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In Love? Don't Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater

While Internet dating sites promise to help you find someone 'compatible,' our intuition, and a look around at the married folks we know confirms that what usually happens is that 'opposites attract.'

Of course it matters how you define 'compatible,' and the researchers and theorists are busy at the task. We constantly study attraction and romance because who you marry can be the most important decision you make in your life, and the divorce rate in the US right now is 50% for first marriages, 60% for second marriages, and 70% for third marriages. The number of single adults increases yearly, when we know that marriage is beneficial to our health, and isolation is more detrimental than obesity, high blood pressure and smoking 'combined. (And a room-mate doesn't count.)

So what does 'compatible' mean. Is it being similar in physical attractiveness, energy-level, intelligence, age, socio-economic position, occupation, sex drive, values, temperament, Keirsey type? Owning the same type of dog? Ask three different people and you'll get three different answers, but why bother? We all know people mis-matched on any or all of the above who are happily married.

It defies logic.

I know two married couples where the man is 23 years older than the woman. Couple A just split up, married 4 years, separated for 2. Couple B just celebrated their 10th anniversary, and are referred to as 'a marriage made in heaven.'

One thing is certain: when we marry we know we're compatible because we're planning to live together forever. We are sure of it because the falling-in-love hormones have done their job, which is to make us feel that way.

When we fall in love we gloss over all sorts of 'details,' and that's the way it's supposed to be. We focus on the similarities and all the good points, magnifying them and glorifying in them. We can't believe our good fortune in finding someone who's absolutely perfect for us.

We fall in love with a person, but we also fall in love with traits that are 'balancing.' Neil is serious, organized and restrained and loves in Martha that she's a spontaneous, free-spirit. Sarah's a tough, hard-driven achiever and loves that Jose's a laid-back, compassionate people-person. Tony and Anna are two romantic, left-brained physicians, but Tony is an extravert with a large extended family that gets along great, which Anna, the introvert, does not have, and she loves that about him.

So we marry, sure of our choice, and what happens 2, 3 years later? We have enough arguments that it's apparent we see things from a very different point-of-view, and suddenly focus in one trait of our partner, label it negative, and then spread this out to include the whole person. Rushing ahead where fools go, we then conclude we aren't compatible after all, we've married the wrong person, and we retreat into an emotional divorce, if not a legal one.

This is why it's a good reason to marry when you're READY to love, not when you're IN love. When those strong, early bonding-chemicals start to fade, it's katy-bar-the-door.

Generally disagreements are over small points that hide deeply-ingrained beliefs such as what he would behave like if he really loved you, what a responsible wife would fix for dinner, how a husband is supposed to make love, and what job a married woman should have.

Take Neil and Martha. Neil likes things organized, and Martha, free-spirit that she is, thinks 2:30 is as good as 2:00, or even 3:00. After she's showed up late a couple of times, Neil decides she's 'irresponsible,' despite the fact that she's responsible, by anyone's definition, about the children, her job, and even the car. That doesn't matter to Neil. His definition of 'responsible' and 'suitable wife' includes that she must be on time. He locks into his position.

At the same time, Martha notices that he's started picking on her about punctuality, and this is heart-breaking to her, because her definition of 'a good husband' is 'someone who loves me just the way I am,' and she 'hates nit-pickers.' Martha quickly decides that Neil, a good breadwinner, a patient father, and a satisfying lover, is not a suitable husband.

Getting along is not about compatibility, it's about learning how to get along, and you learn it by doing it. Reality, it has been said, is just where our worlds overlap, a sometimes alarmingly small area, but if you must be right instead of in relationship, you will be right and alone.

My mother used to tell me when I was being this way, 'Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.'

The quality of mercy is not strained and within the realm of non-lethal vices that all of us have, it's best to stay focused on the good, and the big picture. When we zero in one negative thing, it takes on a life of its own, and 'I'd prefer it if he - d put the toilet paper on so it rolls down, not up,' morphs into 'I can't live with someone who's inconsiderate and selfish and I'm out of here,' i.e., 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater - .

The irony is that the thing you loved the most about him, the thing that attracted you to him in the first place is going to be the very thing that's driving you nuts 3 years later. Why? I don't know why. You tell me.

I just know how sad it is to hear someone say, 'She was sweet, and good to the kids, but, God love her, she just couldn't get organized,' or 'He was a good provider, and faithful, but he kept alphabetizing the soup cans in the pantry.'

When we aren't privy to the symbolic meaning of these misdemeanors, and the tremendous emotional investment the individuals have put into this trivia, it's incomprehensible. As one who likes to push an argument ad absurdio, I think to myself, would she have preferred a serial killer who didn't alphabetize the soup cans, or if she'd been mean and neglected the kids but was very organized would he have been happy?

Or course they can't be telling the whole story. Can they?

I like it when I hear someone say, when the war stories start, 'Yeah, my ex wore white socks to work but that's not why I divorced him,' because I like to think it helps raise communal consciousness.

People do learn, sometimes, sadly. One reads on the Internet dating sites from people who have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, 'I've learned that it doesn't matter how you roll the toothpaste tube,' and 'life's too short to get upset over what color the living room walls are.'

Falling in love is the easiest thing in the world. Learning to love when you aren't IN love any more, is where the rubber hits the road. If you're lucky, you have lots of time, and just the right person to practice on 'that 'active, athletic hunk' you married who now 'doesn't care about anything but golf,' and that 'strong, brilliant lady' you married who 'thinks she knows everything and tries to tell me what to do.'

Go for it!

About the Author
Susan Dunn, MA Psychology, Emotional Intelligence Coach, I help people become better communicators and develop their emotional intelligence through coaching, Internet courses and ebooks. Susan is the author of "Nonverbal Communication."


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