Why do small dissimilarities—such as having different tastes in food, music, or travel—become major issues for some couples? And how do other duos handle conflicting stances on major topics such as religion, money, and—especially now—politics with ease? After years of working with clients, I've found it's not the actual disagreement itself that causes problems within a romantic relationship. What matters so much more is how both partners respond emotionally when they don't see eye to eye on something.
What matters so much more is how both partners respond emotionally when they don't see eye to eye on something
In fact, I believe that couples who can handle their disparities and approach potentially toxic topics in mature, respectful ways have the strongest bonds. They work hard to understand, appreciate, and accept what could otherwise divide them. If you adore your mate but he or she has an opinion or affinity you don't share, here are some strategies to address your mismatched ideals while keeping your love intact.
Lead with curiosity.
It's incredibly easy to live in a bubble and surround yourself with people who constantly reinforce your own views. After all, if you block out everyone and everything that doesn't mesh with your way of thinking, then you can never be wrong. But wanting things so all or nothing, black or white, or "with me or against me" can create a very narrow world.
Instead, it's important for both you and your partner to be curious about the unique ways in which you differ from one another. This way, you'll be more likely to respect each other's opinions and less likely to think your way is the right or only way (which often leads to conflict).
So if your partner invites you, say, to go camping but you hate the outdoors, agree to try it at least once. Or if they say something you don't agree with, ask them why they feel the way they do. Inquiring without judgment or cruelty, but with the genuine intention of trying to see their point of view, can help you connect and feel more empathy for one another.
Try not to take it personally.
The way you handle polarizing topics with bae has a lot to do with self-confidence. I will never forget a client who once said about his wife, "I can't believe she wants to take a cruise. How can I be with someone who loves cruises?" Clearly, this had nothing to do with cruises. His thinking implied that if his wife liked something different than he did, it made a statement about him and who he was.
You can both hold on to your own likes and dislikes
A healthy confidence will allow you to see that your significant other's preferences are not a reflection of you. You can both hold on to your own likes and dislikes without needing the other person to validate them or what you stand for.
Strive to stay rational.
Try to stop feeling threatened by your lover's differing preferences (unless, of course, their opinions put you or others in danger or attack your entire way of life). For instance, if they love video games but you don't, you may be tempted to view their game playing as a wedge that's pushing you two apart.
Start seeing your partner's unique taste as an attribute of their individuality
But as long as your mate still makes time for you, video games aren't actually a direct competitor to your connection. Once you start seeing your partner's unique taste as an attribute of their individuality, you'll be more comfortable with having opposing POVs.
Boil it down to values.
Interestingly, research has shown that couples who have completely separate religious beliefs are often much more aligned with each other than duos in which one person is religious and the other isn't. Why? Because sharing a faith in a higher power or an appreciation for rituals (such as prayer or attending religious ceremonies) is a huge value to have in common, so much so that which religion each partner follows is less important for the relationship's success.
Believe it or not, the same can apply to conflicting political beliefs. Say you and your lover voted for different candidates or support opposing policies, and current events are sowing tension. Rather than assume your relationship is doomed, consider this: Do you both believe in the importance of voting, being proactive, contributing to society, and helping others? These are basic principles you may have in common, and they could overcome your disparities.
That said, if there is major friction—because of a chronic disrespect or dismissiveness of the other side—it may be time to admit that your core values don't align. In most cases, in terms of long-lasting relationships, that may be a deal breaker.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.