Navigating Personality Clashes in Relationships
Last week, a client couple told me that they can’t seem to agree on anything at all, from food habits, movies to watch, or even their idea of relaxation. Another client who is an introvert tells me how on the weekends she struggles with her quiet time, as her son who is an extrovert wants to engage with people. Personality clashes in relationships — whether between spouses, or between parent and child — are something I see frequently in my practice.
Sadly, when there’s a clash of personalities in a family, the people involved can feel helpless, suffocated, overlooked, or isolated. Specifically with regards to children, parents experience a myriad of emotions ranging from frustration, helplessness, anger, guilt and even sometimes selfishness.
Our conflicting interests, motivations, and expectations in a relationship can shake its equilibrium if we do not know how to handle conflict well. While it may be natural to experience these emotions, it’s important for anyone experiencing personality clashes in relationships to try to find a middle ground.
How to get through personality clashes in relationships
Look at it as a clash of interest, not a clash of personalities
According to John Gottman, in his book 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, relationships are defined by the shared value system between a couple. Values tend to be fixed, but interests come and go. Which mean that personality conflict is solvable; the first step is to find something in common. It may not save a marriage where values don’t align, enjoying activities together can add to a couple’s compatibility.
Find teachable moments.
When you and your children have different interests, there are frequent teachable moments for all. Choose to tell kids why it’s important to respect other people’s choices, understand and listen to what keeps them motivated. A friend of mine who is a sportsman struggles to accept that his daughter doesn’t like playing sports, but instead prefers reading books. I would argue that when parents show a passion for a specific field, it helps children to develop their own deep interests, though they may not be in the same field. The shared passion is the teachable moment that can help you weather clashes of personalities.
Acknowledge and accept each other’s needs.
I remind myself and clients in therapy sessions that it is not a question of whether parents’ needs are more important than a child’s needs. Particularly in an Indian context, parents sometimes pride themselves on sacrificing their own self care. I strongly feel that both sets of needs are important.
I remember a particular client, a mother who struggled with her quiet time. I suggested that she have a conversation with her 6-year-old son, and they adopted 30 minutes of silent time during which they would do separate activities in the same room. This allowed her the quiet time she needed and him, the togetherness he needed.
Support activities that don’t interest you.
Listen to your partner, whether it’s about an achievement on the Xbox or a soul-stirring documentary, and allow space for her to unwind and invest in the hobby. Nothing connects two people more beautifully than a moment in which they feel heard and understood. Choosing to engage in a conversation about your spouse’s or child’s interest is a way of telling them that you care for them and appreciate their individuality.
Learn a hobby or a new skill together.
For families struggling with personality clashes in relationships, I suggest they join a hobby class, or groups where they can learn a skill together. As a family, when you choose to do this, it helps children understand the value of lifelong learning, discipline, perseverance, and it reinforces the value of family. I remember a mother telling me how she and her 7-year-old son learn Spanish together. Creating these new spaces of learning often adds to the connection as a family.
Enjoy each other’s company.
My husband often jokingly tells me that it is a good thing we don’t share a common interest for gaming, because it allows me time to explore things I love, like catching up with my friends or seeing plays or documentaries. More than common interests or hobbies, it is important to enjoy your partner’s or children’s company. Physical warmth, the joy of feeling loved and being able to reciprocate the love is beautiful in itself.
Enjoy the beauty of silence.
“I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with,” said Mary Ann Shaffer, author of The Guernsey and Potato Peel Pie Society. In today’s age, when we are surrounded with technology, it is crucial that we focus on appreciating the moments of silence. It’s important for families to just be with each other effortlessly and still feel connected. Consciously build spaces where you choose to keep the cell phones away, television switched off, no gadgets and just are mindfully there; studies show this truly makes a difference to how we connect with each other.
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