Have you ever asked yourself why some of the biggest arguments you get into with your partner are often over the smallest, seemingly most unimportant things? I ask myself this frequently. Especially after engaging in an argument that in retrospect seemed so pointless. I certainly don’t relish in the idea of arguing. Especially since it seems to take up so much energy that I would rather use for more important and meaningful things. But for some reason, being “right” is something that I and so many people struggle with in relationships. A common question that gets asked is … Is being right more important than being happy? My question is, why can you have both? It is possible for both you and your partner to be right in your own ways, based on your own life experiences? And it is also possible to not agree and still be happy? I think so.
Finding connection in our differences
When you and your partner don’t disagree, it may seem like the world beneath you has crumbled because “they’re not who I thought they were.” On the contrary, they probably are exactly who you thought they were, they just happen to take a different stance on an issue, or opinion. These differences are important because discussions about how we differ is opportunity for growth in a relationship. It is an opportunity to learn about the other person, to become more connected, and to see things in a way you may not have thought about them before.
It is natural to often have a visceral reaction when our partner doesn’t agree with us. We may start thinking that they don’t agree with us because ie. They don’t support us, they don’t believe in us, they don’t’ care about us… when in reality, they don’t see the world exactly the same way we do. And why should they? Every person has unique experiences including challenges, adversity, loss, grief, happiness, relationships, and the list goes on. The key is to listen to the reason someone thinks or feels the way they do. This is the perfect opportunity to sit with the discomfort you may feel when your partner doesn’t agree with you, listen, and allow their experience to broaden the way you see the world around you. Allow their strengths to bolster your own. Besides, if your partner was exactly like you, the odds are good that you would be bored beyond belief and looking for a way out.
Don’t tear your partner down
Sometimes there when we are trying to prove why we’re right. We often take jabs at our partners in an effort to prove why they are wrong. Instead of talking to each other, and finding a way to work through the discomfort, we pick at each other and pit ourselves against each other widening the divide, when what we really want is to narrow it. This way of communicating is detrimental to a relationship because it often comes at the expense of belittling, humiliating, or disrespecting our partner. And what relationship really thrives under those circumstances? By doing this it eliminates a safe space in which to safely discuss things like experiences and feelings.
In my early twenties, I used to be a participant in a female sport known to most as “man-hunting.” Whenever I happened to go out with my girlfriends, the goal was to see how many drinks we could get men to buy for us. We would put on tiny little dresses, sky high heels, our most scintillating perfume and go “hunting.”
We schmoozed with the hot, not-so-hot, intelligent, clearly not intelligent, tall, short, old, young, rich, broke, and entrepreneurial. But now, having freshly turned the corner from 29 to 30, my thoughts about this are pretty much…
“What the hell were you thinking!?!”
Especially now that in my “old age” I have seen over 100 episodes of shows like CSI, NCIS, and Criminal Minds. I think back to those times and wonder… why did I do that? Was I broke? Was I insecure? Was I bored? What was the point? And to this day I don’t really have a satisfactory answer aside from, it seemed like fun at the time.
Now that the frontal lobe of my brain has solidified, and I belong to an entirely different decade of life, I thank my lucky stars that myself and none of my friends ever got roofied. But I also look back on my 20’s with a tinge of disappointment because back then I thought my looks were all I had.
I guess at the time it didn’t matter that I was doing well in college, was on the right track to getting into medical school and achieving the career I dreamed about since I was 5 years old.
I will admit that when I was younger “man-hunting” was occasionally fun. Sometimes I met really nice guys, most of the time I didn’t. But what I gleaned from my own experiences, and those of my close girlfriends, is that nothing good ever really came from “man-hunting.”
While being found interesting enough to buy a drink for was nice at the time… it’s what came after the initial exchange I found bothersome. While not everyone agrees with me (and that’s okay), I now view drinks as a type of sexual currency.
Most men I’ve encountered seem to be under the impression that if they spend $10 on a gin and tonic that you have now entered a legally binding alcohol contract that requires you to give them something in return… and stimulating conversation is usually not at the top of the list.
The fine print can be as small as your phone number, escalate to a hand on your leg, or an arm around your waist, or be as big as expecting to see you naked after last call. Personally, the way I feel about it is…
I am not a zoo animal. Buying me a drink does not give you the right to fondle or pet me without an invitation.
And you certainly won’t be seeing me naked after last call or anytime in the future.
Bottom line… Thank you for the offer, but I respectfully decline. Why? I’m worth way more than 10 bucks.
Now if you’re the type of man who wants to look into my eyes instead of at my backside, or ask me my name before staring at my chest, then by all means sit down next to me, and start a conversation. I don’t need you to buy me a drink because I’m more than capable of buying my own. That is the type of man I would love to catch.
- When was the last time I saw my primary care doctor?
Contrary to popular belief, psychiatric diagnoses are not doled out like candy on Valentine’s Day. In fact, a psychiatric diagnosis should only be made when medical conditions that share common symptoms with psychiatric disorders have been ruled out. If you haven’t had a thorough physical exam and routine labs in the last 6 to 12 months your primary care physician should be your next stop.
There are common medical conditions with symptoms that can look a lot like psychiatric disorders. In order to treat the root cause of the ailment, and not just the symptoms it is important to have a basic medical work up. Let’s take depression for example. Symptoms typically include: fatigue, weight gain, lethargy, lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed, low energy, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, and lack of motivation. Medical conditions like hypothyroidism, anemia, pregnancy, heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes, excessive alcohol or drug use, etc. can masquerade as depression. By treating the depression alone, that may help with the symptoms, but doesn’t address the root cause which could have a significant impact on your long term health.
- What symptoms am I having and when?
Take note of the symptoms you have been experiencing. Write them down and bring them into your appointment. There are many medical and psychiatric disorders that can be identified based on clusters of symptoms. A timeline of when each symptom started, any inciting triggers, what makes the symptom worse or better, and if the symptom changes throughout the day or throughout the year can be very helpful to your medical provider.
An example seen commonly in practice is chest pain. Chest pain related to heart disease presents differently than chest pain associated with panic attacks. Context and history of your symptoms helps providers get you feeling better faster.
- Do I really need medication?
During your appointment your provider should discuss with you what they are seeing clinically, propose a diagnosis, and discuss the risks, benefits, side effects, and alternatives to evidence based and off label treatments for your condition. The decision to take medication or not is a personal one, and nobody can make the decision for you. If you’re not sure whether or not you want to start a medication, and your condition is non-life threatening and non-urgent take some time to think about it. Do your research and make a follow up appointment to discuss your concerns.
- What can I do to get healthier if I decide I don’t want to start medication right away?
Good nutrition, adequate restful sleep, staying away from drugs and alcohol, and regular exercise are the best non-pharmacological ways to improve both physical health and mood symptoms. If lab tests reveal abnormalities like iron-deficiency anemia, or low vitamin D talk to your doctor about supplements you can take to help your body function optimally. Stress also plays a big role in overall physical and mental health. Relaxation techniques like meditation, guided relaxation, decreasing time on electronic devices, and improving sleep habits are other effective ways to boost your health without taking a medication.
- So, my doctor suggested that I try medication… now what?
Be honest about addiction. If you have a history of addiction, be sure to share this with your doctor. There are medications that are clinically indicated for short term use, that can increase risk of addiction, particularly in someone who is genetically predisposed. There are often alternatives to potentially addictive medications that can be used instead.
Be patient. Sometimes it takes time to notice if the medication is helping or not. Frequently medication needs to be adjusted over time to be sure that you are taking a therapeutic dose and having minimal side effects. Medication is not a one size fit all process. Every person metabolizes medication differently, which means that a particular medication may work very well for one person, but cause significant side effects in another. Although medication can help with psychiatric symptoms, there is no “magic pill” that will make all your problems or worries go away. You will still need to put in work to help yourself get better.
Take medication as prescribed. All medications come with specific instructions. It is important to follow the directions on the prescription to maximize benefit of the medication and mitigate side effects. Therapeutic effect of a medication depends on the level of medication in your bloodstream. The goal is to keep that level steady over time. Taking the medicine at the same time every day without skipping doses is ideal. If it’s hard for you to remember to take your medicine set an alarm on your phone. It is also a good idea to carry one or two pills in a small pillbox on your person just in case you leave the house and forget to take it.
Don’t increase or stop medication on your own without talking to your doctor. As tempting as it may be to want to adjust your own medication, don’t. Playing with your medication dosing can put you at risk for serious side effects, accidental overdose, and toxicity. If you are experiencing adverse effects to your medication call your doctor and let them know. They can advise you on how to proceed in a way that does not jeopardize your health.
Limit access. Always remember to keep your medication stored in a safe and secure place. Small portable safes are a good option given that they are easily obtained and are not too expensive. This helps limit accidental access by children and pets, and can be invaluable in the event of a disaster like a fire or a flood.
Be in the know. Lastly, knowing what medication you are taking is just as important as knowing why you are taking it. If you find the names hard to remember, write them down on a piece of paper with the doses and keep it in your wallet. It is better to be prepared by knowing what you are taking or have easy access to the information. This will help providers update your medical record so it accurately reflects what you are currently taking, minimizes risk for being prescribed a medication that may negatively interact with your current medication, and if you are in an accident and can not communicate the list of medication can be very helpful to the medical providers taking care of you.
It is no secret that the current political climate has left many people divided. Hot topics of discussion can cause both emotions and tensions to run high, which can destroy relationships… if we let it. It is easier to tactfully avoid political discussions in places like work, the gym, or at the grocery store. However it is exponentially more difficult to dodge the topic when you share a household, relationship and a life with someone. So how do you manage the discussion when you strongly believe in one party, but your partner deeply identifies with another?
A common theme among individuals and couples I see in my office revolves around the very heated political divide that our nation is facing at present. Individuals and couples say things like –
“I thought I knew my partner… but now I’m not so sure.”
“If we voted so differently does that mean we don’t share the same ethics, morals, and values?”
“I love my partner, but I’m not sure I can be with someone who thinks this way…”
Some of my patients are so bothered by the difference between the way they voted versus the way their partner voted that they are thinking of dissolving their relationships. Even if they have been together for a significant period of time, for some, years. They express anger, frustration, passion, concern and fear. Volume and tone of voice rises, body language escalates, hand gestures become more frequent and animated, vernacular and vocabulary simplifies, and the list of signs consistent with intense discomfort continues.
After having spoken to many people including: patients, friends, family, co-workers and colleagues this is a scenario that is quite familiar to many people. Although it seems to be a fairly common interaction given the political climate we live in, it was surprising to me how many people weren’t actually talking about their feelings with regard to this issue. It became clear to me that when people stated that they were “talking” to each other about politics, the reality is that many were “fighting” about politics. Often talking over each other, making snide remarks to each other, assuming the thoughts and beliefs of the other person instead of clarifying, speaking more than listening, and trying to convince their partners about why there were wrong, and attempting to sway their partner to their side.
If this is a dynamic you have witnessed, or have been a participant in, below are a few strategies to reconnect with your loved one and move forward together.
- Take a deep breath. This can help you to take an extra second to ground yourself before saying something you may regret.
- Don’t assume. A great deal of miscommunication comes from making assumptions. You can’t read each other’s minds. So don’t try. If you have questions… ask. If you don’t understand something someone said or what they may have meant… clarify
- Don’t speak out of anger. Some things we say in anger can be very damaging to our partner. Remember that even if you disagree on something, there is still room to respect each other’s differences.
- Be flexible. Sometimes we can become very invested in being “right” but at what cost? Being willing to listen to your partner and see things from their point of view is a recipe for success.
- Listen more than you speak. Sometimes silence is the best strategy for avoiding confrontation. Listen. Absorb. Reflect. Then speak.
At times politics can be messy and emotional.
When we’re highly invested in a point of view and are constantly trying to prove we’re “right” we may be completely oblivious that what we’re doing is undermining, isolating, attacking, and invalidating the person we love most.
It’s not about “converting” the other person to your way of thinking, it’s about understanding your partner’s position even if you don’t agree.