You’re clean, They’re messy. You take life as it comes, they need everything to be “perfect”. You like to go out on Friday nights, they want to stay in with Netflix.
No matter how well you get along with your significant other at the outset, big and annoying differences are bound to surface at some point. That’s just as much part of a relationship as the good stuff.
It’s easy to get angry or resentful. Everything would be so much better if they would just be more like you!
Problem is, that’s not going to happen.
So how do you deal with big, annoying differences in your relationship?
Good news: Doing so is a learnable skill. The answer lies in your accepting that you can’t strong-arm your significant other into doing things your way. Once you get there, all sorts of positive outcomes are possible.
Is this doable? Of course. Otherwise, nobody could be in a happy relationship!
To illustrate, here’s a recent letter from my Washington Blade advice column:
I moved in with my boyfriend in June. We’re both 22 and recently graduated from college. We met sophomore year.
I thought we were going to be starting a fantastic life together but it’s going really badly.
He’s a big hunk. I…not so much. This is really hot in bed, but I feel like our sexual dynamic has spilled into our whole relationship where Scott sees me as the little woman whose job it is to care of him.
First of all, Scott is very messy. He leaves his clothes everywhere. He never cleans up in the bathroom and leaves his dishes around the kitchen. All typical “guy” stuff. I feel pathetic whining about this, but it’s driving me crazy.
I like things neat and he knows that, so I feel like he is just being lazy because he knows I’ll clean up since I can’t stand the mess. But when I do that, I really feel taken advantage of. So sometimes I don’t take the bait, and hope that he will get the message. But then things get totally out of control.
In addition, I feel like I have to “run” our apartment. Setting up the cable, paying the utility bills, grocery shopping. I’m naturally more organized and domestic than he is, but he wouldn’t get around to doing any of these things if I left them for him.
Even planning our upcoming New Year’s vacation, which will be our first trip abroad. He says I’m much better at planning than he is. True, but that doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be trying and contributing. Yet I’m the one who has to generate all the ideas and turn them into reality.
If I ask him to do stuff, he just says he will, and then he doesn’t, and if I keep it up, he says I’m nagging.
When we were in college and spending all our time in each other’s dorm room it was really great and we thought how wonderful it would be to always be together. Yes, his room was a mess, but we were pretty much teenagers. Anyhow, I had my own dorm room and I never imagined that he would just be a lazy slob if we were living together.
Now I sometimes hate him. I’m wondering why I moved in with him and it’s only been two months. Can people change or should I give up?
Scott is not the only person in the relationship who has work to do. Right now, you’re both operating like adolescents: Scott does what he wants, you occasionally play games such as letting the apartment get really messy, you get mad and he accuses you of nagging rather than focusing on his own contribution.
Your behaviors make sense: you’re both very young.
The good news is that you and Scott now have an opportunity to figure out how to have a grownup relationship.
This means two things:
First, work on keeping calm and responding thoughtfully when your boyfriend doesn’t behave as you’d like, rather than getting mad, shutting down or retaliating. There are always going to be some things you hate about the other person. Your job is to not let yourself be driven crazy by these things. Put differently, this is about each of you learning to tolerate the disappointment that is inevitable in all relationships.
Second, work together on living collaboratively with a person who is different from you in major ways. This means doing your best to be a guy worth being in a relationship with, striving to be considerate of your partner and taking into account what is important to him, without betraying what is most important to you.
Can people change? Of course they can. But pushing your significant other to change usually leads to resistance and resentment. You can advocate for what you’d like, but if Scott is going to change, he has to want to behave differently.
I am hoping that Scott will be open to addressing the big picture of how the two of you are behaving your relationship. Please raise the issue in a respectful way, approaching him as your equal rather than telling him what he’s doing wrong. And remember: this isn’t a one-time conversation. Constructing a grownup relationship requires ongoing effort.
About your thought that your sexual dynamic is bleeding into your relationship: This may be true, but the behaviors you are describing happen in all sorts of relationships. In any case, the challenge to both of you is to keep your erotic dynamic alive in the bedroom while not being bound to these roles elsewhere.