“We are so different.”
“He doesn’t understand me.”
“I have to spell things out that are so obvious.”
“He doesn’t need to connect like I do.”

These are some of the common expressions of the pain and frustration felt at being together with someone who is very different from oneself. This can happen early on in a relationship and persist over many years. For many couples, sadly this remains the narrative of their experience together. It can feel lonely and hopeless, leading one to think he or she has made a serious mistake.

It is not uncommon for most couples to feel like this at some point in their marriage. After all, any two people are different, particularly men and women. And when opposites attract, the differences can be especially pronounced.

It can be a major challenge when a couples clash in certain areas. Some classic examples:

Diana is a creative, spontaneous thinker and doer, her home is happy if messy and each day is something of an adventure. Her husband Paul likes to plan and structure activities in advance. He longs for a calm, organized environment.

Sheri is hardworking and goal oriented. She is aware of all that needs to be done and concerned about paying the bills. Tom is laid back and relaxed. He has a positive and somewhat lackadaisical attitude and believes that everything will work out just fine.

Jill is sensitive and relationship oriented. She loves to connect and share her day and her inner world. Daniel, her husband is an active, type A personality. He is always very busy and finds it hard to stop doing and just be.

There may be differences in personality – one is an introvert, the other an extrovert. Differences in needs for emotional connection, different expectations based on family background, differences in religious approaches, just to name a few.

Ironically these differences are often the source of the attraction. Why is this so?  According to Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago therapy, there is an instinctive pull to someone who has strengths and attributes which we are lacking, sensing that this person contains my ‘missing part’ which completes me and from which I can learn.

The pieces of the puzzle can fit so beautifully together but it may not always feel this way. The relationship can become accusatory and conflictual, where partners blame each other for not understanding them and this can feel like a lack of care. “You are not similar to me” becomes “You don’t love me.”

How can you cross this divide and find a way to connect?

First, understand that this challenge is normal. Don’t confuse real life with the ersatz, Hollywood promise of happy ever after.

Know that creating connection takes work and is not meant to happen automatically.

Be aware that your needs are not more important than your partner’s or that if he doesn’t have the same needs as you he is not somehow innately flawed.

Accept the differences instead of fighting against them and wishing they weren’t there.

Commit to not judging and criticizing your partner for being different.

Take responsibility for explaining and expressing your needs instead of longing for him/ her to intuitively understand you.

Accept that if even if you don’t want to do something together to the same degree, it can still be a bonding, positive experience. Likewise, if you discuss something and your partner doesn’t totally get you, this can also still be a bonding if not perfect experience.

Appreciate the value in the differences, how these make for a good team, how you can complement and help each other.

Stretch yourself to understand and empathize with your spouse who at times may seem so foreign.

Use the differences as a platform for personal growth. Be open to what you can learn from this difference.

See where you can share your strengths and insights with your partner in a gentle, non-critical manner.

Focus on the positive elements that these differences bring to the table rather than the difficulties.

Seek to embrace and affirm each of your strengths as part of a complex, colorful and rich tapestry.

Every marriage has their share of differences. By committing to work together to overcome hurdles, you are your spouse can grow closer together while creating a more expansive whole.