July 25, 2015

Stress-Proof Your Relationship: Love Your Partner’s Virtues and Vices

“Vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess” –Charles Dickens

I’ll never forget the day we met. Atlanta. 1970. Bell bottoms, peace symbols, and shoulder-length hair were the rage.

Now, forty-two years later, what I still remember most about that first encounter are those emerald-green eyes; that witty, devil-may-care abandon; that fun-loving, flexible and spur-of-the-moment zest for life.

It’s interesting how, after only seven years (Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no such thing as the seven-year itch) that carefree, playful, free spirit I had met suddenly morphed into an unpredictable, disorganized, irresponsible, and messy slob!

Stress and the Flipside of the Coin

If you’re like me, you were swept off your feet when you first met the love of your life. You swooned. Your heart leaped.

And your beloved’s virtues stood out from the vices.

Then, after a while into the relationship, you start to see the flipside of the coin: all the vices that bug you.

Maybe you think to yourself, “Boy, has she changed” or “He’s not the same man I thought he was.”

But the truth is that she hasn’t changed, and yes, he’s exactly the same man. You’re just starting to see the other side.

The things that cause stress in your intimate relationship are often the flipside of the things that originally attracted you.

Think about it this way: Virtues contain vices. Strength contains willfulness; stability contains control; spontaneity contains abandon.

You’re getting a package deal. When virtues get carried to excess, you get vices, hence conflict.

Are You a Rock or Bird?

If you were to interview my partner, here’s how I would’ve looked at our first encounter: “in charge, stable, organized, solid, serious.”

And here’s how I would’ve looked after seven years together: “controlling, rigid, inflexible, workaholic.”

Here’s why: In most intimate relationships one party is a rock and one is a bird.

Rocks are closed books; they play their hands close to their chests, keep their feet firmly planted on the ground, are organized, logical, unemotional, and usually have things under control.

Birds are open books; they show their cards. They could care less about order and organization.

They are more emotional, playful, spontaneous, flexible, and flow with the moment.

They are often more creative and intuitive than rocks. These differences can be sources of major conflict and stress, but they don’t have to be.

A Match Made in Heaven? Seriously?

A match made in Heaven? I can see you rolling your eyes.

And, no, I’m not on crack. My long-term relationship is proof of that.

The truth is that one style is not better or more right than the other. Both the bird and rock play important roles in a relationship.

The rock provides stability and the bird provides levity—both of which are necessary ingredients for a balanced match.

Two rocks would sink from the intensity and two birds would fly off into the wild blue yonder with nobody taking care of business.

So believe it or not, the rock and bird are a union made in Heaven if…

1. If you’re willing to see some value in your partner’s style—instead of thinking your way is right or better—you’ll notice a difference in the tension between you.

2. If you’re willing to look for the virtues contained in your partner’s vices—and to round out yourself by incorporating some of those virtues into yourself, you’ll make a big step to stress-proofing your relationship.

Think of Your Partner as Your “Tor-Mentor”

Ah, your partner is your teacher, and you can learn a lot about yourself from this “tor-menter”.

I’m much more light-hearted and flexible than I used to be. And my partner is much more organized and responsible. I challenge you to look at your mate differently today.

Here’s how to find your mirror message and what to do with it:

1. Identify who’s the rock and bird in your intimate relationship.

2. Make a list of your partner’s polar opposites (his or her “vices”) that “bug” you.

3. Extract the positive qualities or virtues contained in each vice on your list and write them beside each of the vices.

For example, if he’s a perfectionist, he might be accomplished or people might look up to him. If she doesn’t plan ahead, perhaps she’s mindful of living in the moment.

4. Next, pinpoint the mirror message—the flipside of yourself that you disowned or never developed—that can complete you and make you well rounded.

For example, if he’s a perfectionist and you’re more of a procrastinator, the mirror message might be that you need to up your game.

If she doesn’t plan ahead and you’re on the fast track, the mirror message might be that you need to put on the brakes and live more in the present.

5. Then, put a check mark by each mirror message trait that you can start to develop within yourself.

6. Give this exercise to your partner and have him or her follow the same steps.

After both of you have completed the exercise, you’ll be surprised at how much more you appreciate the relationship and how much more stress-free it will be.

After all, that’s why opposites attract: to bring wholeness and balance to each other.

Once you start to look at the differences as a plus, instead of a minus, you’ll inject less stress and more harmony into your relationship.

About the author

Bryan E. RobinsonBryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., is author, psychotherapist, and Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has authored thirty nonfiction books including such popular self-improvement books as: The Art of Confident Living (HCI Books, 2009), Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians who Treat Them (New York University Press, 2007), Don’t Let Your Mind Stunt Your Growth (New Harbinger Press, 2000), Overdoing It: How to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself (HCI Books, 1992), and Heal Your Self-Esteem (HCI Books, 1991).

His latest book, The Smart Guide to Managing Stress, was released in April, 2012. Bryan’s debut novel, Limestone Gumption, (a Southern murder mystery) will be published by Gale/Five Star Publishers in January, 2014. You can read the first 2 chapters of the novel for free at www.bryanrobinsonnovels.com.

To know more about Dr. Bryan, visit his website www.bryanrobinsononline.com.

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