Wednesday 12 December 2018

Opposites attract

On Valentine's Day Kathy Donaghy asks couples how they overcome the things that set them apart and make it work

Tech that: Samantha Kelly and her fiancé Andy Kehoe are poles apart when it comes to social media Photo: Patrick Browne
Tech that: Samantha Kelly and her fiancé Andy Kehoe are poles apart when it comes to social media Photo: Patrick Browne

Can love survive if two people have completely different opinions on major social issues or if they just 'don't get' what the other person does?

After many years and having interviewed hundreds of couples, renowned relationship guru Dr John Gottmann identified four negative factors that can predict divorce and seven positive principles that predict marital success.

Political divide: Kim Kardashian was a Hillary supporter but hubby Kanye backed Trump Photo: Getty
Political divide: Kim Kardashian was a Hillary supporter but hubby Kanye backed Trump Photo: Getty

Gottmann says he looks for certain kinds of negativity, which he calls the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", to predict a relationship's failure. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are the four harbingers of doom, according to Gottmann who says that accepting the differences between you and your partner and compromise are among the core principles of making a marriage work. That message of acceptance may not be stamped on any Hallmark cards today, but it's something Samantha Kelly (46) completely understands.

She is busy planning her wedding later this year to her partner Andy Kehoe (57). The couple, who met five years ago and live in Rosslare, Co Wexford, love many of the same things - a bracing walk on the beach or a good movie in front of the fire.

But their attitudes to social media make them polar opposites. Samantha is a new breed of tech entrepreneur. She's known as the 'Tweeting Goddess' and runs an online platform for women in business to support each other called the Women's Inspire Network.

Andy, a taxi driver, has a phone which he uses to make calls and send texts. He doesn't have a social media presence or want one either. Samantha says when it comes to what's on TV, they are also polar opposites. While Andy likes what she calls "nerdy" programmes like Wheeler Dealers about buying and restoring cars, she likes anything with "razzle dazzle".

Love and war: Diane and Kurt were always at odds in the The Good Wife
Love and war: Diane and Kurt were always at odds in the The Good Wife

But it's the stance on social media that leaves them poles apart. "He really doesn't get it. He might send a text message and that's about it. He just doesn't understand social media," says Samantha, who is mum to Leah (18) and Abi (11).

She says Andy didn't really understand her role in the social media world until he drove her to an event where she was speaking and she was inundated with requests from people trying to discover social media for themselves. "He said to me after 'you really know your stuff, don't you?'."

While Samantha is, as she says herself, "always on" organising big events like her forthcoming Women's Inspire conference on April 11 or working on a client's Twitter feed, Andy is happy to remain blissfully unaware about her online world.

However, Samantha says she couldn't do any of it without him. "If he didn't pick up the slack at home, the house would be in a mess. If I need to travel to an event, I know he's there for the girls. By nature, he loves a clean house but I'm more messy," she says.

"He doesn't do WhatsApp. I take videos for my followers and while he doesn't get it, he knows it's important to me and he's fully supportive of me. I could be speaking at an event and Andy will come and sit outside and read the paper. I think acceptance is a huge part of it.

"I could be doing a webinar from the kitchen and he'll come in and put the kettle on or he might put the washing on. He wouldn't get the fact that I'm doing a webinar and that does drive me mad sometimes. I have to accept that too - maybe it's time to get that home office. I have to accept he's not interested in social media, that it's just not part of his world. But we're very united in the big things like being kind to people and doing the right thing. He lets me do my thing even if he doesn't understand what I'm talking about."

Despite this gulf between them, she says Andy looks after her. "We know each other's stories and we accept each other for our past. Trust is really important. I love hanging out with him, just sitting by the fire having a cup of tea," she says.

Sarah Sproule, originally from Melbourne in Australia, and her husband John, from Dublin, have been together for 17 years and have three children aged between 10 and 14 years old.

Sarah is a supporter of the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment while her husband believes abortion shouldn't be allowed in Ireland except in exceptional circumstances.

Sarah says while they often joke at the cultural gulf separating them, when it comes to something as serious as the views they hold on abortion, she and John - who live in Dublin - have learned over time to be respectful of the other's position. "To be able to live with and love someone who has different views on something so important to me has been a journey. I wouldn't say it's easy. I have learned that it is possible to sit with someone's different opinion and my world doesn't end.

"I know I've had to slowly develop this ability to sit with difference. It's been a huge learning experience. I started to realise I've got better at this - by understanding that he's still the same person, I'm able to listen," she says.

Sarah, an occupational therapist who provides sexuality and relationship education for families, says she is still firm in her own opinions on abortion, but has learned to listen.

"I used to get so upset and angry when we would try to discuss it that I would have to walk away, and I can really listen now. By listening, it helps me learn," she says.

"The priority is the relationship and not the issue. All of the cultural messages we have around being in a relationship are that love is not about having conflict. But to be in a relationship is complex. Repealing the Eighth is just one of many issues we don't see eye to eye on, but our relationship is a valid form of being together and the family we are raising together is strong. It's been challenging, but the learning that has come from it all has been a great gift to me.

"Our differences - it's been a slow unrolling. I don't think I fully realised how different we were when we first got together. We laughed at our cultural differences. John is Catholic, I'm non-religious. We were fine with these differences until the kids came along. We trawled all the churches in our area trying to find a community of faith we were comfortable with, but we never succeeded. As each new difference comes along, it's a surprise each time."

Sarah says there have been times when she's wanted to run away from the hard work of it all.

"Maybe some people don't have the big obvious conflicts we have. But your partner is their own person, and I don't think necessarily that we are taught how to benefit from differences in other people. Conflict is part of the fabric of being human and instead of running away, we can learn to sit with it and treat the other person with respect."

Relationship therapist and psychotherapist Bernadette Ryan says while fundamental differences can make or break a relationship, the key is respecting difference.

"We don't necessarily have to agree on everything. You can't change the other person but you can be responsible for your own reactions. People spend a lot of wasted energy trying to change (their partner) but we don't have the right to change another person. People come into a relationship as they are," says Bernadette. She quotes Gottmann, who points out that, for most couples in long-term happy relationships, 65pc of their differences never get resolved.

"He found that those who are happy learned to give and take. They learn to communicate around their issues respectfully. Respect for difference is the key," she says.

Perhaps that's the message we should be taking to heart this Valentine's Day. And when the roses have lost their bloom and the fancy meal is long forgotten, we might do well to remember that this is key to going the distance.

Irish Independent

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