The secret to improving your relationship
Let’s be honest: sharing your life with another human being can be difficult. Most of the reasons we fall in love are for “big things”: shared values, hobbies, life dreams. But everyday relationships involve a lot of mundane nuts and bolts. The laundry that needs to be done, the dishes that need to be washed, the kids that need to be transported, the plans that need to be coordinated. This is where the tensions arise, because each of us approaches everyday life in a different way. Often we attribute these differences to the way we were raised – and that is certainly partly true. Maybe you prefer to stack the cups down rather than up, because that’s how your family has always done it. But much of how we go about everyday life is actually the product of our unique genetic wiring.
Our genes influence the development of our brain, in the same way that they impact the natural color of our hair. These subtle differences in how our brains are wired cause us to experience the world in different ways. That’s why something that might be incredibly annoying or upsetting for you isn’t a big deal for your partner – and they can’t figure out why it’s such a big deal for you. It’s not how their brain works; it doesn’t make sense to them.
In my book, child’s code, I’m talking about the “big three” – three dimensions on which children differ and which can play an important role in how they react to their parents. Above all, understanding how our children are wired can help improve our relationships with them and guide us in how to raise them.
But it’s not just our children; it’s all of us. We all have natural tendencies and vary in how we approach and respond to others. So, in the same way that understanding how your child is wired can help you in your parenting role, understanding how your partner is wired can help you navigate your relationship with them. Mismatches between spouses on The Big Three (and other dimensions) are often at the root of the problems experienced by couples.
So what are the Big Three? The big three (also called the three Es) are extraversion, emotionality, and willful control.
Extroversion refers to the amount of energy we get from the presence of others, versus the downtime we need to recharge. Is your perfect idea of a Friday night being surrounded by a large group of friends at a party or spending time on the couch with your partner?
emotionality refers to how we experience and deal with fear, frustration or distress. Some of us have brains that are more prone to these experiences. We are more likely to worry and be preoccupied with a variety of things.
Effective control refers to the ability to regulate our emotions and behavior. It goes by many names: self-control, self-regulation, impulsiveness. I use the term willful control because it reminds us that it takes effort not to do what we want, when we want. But for some of us it takes more effort than for others, depending on our unique genetic wiring. There are many different types of situations that require tight control: sometimes we need to motivate ourselves to do something (get up and go to the gym), sometimes we need to stop (eat that extra piece of cake). Sometimes we have to stick to boring things (working, paying bills). And sometimes we have to stop ourselves from doing something we’ll regret, either when we’re in a really good mood (eg, one night of excess after a promotion) or in a very bad mood (eg, yelling at the boss) . People can vary in the degree of control they have over different kinds of situations.
Here’s an exercise you can do with your partner to get a feel for where each of you falls on the big three. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not at all like you and 10 being very like you, how well do the following statements describe you? Write down your numbers for each question:
- Are you someone who gets your energy from being around other people?
- Do you like big parties and meeting new people?
- Are you talkative and full of energy?
- Are you someone who is outgoing and social?
- Are you someone who gets nervous easily?
- Do you worry a lot?
- Are you someone who gets down easily or who gets blue?
- Do you get very frustrated or upset when things don’t go as planned?
- Are you good at making a plan and following it?
- Do you think things through before you do them?
- Do you tend to splurge when you’re in a really good or really bad mood?
- Do you like to take risks?
Add up your points and compare the scores of each of you in the three big E’s. If you got a score higher than 15, you are at the bottom of the scale; 16-26 medium range; if you scored
Here’s why it’s important: When spouses don’t match on The Big Three, it can lead to tension. These tensions show up in the tiny daily routine, so you’re probably unaware of the underlying cause.
When partners don’t match on Extraversion, it can lead to tension around how you spend your time. The more outgoing partner may want to spend more time with other people or around town, while the more introverted one may prefer spending time with the two of you. This can lead to resentment: the more introverted partner doesn’t understand why spending time with them isn’t enough, while the more extroverted one may start to feel like their partner doesn’t want to do fun things or do part of their life.
Mismatches on emotionality and voluntary control can also lead to challenges. If one partner is low on emotionality and naturally handles stress more easily, they may not understand why their partner is so upset when the kids go wild as they try to get everyone else to do it. family vacation. Conversely, the partner who is more emotional may feel rejected when told to “calm down” or make a fuss out of nothing.
Mismatches on different dimensions of voluntary control can also lead to problems. If one partner takes more risks, they may be more comfortable with your child climbing to the tops of tall trees, while the other parent gets upset because they feel their partner doesn’t. pays no attention to the safety of his child. If a partner is naturally inclined to be a planner or a good follower, they may not understand why their partner can’t get the chores done without being distracted by more interesting activities. They may interpret it as disrespectful.
Having different ways of approaching things — whether it’s childcare, loading the dishwasher, or planning a vacation — is the root cause of many relationship challenges. Over time, differences can start to become divisive and, if you’re not careful, everything can turn into a battle. Sometimes these differences can cause you to start resenting your partner. Why can’t they just ________ (fill in the blank with the thing you’ve asked them to do a million times)?
It is a natural reaction, because we only know our way of being in the world. The right way to take care of children, to fill a dishwasher or to do projects seems “obvious” and simple, because that’s how our brains work. But just as we have different hair colors and body shapes, we have brains that are wired differently.
This means that we often see things in very different ways. It can make life with anyone difficult, even when you’re both wonderful people with good intentions. They just have a brain that works differently. So take a deep breath and remember that working together takes patience and understanding as you try to understand how each other’s brains work and find strategies for working together.