Just because you’ve met your soul mate doesn’t mean you can avoid the inevitable differences that emerge when two people live together. If you take a pragmatic approach, however, you can turn around any sticking points, says marital therapist Andrew G Marshall
1 He’s hopeless at small talk
Often men aren’t as chatty as women and feel more comfortable being quiet. That’s fine up to a point but you don’t want to be the bored and silent couple in the restaurant staring at the cutlery. Worse still, it’s easy to believe you have nothing in common, or that your partner is dull. Unfortunately, some of the obvious solutions can make things worse, rather than better. Bombarding him with questions may prompt him to clam up, while bringing friends or family along for entertainment means you won’t have couple time and risk drifting even further apart.
Smart Solution You need a shared project. It could be as simple as cutting out the crossword from the newspaper and putting it in your handbag so you’re not short of something to do when you’re sitting in a café together. Or it could be an ongoing plan – such as renovating a holiday cottage – so there is always plenty to discuss.
Just because you’ve met your soul mate doesn’t mean you can avoid the inevitable differences that emerge when two people live together
2 He never picks up after himself
He leaves damp towels on the bed and doesn’t put the butter back in the fridge – or perhaps he’s the one so obsessed with being tidy that you hardly dare open the newspaper because you know you won’t fold it to his exacting standards. Issues about tidiness create intractable relationship problems because nobody feels they can relax. One partner is on edge when there’s an empty coffee cup on the table and the other can’t enjoy their drink because they’re being followed around with a damp cloth.
Smart Solution Find a space where the so-called messy partner can dump things, plus an area that the tidy one can call their own. Instead of trying to convert your partner to your way of thinking, find a middle way. This will normally involve the more relaxed partner making an extra effort in particular areas that rile the other (such as keeping the kitchen clean), while the one with higher standards tries not to get wound up about the smaller issues.
3 You’ve got different interests
He wants you to go sailing but you find it cold and uninteresting. Meanwhile, you want him to come along to your theatre group but he prefers to spend his evenings doing something active.
Smart solution Support each other’s interests rather than participate in them. For example, you could help him stock up for the sailing trip and meet him part of the way round for a special meal together; he could help make the scenery for your play and attend the first-night party. This way, you get to know each other’s friends and bring the excitement and freshness from outside interests back into the relationship.
4 You don’t like his best friend
You think your partner’s best friend is a bad influence, or perhaps he doesn’t have any friends and expects you to entertain him all the time – or maybe he’s the one who’s got an issue with one of your friends. Alternatively, the problem might be that he’s flirty with other women, or that he accuses you of talking to anybody and everybody when you’re out – and ignoring him. Whatever the circumstances, it boils down to fundamentally different attitudes to friends: what is acceptable to share with them and how often you see them.
Smart Solution You’ve been exaggerating your feelings and turning your partner or his friends into a stereotype. Stop driving a wedge between you. Instead, take a few deep breaths and look for a compromise. Rather than setting black-and-white rules (for example, ‘I don’t want you to see that friend again’) take it case by case and use this maxim: I can ask, he can say no and we can negotiate. In this way, you’ll find a formula that will work for both of you. For example, he goes fishing with his best mate but doesn’t upset you by staying out all night. Next you need to create clear boundaries and stick to them – for example, you can talk to friends about your relationship problems as long as you don’t run him down.
5 He never organises anything
He wants to do things spontaneously and gets huffy if you plan ahead for next weekend or, heaven forbid, talk about the future (for example, where you’d like to live in five years’ time or whether to have another child). So either you both end up chilling at home and never going anywhere, or you’re responsible for organising everything (because when he does try, he always misses something important – such as booking the babysitter).
Smart solution Remember, neither of you is wrong about how to use free time. If you don’t plan ahead, for example, you’ll discover that all the holiday cottages are booked at Easter. However, it is also important to live in the moment rather than worrying about moving on to the next place on your itinerary, otherwise you won’t enjoy where you actually are. With important events that you don’t want to plan yourself, such as your birthday, give your partner some rough guidelines – most men procrastinate because they are frightened of getting it wrong. For regular weekends, take it in turns to be in charge and go along with each other’s decisions with good grace, even if you end up having a barbecue on the spur of the moment because he hasn’t remembered to book a table in advance.
6 Your libidos don’t match
He’s always up for sex but you’re often tired and feel pressured – which is a real turn-off. It’s got to the point that you’ll avoid cuddling on the sofa because he is inevitably going to expect to make love when you’re not in the mood, or have other things to do. When you do respond, it’s to cater to his desire rather than because you feel turned on. Alternatively, you have to initiate sex most of the time and that’s mainly fine but it makes you wonder whether he really fancies you.
Smart solution Add an extra dimension to your lovemaking. Most couples fall into the all-or-nothing trap, where you either stay resolutely on separate sides of the bed or feel pressured into full intercourse. Instead, create a range of other sensual options – such as having a bath together and feeding each other ice cream, kissing each other all over but avoiding going any further, or slow dancing in the living room – because nobody is ever too tired to be held, stroked or gently rocked. It could be that you’ll both get into the mood for sex, or just enjoy the intimate time together.
7 He wants to retire but you don’t
You’re at different life stages. He wants to reduce his work commitments and see the world. That sounds great but there are still things you want to achieve in your career (plus, you want to put more money in your pension pot). Alternatively, he has already given up work and that is raising issues – such as household budgeting – that were masked when he had better things to occupy him. No wonder you’re thinking: isn’t he going to do something else?
Smart solution Instead of coming up with more reasons why your opinions trump his, make a list of the things that you do agree on; it will be longer than you imagine. You’re both right. You should be able to get on with your own projects, and he has the right to do what makes him happy, too, even if it’s only pottering in the garden, especially after all those years of hard work. So instead of your vision or his, think: we can have both. Once you’ve opened up your mind to this radical idea, a creative third way will emerge. For example, you can continue to work but arrange a couple of weeks’ unpaid leave for a big trip round South America. Meanwhile, he will begin to discover new interests, or get involved in voluntary organisations (and get out of your hair).
8 You don’t see eye to eye
While many people are arguing over minor issues such as what to watch on TV, or whether to go out or not, you’re dealing with fundamental differences in values. Perhaps you’re a feminist and he’s a Roman Catholic and is against women priests, abortion and contraception. Alternatively, you are family orientated and your parents, siblings and cousins are in and out of each other’s houses, while he prefers it when his family are at least one time zone away.
Instead of coming up with more reasons why your opinions trump his, make a list of the things that you do agree on; it will be longer than you imagine
Smart solution Remind yourself what you originally saw in each other. We are attracted to opposites for a reason. It is nearly always because they have something we lack or admire – but in the hubbub of everyday life we can lose sight of these qualities. For example, you might love your family but they can also become too much and someone who fights for couple time will have a strong appeal. Think what you could learn from your partner; value that he encourages you to grow and stops you from being two-dimensional and set in your ways. Accept him for who he really is and you will free him from the need to defend himself, allowing him to become more open to changing too.
Andrew G Marshall is the author of It’s Not a Midlife Crisis, It’s an Opportunity: How To Be Forty-or Fifty-Something Without Going Off The Rails, Marshall Method Publishing, £12.99, marshallmethodpublishing.com
WHAT IF HE THINKS HE’S ALWAYS RIGHT?
- Ask yourself: am I guilty of the very same crime? Often it’s easier to see faults in someone else than in ourselves.
- Don’t interrupt him. He might be repeating himself because he doesn’t feel heard.
- Ask questions: for example, ‘How will it work?’ That way he’ll feel you’re taking him seriously (and besides, it’s always better when people find the flaws in their own ideas).
- Keep calm, take a step back and have a fresh look at the dispute. Ask: ‘What is this argument really about?’ or ‘Why do we find this so hard to resolve?’
- Remember that, ultimately, there is no right or wrong solution – just different opinions – so keep talking.