In the beginning of a relationship, someone’s quirky personality traits related to their “maintenance level” may be endearing. You love that they can go out for an evening without worrying too much about how they look; or you think it’s cute that they put painstaking care into choosing a restaurant.
However, as a relationship matures, certain idiosyncrasies can go from cute and quirky to baffling and even annoying. High-maintenance/low-maintenance differences may even signal real problems in a relationship, especially if the differences spring from serious lifestyle issues (like living simply vs. spending extravagantly) or completely different values. It might be the case that someone with a strong preference for a spontaneous, unplanned way of life just does not match up well with someone who becomes anxious and discombobulated when things veer from the plan or schedule.
But if you two are compatible on the really major issues, then a few maintenance-level differences don’t have to be a big problem. Plenty of couples make their relationships work even though one of them thinks it doesn’t matter which direction the toilet paper roll goes and the other one believes it’s absolutely critical.
Making a relationship work in the face of these differences requires flexibility on both sides. You each have to be tolerant, understanding, and open to the reality that your way isn’t the only way. Here are some suggestions to help you remain flexible and open, so that you two can emphasize the compatibility you share.
Accept and Embrace who you Are
Regardless of what side of the high-/low-maintenance scale you fall on, don’t be hard on yourself. You don’t have to be more like your partner. Sure, you might determine that it would be good for you and your relationship if you were less of a slob, or less uptight, but being low-maintenance isn’t inherently bad, nor is being high-maintenance. That’s just how you are, so accept and embrace this important part of yourself.
That being said, though, it’s important that you combine this sense of self-acceptance with a strong dose of self-awareness, which leads to our second suggestion.
Take an Inventory of Yourself
While there’s nothing wrong with being either high-maintenance or low-maintenance, you don’t want to remain stuck in some sort of rut without at least examining the way you go about living your life and making decisions. So take some time to think about your own habits and behaviors. Take an inventory of what enhances your relationship and what might detract from it. Are there things you do that you know drive your partner crazy? Maybe it has to do with being (or not being) on time for dates, or how long it takes you to order food at a restaurant, or the way you make big life decisions. The more aware you can become of your own tendencies and the way they affect your relationship, the better you’ll be able to improve your compatibility with your partner.
Then, once you’ve examined yourself and tried to gain this type of self-awareness, you’re ready to begin to take action.
Take a Small Step Toward Compatibility Every Day
If you’re looking to strengthen your relationship and thoroughly enjoy each other, then it’s important that you and your partner match up as much as possible in terms of compatibility. This isn’t always easy, and it takes effort.
If you’re the high-maintenance partner: See if you can relax just a bit on one issue, no matter how small, every day. Maybe it has to do with where you insist on sitting in a restaurant. Maybe you agree to a spontaneous outing and then get ready for it really fast. Maybe the next time you two disagree on something, you agree not to get out a pen and paper and meticulously weigh every pro and con. The point is to find simple ways of showing that you’re making an effort to understand where your partner’s coming from, and to act accordingly.
If you’re the low-maintenance partner: Find one thing you can do each day, no matter how small, that will demonstrate that you’re paying attention to the details your partner cares so much about. Maybe you throw away all the fast-food wrappers from the floor of your car. Maybe you show up for a date with the whole evening planned out, as opposed to your customary “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” Maybe you finally acknowledge that your partner is right about the fact that you’re supposed to change your oil every 3,000, not 30,000 miles.
Again, what you’re trying to do is simply to communicate that you’re fully engaging as a relationship partner. By making small efforts and taking small strides toward balancing out your maintenance level, you’ll be letting each other know that you care about the relationship, and about each other’s feelings and desires. This kind of effort can lead to mutual growth, making you better people and better partners.
Which brings us to the most obvious, and sometimes most difficult to follow, suggestion.
Focus on the Positives
This can be a difficult task in any relationship, but especially one in which two people are approaching the world from really different perspectives. Small issues (regarding the toothpaste tube, for example) and big ones (regarding how to go about making future career, financial, and family decisions) offer the potential for real conflict in the relationship.
But keep in mind that everybody has certain characteristics that annoy other people, so it’s perfectly normal that differences between you will cause irritation or even conflict. And if you think about it, some of the traits that bother you about the other person are also connected to what draws you to them. For example, you might not like how long they take to get ready for the date, but you love the way they look once they’re ready. Or you might wish they were more financially responsible and saved more of their money, but you admire how generous they are toward other people.
So do your best to focus on the things you love and appreciate about your partner, and realize that dealing with the differences between you can actually strengthen your relationship and bring you closer together.