How To Work Out Differences


I have been dating my boyfriend for 6 months. We were co-workers and acquaintances for 2 years before we dated. He also pursued me for those 2 years. We only started dating after we no longer worked together (one of my rules).

He treats me great. Never abusive, never leaves me to “hang with the boys” and other typical problems. However, we have quite a few differences that I feel are serious and may hinder our relationship.

I have a 9 year old daughter and don’t want anymore children. There is a slight possibility that I will change my mind later, but it is very slight. I haven’t told him about the slight chance I’ll change my mind so as not to give him false hope if I don’t change my mind. He does want children but is willing to make the sacrifice of not having any of his own, in order to be with me. I don’t that is fair for him. And I am afraid that no matter how much he doesn’t think so, that he will eventually resent me if we don’t have a child together. His argument to that is that maybe because of his life choices that having children just isn’t an option (he will be 37 soon).

We have polar opinions on political views, spending styles, some parenting issues, etc. I feel that he is negative with regard to life (irritated with co-workers, complains about work a lot, talks about others negatively) and this REALLY bothers me. Yet, my mistake is that I don’t express these feelings. I don’t know how.

So, I am looking into getting therapy for myself. I know I have my issues as well due to an awful marriage with a husband who cheated several times. I also know that my boyfriend has his issues from childhood as well.

If I get my personal therapy, and we get couple therapy, and if marriage comes around, we get family therapy, do you think there is a chance for us?

I really love him, but I’m scared to commit more to someone (as in marriage) and find out that we were never compatible in the first place. Please tell me what you think.

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You are quite right to be concerned about whether you and the man you may marry are compatible. Couples who are compatible – which is to say – couples who share important values, beliefs and expectations in common, and whose emotional coping styles mesh well with one another – have a much easier time remaining happy with their marriages than couples who are not compatible. Right off the bat, you are concerned that you are not compatible with this man, so right away I’d say you’re either already in trouble, or you are looking for reasons to stay distant from this man.

The first issue you’re worried about is big. Whether to have children or not is a huge decision, and many marriages rise or fall on exactly this issue. To your credit you’ve been open with him that you do not want any more children. To your mutual credit, you’ve discussed this and he has told you that he’s okay with that. Now the problem is that you don’t trust him to keep being okay with that. Perhaps this is a reasonable fear on your part, but again – perhaps you are just looking for reasons to keep yourself distant from him. There is certainly no way to know the future; to know if he today can legitimately speak for himself tomorrow with regards to this important issue. You have only his word, and if that isn’t good enough, then there is some more fundamental concern at issue.

You next cite a range of issues that can be points of contention within couples (e.g., political views, spending styles, parenting issues, positive vs. negative outlooks, etc. There will always be places where two partners have distinct and even opposed viewpoints. Relationships can absorb these differences by having each partner accept that their partner is different and entitled to their unique views. This works best when differences are few and minor in intensity. It is not a big deal when you love disco and your husband loves classical music. It is a big deal when you can’t agree on how you will budget your limited household funds. The more points of contention you have, the more concern you should have. I cannot say that you’ve got too many here in your description to allow a relationship to fly, but you do have enough to have me worried for you.

It may turn out to be the case that you and your boyfriend have too much that is different between you to allow you both to be effective partners for one another. However, I don’t hear you saying that you know that yet. You’re just concerned. In that case, I think that the therapy route you are recommending for yourself is wise and justified. Think of it as “due diligence” that you are performing upon this potential investment of your life. The test of whether to proceed or not will be how good the relationship starts to feel after you have both tried therapy (give it a good few months of weekly couples sessions at minimum).

Like food, relationships are best when they are fresh. The honeymoon is the sweetest time of marriage for most. Certainly, later periods of a marriage are not better than the honeymoon. If you don’t have it good at the beginning of a relationship, you cannot expect it to get better later on.

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