A woman we’ll call Emily once confided that she felt a sense of relief in the morning when her husband, Brad, left for work. The problem began with the fact that they functioned on very different schedules. He was a morning person, getting up early to prepare for his day and consume (as she jokingly estimates) about three pots of coffee. By the time Emily—who preferred to sleep until the last minute before it was time to get the kids ready for school—was awake, he was wired on caffeine and was primed to talk, pontificate, or even lecture about politics, things going on at his job or whatever else he was focused on that morning. Emily was the most convenient target.
The result? A sleepy, de-caffeinated Emily—who was not primed to talk about anything yet, much less world events—felt like she was being assaulted with morning tirades and expected to respond. At that hour, all she could really think about was fixing breakfast for the kids.
Moreover—and here is the key point—she simply was not, on a personal level, as interested in some of his pet topics as she was. Even in the evening when he came home, some of the same issues would resurface. He was fascinated by the rapid development of faster and smarter computers. He had strong political leanings. A schoolteacher, he was frustrated about public policies in education that he felt weren’t best for the kids he taught. The list went on, and when Emily looked bored (because, admittedly, she sometimes was), he grew frustrated.
Couples, even the most compatible among us, cannot be expected to agree—or feel equally passionate about—all topics, so their problem was not all that unusual, but nor was the solution all that complicated. One day, Emily simply tried to explain to Brad that she agreed with pretty much everything he said about politics, etc. (though she also admitted that her interest in computer technology was almost nil). It’s just that she didn’t feel as strongly about them and had different ways of expressing her opinions. She added that the morning rants in particular felt like an assault on her senses.
At first Brad felt hurt and accused her of being disinterested in the world around her, but she encouraged him to find friends and colleagues with similar beliefs or even get involved in local politics—a win-win, because he could try and take action about the things he believed in while finding new outlets for his passionate feelings about them.
In a healthy relationship, your partner is often your go-to person to hear your frustrations, beliefs and observations about what’s going on inside and outside your personal life. But it often doesn’t work for them to be the only outlet—especially when they’re passions don’t perfectly align.
As for their difference in schedule preferences, that was the easiest to solve. Emily admitted to being guilty of doing the opposite: tending to choose the latest possible hour, when Brad was ready to go to bed, to bring up issues about the kids’ schools, a leak in the roof, or whatever happened to be on her mind. Both agreed to accept that Emily was not eager to talk before 7 a.m., and Brad was done for the day by 10:30 at night.
Respecting that you have different communications styles (as well as circadian rhythms), and working to find other people who share your zeal about different issues can take a lot of pressure of your partner and relationship, so instead of focusing on your differences, you can celebrate them while focusing on what you do share in common.