Q: I love my partner very much, but how do I manage that we are so opposite when it comes to being outgoing and social?

A: You've probably heard the expression "opposites attract." But what, exactly does this mean? And is it true? Of course, nothing is true for all couples, but, in general, we have a tendency to choose someone whose personality style adds or complements our own.

Marital research shows that these differences are one of the most important factors in mutual happiness and personal growth for couples in long-term relationships. The famous line, "You complete me," from the movie Jerry McGuire captures the power of differences.

The question is: Just what are the best kinds of differences? Once again, one person's good match is another person's mistake. The proof, as they say, is always in the pudding. Yet, there are some types of differences that seem to enrich a relationship. For example, the best differences can offer a partner more variety and flexibility in managing problems and life in general. An outgoing person can teaches a more introverted person how to feel comfortable with others, a calm person can show an easily rattled person how to manage annoyances, and a more out-spoken person can help a too passive partner learn to speak up.

If you and your partner have different temperaments, relationship styles, and comfort zones, here is a guide for handling those differences.

1. Get into a loving mindset. Accept your partner's differences. In fact, celebrate them! Your varying styles make you a stronger decision-making, life-managing couple.

2. Learn from your partner and expand your world. Loosen your fears, your "this is who I am" approach. When you step outside your comfort zone, you expand your coping skills. No one wants only one tool in their tool box of life. Sit down with your partner and ask for help in your areas of weakness. Offer to help your partner. For example, one of my couples had problems in social situations. She was an elected official and had to attend many rubber chicken dinners and fund raisers. Her partner dreaded these events because he felt too much pressure to mingle and chit-chat. He hated small talk because he thought it was shallow. Besides, he wasn't adept at it.

She suggested that he become part of the greeting committee that signed people into the event. His time with others was limited, he felt useful, and he could then pick and choose which people to pursue later.

3. Don't try to change or criticize your partner. No good, joyful learning ever occurred through nagging or criticizing. Would you want someone to criticize you? Ask your partner if he or she would like some help with his or her tendencies toward things such as shyness or an overly logical way of looking at problems. Some couples get caught up in "apologizing" for their partner's shyness or assertiveness. The other person experiences these apologies, though, as veiled criticism and rejection.

A couple I'd been seeing had huge arguments about his overly logical way of making decisions. "It was all dollars and cents to him--with little sense," the wife said. When they discussed vacations with the extended family, her husband always chose to have the family visit them. "It cut down expenses," he always reasoned. At the end of each of these holiday visits, the wife was exhausted from cooking and cleaning. And the other relatives felt the negative impact of his attitude. The holidays were rarely fun. Privately, the wife knew her husband feared the dangers of driving and flying. She appealed to his discomfort by telling him the importance of establishing fun family traditions.

She spoke to her siblings and in-laws, and they developed a plan that involved shorter visits to the same place every year. The place was closer to where she and her husband lived. The plan was that the family would meet at her home, and the family would leave the next day for the holiday destination. Her husband would be a passenger in her brother's car since he was an excellent driver.

4. Aim to understand each of your tendencies and differences. Varying styles are a product of genetics and life experience. But neither of these are closed doors. It's amazing how much capacity we have when the relationship environment is loving. Ask yourself: Why am I the way I am? Why is my partner that way?

5. Choose your battles and develop strategies. What's really bothering you-and why? Where is the pressure coming from? Parents? Colleagues? The story in number 3 is a perfect example of how to work together to iron out issues when you don't see eye-to-eye.

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Author's Bio: 

LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships. For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com.