approached in your family growing up?

If you are want to learn how to accept, welcome, and integrate the differences between you and your partner more effectively, reflect on the following:

  • Your readiness to celebrate and encourage your partner to be their best selves.
  • Your readiness to increase your attraction to your partner by encouraging and observing them to be their best and unique self.
  • Your readiness to increase your desire and interest in your partner by creating space for each of you to cultivate your own interests, gifts, and talents.

I hope that you will learn to embrace the differences between yourself and your partner with curiosity, security, and a sense of adventure. And in doing so, infuse your marriage with health and vibrant energy.

I wish you peace in the journey,
Jane

 Practice #3 in Series  |  Practice #5 in Series  

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Jane Ryan

Jane Ryan, M.A., LMFT, is a Licensed Couple and Family Therapist with twenty years of clinical experience and a speciality in helping couples navigate the challenges of intimate relationships. Jane also has a sub-specialty of helping couples navigate the relational and sexual effects of breast cancer.

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