Do opposites attract, or attack? Part 1 of this post addressed the very important issue of differences between two people in a relationship. The conclusion of the article explained that it’s less about your differences and more about your interactions with those differences.
Our communication abilities determine so much about the kind of relationships we will have with the world around us. They will either enhance our lives or complicate them. One thing I discuss in more detail in my book, True Love Dates, is the fact that communication skills are mostly learned. Our ability to interact and engage the world around us is impacted by the things we experienced in our family of origin, as well as the many interactions we take part in throughout our lives.
It’s important to recognize our communication style and be aware of the things we need to work in order to express ourselves in a way that will add to our lives, not take away.
Most likely, you fall into one of three kinds of communication styles:
1. Avoidant. Because avoidant personalities see communication from an all-or-nothing perspective, differences are easier disregarded than dealt with. Also known as “people-pleasers,” avoiders would rather make peace than start a war, even at the expense of themselves. If differences do come up, they tend to turn into chameleons, adapting to the colors and desires of the people around them. For fear of confrontation or conflict, they tend to repress differences and stifle feelings for the sake of others. The ironic thing is, that these repressed needs and desires end up reaping temporary peace in the external world but sowing seeds of bitterness and anger within. With each repressed need and stuffed difference, avoidant communicators tend to slowly build up walls that prevent them from being real with the people around them—and usher them into a world of painful isolation.
2. Aggressive. There is no room for differences in the world of an aggressive communicator. Aggression is a form of conflict management that steps on anyone and anything standing in its way. Rather than seeing the value in differences, it tries to overpower them due to personal insecurities. This dangerous bulldozer can manifest through negative words or even through harmful physical behaviors. At the root of aggression is a deficit in emotional management and a difficulty facing issues that require vulnerability. It’s a communication style that ultimately presses people down and pushes people away.
3. Assertive. Assertive communication welcomes differences. It lives with an open-door policy in the face of dissimilarity because it sees value in both perspectives. It is secure and confident—it has nothing to hide; therefore it has the ability to deal with differences by bringing them to the light and working through them. It is about equality, not power. It is about communication, not control. It offers an avenue for honest self-expression without devaluing the person to whom it is expressing it. It is free of manipulation, negative language, and intimidation. It’s not only about what you say; it’s about how you say it. When conflict does arise, assertive communication knows how to listen and adapt, while still seeing its personal needs as important. More than anything, assertive communication upholds respect, even in the face of differences.
Though assertiveness will always lead you toward growth and maturity, when it comes to romantic relationships, it won’t always lead you to the “happily ever after.” If you still find yourself in the face of some serious differences (as discussed in part 1 of this article) you can’t seem to overcome within a dating** relationship (moral values, worldviews, life direction, etc.), allow assertiveness to be used as the tool to a respectful and clean break-up. Know yourself. Know your needs. And know the differences you can and can’t handle.
Opposites will attract, and then they will attack—that’s a guarantee. But for those who take the opportunity to learn to communicate with assertiveness, relationship differences can be used as instruments for personal growth and maturity, rather than destruction and despair.
*For a deeper look into the 3 styles of communication, and for more on creating a healthy life and in turn, finding a healthy relationship- don’t wait to pick up a copy of True Love Dates today!!
**To clarify: while a dating relationship allows for difficult and unhealthy interactions to end by parting ways, my personal belief is that these kinds of differences are dealt with far differently within the context of a life-long commitment to marriage.
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in dating, marriage, and relationship issues, along with a spectrum of mental health disorders and issues. She’s the author of True Love Dates, Choosing Marriage, Love in Every Season, Are You Really Ok?, and Married Sex. She’s also the host of the Love + Relationships Podcast, a hotline-style show where people call in to get their relationship questions answered!