What You’ll Never Fix About Your Marriage (and Why You Don’t Have to)

(This post was first published at the Huffington Post)

I planned to tell my now-husband that it wasn’t going to work out on our third date. He was very sweet, respectful and handsome but my internal voice suggested we weren’t compatible enough.

He was in sales; I was studying to be a therapist. We had different views on religion. With his short hair and clean-shaven face he was more clean-cut than my previous boyfriends. And our first kiss had just been so-so. I had my doubts about where this might go.

On that date, however, as we shot pool and munched peanuts I ended up having such a great time that I decided to give him a chance, and that evening the kiss was delicious.

Over twelve years of marriage and parenting, our differences have, at times, been the source of conflict. But what I’ve learned to hold onto is that, it’s the doubt, judgment and criticism of our differences, that are toxic — not the number of ways we differ.

Of course, we all want to share some fundamental things — and to have a successful relationship we’ve got to have the basics — safety, love, trust and commitment. But compatibility is more about the ways we draw on one another’s strengths to build a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

More than, “Do we have enough in common?” or “Can he finish my sentences?” I think the important question is: “Am I open and willing to work towards finding the gifts in our similarities and differences?”

There are red flag issues like abuse or dishonesty, and then there’s the other stuff: I’m outdoorsy and he’s not, I’m neat and he’s messy, I’m a meat-eater and he’s vegetarian. These differences aren’t deal-breakers. In fact, our fixation on the ways that our husband is “too different” from us is the actual thing that keeps us from being compatible.

But what do we do when we find ourselves focusing on, and judging our marriage, for the qualities we don’t share?

Here are some tips for nurturing true compatibility:

  • Watch out for unrealistic expectations. Soul mates can be found, but more often they are co-created.
  • Pay attention to your focus. We invest our energy where we choose to focus. Choose gratitude instead of criticism as often as possible.
  • Cut your circular thinking. Train your mind instead of having it rule you. Practices like meditation are invaluable for this skill.
  • Choose curiosity over criticalness. What are the differences about? What do they add to the relationship? (Embrace those things.)
  • Get into your body: breathe, stretch, notice. Criticism is often more about fear than about true incompatibility.

Twelve years later, my husband and I are going strong with 2 kids, 2 dogs, 5 chickens and a guinea pig. Our differences have, at times, been the source of conflict, but in working through that conflict our love and commitment have grown.