Two-way streets

Two-way streets

Creative confrontation can help couples better handle one another’s personalities

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 11/29/2012

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Dear Patti,
My husband and I have been arguing a lot. Although we’re like-minded in many areas, such as activities, people, religion and politics, we disagree most on how we view and categorize each other.
 
I read that part of being in love is how the other person makes you feel great about yourself. Lately, though, we’re not making each other feel very good, because we respectively feel pigeonholed and judged.
 
It’s hard not to be aware of my husband’s negative side, even when everyone else only sees him at his best. He thinks I view him as a lazy nonintellectual (which is partly true) and I think he views me as a shy stick-in-the-mud. I get upset because he’s unfairly labeling me, but he says I do the same thing. Our arguments often stem from one of us being defensive and taking offense regarding the fault-finding. 
 
Any suggestions on how to better deal with this?

— Dawn

Dear Dawn,
Perceptions are an often neglected aspects of a couple’s compatibility, specifically, how they view their own personalities, how their mates view them, how much support they give one another and whether they can accept a partner’s observations and rise to the challenge of self-improvement.  
 
People typically don’t mind being confronted about their behavior but dislike being negatively or narrowly characterized, especially when they don’t see themselves that way. Individuals whose spouses assess them similarly to how they understand themselves — good or bad — tend to be more compatible.
 
The following categories in personality (both attitudinal and behavioral) are areas commonly misinterpreted. Examine how you view yourself in these categories and discuss with your husband how he sees you. If you see yourself differently, talk about it, explain why and listen to his opinion in a positive frame of mind. Instead of becoming defensive, the two of you can end up mutually aspiring to change unwanted traits and become more supportive and understanding partners.   
 
Emotional: Do you and your partner agree that you’re usually even-tempered, in control, stable, secure and able to handle stress well without repressing your feelings? Or are you viewed as anxious, easily affected by worries, temperamental and highly reactive? Where on the spectrum do you see yourself? 
 
Intellectual openness: Do you and your husband agree that you are traditional in your views and approach or that you are open-minded, more receptive to new experiences, and unconventional? In what ways? Your husband may feel that you’re generally conservative and traditional, while you see yourself as very much open to new ideas and receptive to new possibilities in a lot of different areas. 
 
Accessibility: In general, do you see yourself as reserved, inner-directed, socially restrained and languid? Or are you sociable, active and enthusiastic? On a spectrum, where would you place yourself and why? What does your husband think and why? Does he see you as quiet and reserved where you see yourself much more energetic and adventurous? What behavior of yours supports his claim? Do you see yourself in some circles as much more talkative and outgoing than your husband observes you to be? Does he view you as more aloof than you see yourself? 
 
Attitude toward others: Do you see that you can be difficult, self-absorbed, self-protective and hard to get along with at times? Or do see yourself as warmer, more giving and considerate? How does your husband see you? Do you both agree that you’re kind, caring and cooperative but not selfless, or does your husband at times see you as self-sacrificing? Does he sometimes see you as impatient, argumentative or preoccupied with your own problems?
 
Working style: Does your husband think you take a casual approach toward work, have difficulty focusing on schedules and commitments, and lack a goal-oriented mindset? Do you see yourself as more responsible and serious? Are there some areas of work in which you both agree that you’re unusually conscientious and dedicated?
 
Remember that the goal of these discussions is to open up to how you see each other; they are not meant to be a forum to thrust more characterizations and accusations on one another. Further, these discussions should not transpire when you’re already angry. After a thorough discussion about you, repeat this same exercise concerning your husband’s traits. There may be other areas of your personalities you’ll want to add to your list. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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