A big goal of this column is to answers questions from readers, and maybe — hopefully — help heal their hearts just a little bit by providing insight on how to handle the tough questions surrounding love and life.
Last week, my daughter’s dad emailed with a question about, umm, us. I asked him if I could share it, and he said sure. So here it goes:
“How can people with vastly different personalities start and maintain a relationship? Is it possible, or is just a fool’s errand?”
First, a little backstory. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about personality types. My ex and I are completely different — I mean, absolute night and day. If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test, you know that people fall into four different categories. Mine is ENFP (extravert, intuitive, feeler, perceiver). His personality is the exact opposite. Sometimes this can be extremely beneficial for couples. They get to complement each other in ways that similar personality types just can’t do. It’s also the reason why people are attracted to opposites, at least initially. That person is a mystery. So different. So intriguing. So…hard to understand. That last part comes later, after the honeymoon phase fades and reality sets in. I hate reality.
So, dear father of my daughter, this is what I think:
No, it’s not a fool’s errand to believe that people with different personality types can achieve a long-lasting and happy relationship. But here’s the shit: Both people have to be willing to change for the other person. They don’t have to change completely, but they have to change enough to give the other person what they really want — and need — to be happy and fulfilled in a relationship (and in our case, a marriage). But they can’t lose the best parts of themselves in the process. And they can’t resent the compromise. As you know, resentment is the hardest thing to overcome. It’s like this wall of hate that grows taller and taller until you can’t even see your partner anymore.
You’ve got to ask yourself if you’d date me all over again knowing what you know now? What type of people are you drawn to today? What are your friends like? How do you want to live your life? Where are you spiritually? And what are your goals for the future? I think the answers to these questions are more important than comparing personality types. Those are the big things that form the foundation of a relationship and help define the purpose of our lives.
When we were 18, I didn’t ask myself those things. I just loved you. Questions like that didn’t seem to matter in the face of such blind and utter happiness. It took me a decade before I even knew which questions to ask.
There’s this famous book called “The Five Love Languages.” People use it to determine what “fills their love tank.” It might sound cheesy, but it’s absolutely true. My love languages are quality time and gifts. So when I bake cookies for somebody, I’m showing them my love. When I spend a lot of one-on-one time with a person wrapped in deep conversation and thought, I’m giving them my love. That’s also how I like to receive love, and it’s how my “love tank” gets refilled. Of course, not everyone is the same, and thank goodness for that.
To you, dear father of my daughter: I did a pretty bad job of filling your love tank because I was so empty myself. I tried to love you in the ways that I wanted to be loved, but that didn’t work. So I got mad, and the walls of resentment became a fortress.
That’s where I am now, still hiding behind these walls. I’d like to be seized by some strong and well-equipped army that could knock down these old stones. But that’s going to take a lot of time and energy.
As always, please write to me with your questions on love, relationships, and life at: firstname.lastname@example.org.