John Gottman, Relationship expert and author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, states that 69% of marital issues are perpetual; they will reoccur. These are often differences in values or bigger issues about trust, power, or security and can lead to perpetual problems. These aren’t issues to be “fixed” but are issues that can be managed through awareness and examining underlying issues.
One of the things I see quite frequently in relationships, my own included, is that one person is a planner and the other person is all about options.
Here’s one of the funny things that happens – at least people laugh when I point out this pattern I see in their relationship!: Options person starts chatting about all the things that they want to do or have happen. To the Planner, this might just as well be voice activated software, as each option becomes a bullet point on Planner’s “Must Do” list. For Planner, anything starting with “I want to” or “maybe we should” is a firm desire and needs to be slotted in somewhere. After jotting down Option’s list, Planner then tries to deal with their overwhelm because the list of stuff that needs to get done is so long and now they somehow feel they have an obligation to make these things happen.
However, imagine Option’s surprise when Planner asks them for details of a start date or brings home a brochure for that cruise Option wanted to do this summer. Option never really intended to do the project nor go on the cruise – they were just options, not to be taken into action at this time. I heard a story recently about a couple where this happened and the Planner made all the arrangements, booked the holiday, packed and Options had no idea they’d expressed a desire to go away for the weekend and actually had something else booked. Options couldn’t even recall the conversation.
Talk about miscommunication.
Planners need to realize that Options are often just exploring, and Options need to realize Planners take them seriously.
Options need to realize that when a Planner says they want to do something that they probably ARE serious, it isn’t simply an option.
Of course, we are complex beings and never 100% one way or the other. As a Planner, sometimes I mention something as a possibility and my Options partner acts on it immediately which then distresses me entirely as I hadn’t committed myself to it.
Once you recognize patterns such as this one, you can then work to manage your differences. You are never going to resolve the issue because you have different ways of operating in the world, but you can come up with some agreements and understandings of how to interact more smoothly and perhaps learn to laugh when those inevitable differences appear, maybe in areas you’ve never encountered before.
- Create an agreement as to when and how you know something is a “to do” and who takes responsibility. Don’t assume.
- Check out assumptions. “You mentioned dinner with the neighbours. Did you want to pursue this?”
- Recognize the strength in each way of being and work with your strengths.
Relationships are complex and ever evolving. Working with differences to enhance your relationship rather than viewing them as barriers can increase your relationship satisfaction.
Rosalie is a Relationship Coach and can be reached at 604-620-4222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.