Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC


Relationships as a Mosaic

If both of you are the same, then one of you is unnecessary.”  –Wayne Dyer
When I was about 9 years old, I used to think that English was the only language in the world, and that people who spoke other languages were just bilingual.  I couldn’t understand, when my parents invited a Venezuelan college student to rent a room from us in 1977, why he couldn’t just switch his language back and forth from English to Spanish!  Of course, it was a very ego-centric way of looking at the world, but no one had ever really explained it to me, so how was I to know??

Another, more recent, wake-up call I got was when I met my husband, Tim.  In his first marriage, he hadn’t had any children, and when it came time to meet my two children, he literally told me that he was “half petrified” to do so.  At first, I kind of laughed and dismissed it, telling him it would be just fine.  I had full confidence that some dormant instinct would awaken and he’d know what to do and say when he met them — no problem.  Umm….no.  He honestly did not have a clue how to tune into their worlds and know how to act or what to say.  Fortunately, with time, it’s become easier for him, but the point is that I learned that not everyone has the parenting instinct, just like not everybody speaks English.  Huh! :/


Which leads me to talk about what comes naturally for some and not for others.  When we are in relationship with someone and they have opposing views about something — let’s say they don’t see the need to keep a house as clean as you do — it’s our impulse to get angry or upset.  Why?  Because somewhere inside of us, we expect that person, deep down, to feel the same way we do.  And if that’s true, then that must mean they are purposely going against us!  
C’mon, you know that’s true.  Count how many times your arguments have started with you asking “How could you not know this?”  I bet there are a lot of them!  Or maybe you just get sarcastic, saying things like “Oh no….don’t bother getting up from the TV and helping me with the groceries….I’ve got it” while inside you’re seething, knowing they are purposely being lazy.  I mean….HELLO!?
There are thousands of times we’ll feel this way with our fellow men and women — people driving slowly in the fast lane, people who take forever ordering  when there’s a long line of grumpy patrons behind them, people who don’t say “Bless you” when you sneeze, or people who don’t stand up and offer a pregnant woman a seat when the bus or subway is crowded.  To us, certain social mores are obvious, but we have to remember that not everyone speaks English (so to speak).
This understanding is never more important than when you are in an intimate relationship.  When you first meet each other, it seems as if everything clicks.  On the surface, it appears that you have many more commonalities than differences.  People will even say “I’ve met my SOUL MATE!” as if they were cut from the same cloth.  
After the honeymoon stage fades, you’ll start to see the differences, and you’ll need to not only expect them, but be prepared to understand them as well.  Assuming the belief that behind every behavior there is a reason, here are a few possible reasons for your clashes:
  1. Ignoranceif you know your partner’s family and/or ask questions about their upbringing, you may discover that your partner was simply not exposed to learning certain lessons or holding certain values as important.  The more you know about how things were different, the less surprised you’ll be when they react in a way that goes against your grain.
  2. No Motivation — sometimes your partner may know that what he’s doing is probably inappropriate, but no one has ever called him on it, there were no consequences, so there was no motivation to stop.  It’s your prerogative to speak up and say something about annoying habits (general table manners, being considerate and helpful, etc), and it’s your responsibility to confront seriously bad behavior that’s never been reprimanded (any addictive behaviors, explosive outbursts, or condescending and disrespectful treatment of you).
  3. Lack of Empathy — there are people who have more difficulty seeing things from another person’s point of view.  Certainly there are mental health diagnoses that apply to these people, but for most others, it’s more like a muscle that just needs to be better developed.  For example, if I see this in one of my clients, I might ask them to pretend it’s “Freaky Friday” and that they’ve woken up as their partner.  Then we talk about what it might be like to live a day in the life of that person, giving as much detail as possible.  But if your partner honestly cannot see any other view than their own, then they can’t really be anyone’s “partner.”  They’re better off alone so they don’t ever have to compromise or share anything with anyone else.  It’s pretty much a deal-breaker.
Whatever the reason, it will be important for YOU to have the empathy to try and see these differences from your partner’s vantage point.  Using firm but non-threatening communication is usually the best way to approach your request for change:
  1. Throw them a bone first, praising or thanking them for something positive that they’re already doing.
  2. Then ask nicely for whatever it is you’d like to change, explaining how the negative behavior is negatively affecting you.
  3. Offer the assumption that they may not have meant any harm.  This will help eliminate any defensiveness on their part, because they won’t feel accused of doing anything on purpose (even though they actually might be).
  4. Tell them how this will benefit both of you.  It’ll help them see what their effort could earn them — less nagging, freeing you up to be able to do more for them, etc.

Finally, remember that everybody has at least some degree of ignorance, a lack of motivation, or inability to relate to others.  You’re not perfect either and, despite what you may think, your way of being raised was not “The Way” every child should have been raised.  We live in a culture of multiple lifestyles, beliefs, socioeconomic statuses, religious differences, and other diversities.  You know, the United States used to be called a “melting pot” of all these diversities, but now they call it a “mosaic.”  See your relationship also as a mosaic — a comfortable culmination from each of your backgrounds to create one agreeable lifestyle.  Healthy relationships see the beauty and growth in adapting to new experiences and beliefs, ever expanding our Selves and each other.  🙂

2 Comments to Relationships as a Mosaic

  1. January 31, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Beautifully articulated. The mosaic is a lovely and fitting comparison.
    Kitty Griffin M.C.S.D CCC-SLP

  2. February 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for writing about this. You've got a bunch of really good information here on your website.

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