Why Our Differences Divide Us

by Susan Quilliam, author of Staying Together: From Crisis to Deeper Commitment

Understanding what is really happening also allows you to begin to understand some of the reasons why conflicts arise between you and your partner. Each person’s life rules are different. Your childhood experiences give you your life rules; your partner’s experiences give him or her a different set of life rules.

Unfortunately, everyone tends to believe that theirs are the only ‘true’ or ‘right’ ones, particularly when they find their life rules are clashing with those of others. Therefore, particularly if we are suffering difficulties in our relationship, we tend to expect and want our partner to behave as if he or she had our life rules. This isn’t possible, simply because a partner won’t have had our past experiences. When they can’t behave like we do, we don’t just feel misunderstood, we feel betrayed. We don’t just think they are mistaken; we think they don’t love us.

We can get very hurt if our partner does something that, by our personal rulebook, is hurtful, even if they, acting by their rulebook, actually meant no harm. If our relationship is falling apart, and our partner promises to be home at six o’clock but hasn’t arrived by a quarter past six, we may feel that they are out to hurt us, and ‘absent-mindedness’ to them. All too often, convinced that our life rules are the only ones to play by, we are too busy being hurt to check out our partner’s real intentions.

If you understand how your partner’s past has created life rules, then you are often much more able to feel better about him or her. With more understanding of ‘why’, you can both appreciate each other more fully. There is often a key moment in counselling work where one partner looks at the other and says ‘Oh, that’s why you do that. I didn’t know. How come you didn’t tell me?’ We make so many assumptions about each other; often, after years of problems, assuming the worst. When we really understand, our anger and bitterness disappears.

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