Don’t Judge Me: Embracing Your Partner’s Differences

Embracing at the beachThe ability to discern what we like or dislike is an important part of being an individual. It is enriching to have choices about what to eat, what we like to wear, how to decorate our space, or what our favorite movie is. Many of our choices become part of how we define ourselves.

Some of our self-definitions go deeper and concern whether we prefer to be open about our emotions. If we came from a family in which emotions were not talked about, we will most likely be less inclined to talk about emotions. Another person may have grown up in a family in which emotions were expressed openly and honestly. If two people from such different families establish a romantic relationship, problems may arise.

While it’s important for all of us to have choices as individuals, it’s equally important for partners to be tolerant of each other’s differences. This is especially true during the early years of a partnership, when partners typically work together to define how they want their own family to be. The early years of a relationship are often about building a new family that is different from either partner’s family of origin.

If one partner becomes judgmental and critical of the other partner’s way of being, problems generally ensue. Judgment often leads a person to become contemptuous of the other person, and contempt is hard to conceal. We all have micro-expressions that cross our faces so quickly we may not even know we have expressed the feelings associated with them. One’s partner might see those micro-expressions and feel deeply hurt by them.

It is only by working on our own way of thinking that this destructive cycle can be prevented.

Understanding a person takes a lot more intellectual and emotional work than judgment does. True understanding comes from active listening and appreciation of what the other person is trying to convey. True understanding comes from realizing that our own way of being is just that—our own way—and not everybody will want to be as we are.

The most important skill in any close relationship is the ability to understand and empathize. Empathy is the opposite of contempt, disgust, or other negative judgment. The way to empathy is through understanding, and judgment blocks understanding.

Understanding a person takes a lot more intellectual and emotional work than judgment does. True understanding comes from active listening and appreciation of what the other person is trying to convey. True understanding comes from realizing that our own way of being is just that—our own way—and not everybody will want to be as we are.

If you try to listen to, appreciate, and understand another person’s position but find you cannot, it may be that you need to recognize that your own way of thinking may be preventing you from relating well to that person. Your way of thinking and being is different from their way of thinking and being. Can you accept that? Can you accept that a person you believe you love or care about is different from you in some ways?

It is possible to love not only a person but their differences, too. In fact, true, deep, and lasting love involves a great deal of acceptance of another’s differences. Accepting a person’s differences helps you become a better-rounded, happier, more likable, more trustworthy, more mature individual.

Maturity is not something that happens to us as we get older. Maturity is something we gain through self-awareness, self-confrontation, and genuine efforts to grow and become kinder, more accepting, and at peace with other ways of being than your own.

If you need help on your journey of acceptance, consider seeking the guidance of a trained therapist.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Anne D. Ream MA, ATR-BC, LPC, therapist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Pres

    Pres

    May 12th, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    There are a lot of things about my wife that I guess frustrate me, but t at doesn’t mean that I would ever want to change them because I kind of see those little things as the things that make her her and the things that probably, truth be told, made me fall in love with her in the first place.

  • caleb

    caleb

    May 12th, 2015 at 4:41 PM

    What I don’t understand is the girl who left me when I haven’t changed one bit but her excuse is that that is it- that I haven’t changed at all. Didn’t she see those tings about me before we got all invested and committed? Don’t you think that the ideal thing would have been to know earlier on that this was not what she wanted and to not even pursue me?

  • Sue

    Sue

    May 13th, 2015 at 9:24 AM

    Not the wisest thing to try to change someone- this is what they have to do for themselves and if they are happy with who they are then why shouldn’t you be?

  • Anne Ream

    Anne Ream

    May 13th, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    Hi Caleb, it sounds as if that was pretty difficult for you. And I agree with Sue, no one can change another person, the only person we can change is ourselves. I would hope that she talked with you about some of the things that bothered her. In a really good seriously committed relationship people do talk about the things that they are uncomfortable about in their partner with their partner and then it’s up to their partner to decide whether or not to change that problem. Sometimes the problem could be a difference in character such as one person being expressive of their emotions while the other person is not. Good couples therapy can help both people with that. It’s also important in the beginning of a relationship for both people to talk about their value systems with one another. If the person you are interested in seems to have values that are very different from yours may be it would be better to find someone else. Talking about this type of thing up front before becoming invested is important. Asking each other questions about what’s important to them, what they like to do, are they comfortable talking about emotions or not? That kind of conversation can be very helpful in the beginning of a relationship. I wish you better luck with the next girl. Sincerely, Anne Ream MFT, LPC

  • Rhett

    Rhett

    May 15th, 2015 at 1:49 PM

    The key to understanding is all about maturing and growing with the person. There can be a huge difference between knowing something about a person and then being able to imagine that you live with this all the time.
    Step away for a minute and think about how you are going to deal with this if you lived with it all the time.
    Would you be able to stand it?
    If not, then it is probably for the best to move on.

  • Stepehn

    Stepehn

    May 16th, 2015 at 5:31 AM

    Funny how we always try to assign blame in others while we rarely look to ourselves and determine what we could be doing that is actually causing some of the problem.

  • Anne Ream

    Anne Ream

    May 16th, 2015 at 11:52 AM

    Yes, it takes a lot of emotional maturity to look at ourselves and think about what we could do differently. And good communication in a relationship can help us work with each other to resolve those issues. A good enough relationship can help us mature. Anne Ream MFT, LPC

  • Mari

    Mari

    May 18th, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    I used to be the person who conformed to all of the riles and stood back while others broke them and seemed to have the most fun. I think that a big part of that was that I was afraid of being different and what that would mean for me fitting in with the crowd. But I now I see so much value in marching to the beat of a different drummer, because how can you ever expect to find out who you truly are when you are just simply following along with the rest of the crowd?

  • Anne Ream

    Anne Ream

    May 18th, 2015 at 12:45 PM

    Wonderful Mari! Sounds as if you have grown a lot and I hope you are enjoying life more! Anne Ream MFT, LPc

  • Rayla

    Rayla

    May 19th, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    I find myself being so angry with my boyfriend for really no good reason at all, and I try to tell myself that this is something that we can work through but I see all of the things about him that I don’t like anymore and I am thinking that it would probably be the best for both of us if I would just cut the cord and walk away.

  • Anne Ream

    Anne Ream

    May 19th, 2015 at 1:55 PM

    Hmm, have you talked with him about any of this? And is it really for “no good reason at all”? We have subtle emotions that can occur before they become strong enough to notice them. It might be worth your time to think about what happened just before you noticed your feeling of anger. Anger is often a secondary emotion. Before we feel it we may feel a bit of hurt or fear. Your feelings are important, pay attention to them and try to talk things over with your boyfriend. All long lasting good enough relationships take some work and are worth it!

    Anne Ream MFT, LPC

  • Jackie Johnson

    Jackie Johnson

    July 20th, 2015 at 6:44 AM

    I agree with the writer of the post article. Resolving emotional superior attitudes is very helpful when it comes to having deeply unconditionally loving relationships where differences do not are the glue which keeps the each other growing and maturing. The writer obviously said it better than I could have, but I Absolutely loved the article!

  • Jackie Johnson

    Jackie Johnson

    July 20th, 2015 at 6:46 AM

    I agree with the writer of the post article. Resolving emotional superior attitudes is very helpful when it comes to having deeply unconditionally loving relationships where differences do not are not the destroyer, but is the glue which keeps the each other growing and maturing. The writer obviously said it better than I could have, but I Absolutely loved the article!

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