DEAR READER: Opposites do attract. Differences can draw us like a magnet to the other person. These same differences, however, may repel us later on. What initially attracts us and what later becomes “the problem” are usually one and the same.
How does this work? If John feels a bit allergic to the high degree of togetherness and emotionality in his Italian-American family, he may be especially drawn to a woman like you, who models a position of emotional detachment and separateness. If you, for your part, are a bit allergic to the distance and reserve in your WASP family, you may be attracted to John’s emotional and expressive style. But five years from now, he may complain that you’re too cool and distant, and you may complain that he’s too involved with his “demanding” family.
Am I predicting a gloomy future for your marriage? Of course not. Dealing with differences is the central challenge in any intimate relationship. Some differences are bound to make us feel angry, isolated, or anxious at times; but it’s important to keep in mind that differences are the only way we learn. If our intimate relationships were composed only of people identical to ourselves, our personal growth would come to an abrupt halt.
What matters is that you and John love and respect each other. Along with your differences, I trust that you share important commonalties. Marriage works best when partners share deeply held beliefs and core values. But in any close relationship, differences will inevitably emerge?differences in our values, beliefs, priorities, and habits, as well as in how we manage anxiety and navigate family relationships.
Talk openly with John about how your different ethnic backgrounds may shape your marriage. Relationships get into trouble whenever we deny differences (or exaggerate them, for that matter) or whenever we assume that our view of reality?or our way of being in the world?is the only correct one. Respecting differences is the greatest and most difficult of all human challenges