If you were to sit down a write a list of all the attributes you would want in a close friend or partner, what would be on that list? Would it be about physical attributes like height, build, hair colour or eye colour? Or would it list personal attributes like kindness, determination, patience or discipline? Maybe you’d focus on interests and activities like reading or movies or sport? Or maybe you’d have a list made up of a combination of all these things? Whatever your list is made up of, have a think about this: are the things you have listed more about point of similarity or points of difference? I think often when we paint pictures of the people we want to be in relationship with we create images of people who are very similar to ourselves, and yet if we only around people who are the same as us then we will miss out on a lot in life. Having diversity in our relationships creates strength, depth and growth in them and in us.
Before we look at the benefits of diversity in our relationships, let’s take a quick look at some of the factors we need to bear in mind when considering it in our relationships. Firstly, we need to work out what our negotiables and non-negotiables are. We need to have a clear idea on which areas of our lives we can tolerate difference in and which we can’t. For example, as a Christian it was important to me that my wife was also a Christian. I was not willing to marry or enter into an intimate relationship with someone who wasn’t a Christian because my faith is important to me. When thinking about diversity in relationships we need to be aware of the core values we hold that we are not willing to compromise on because these are the areas that can cause significant conflict.
Secondly, we need to work out the degree of difference we can tolerate. In the areas that are negotiable for us, how flexible can we be? This will vary depending on the area in question and the closeness of the relationship, but it is important that we have an awareness of our own limits and boundaries. For example while your core beliefs may be non-negotiable, you may have other things that you hold more flexible opinions on. Or could it could even come down to your taste in music, sport or leisure activities. In these areas you will probably have the ability to cope with some degree of difference without it becoming a major issue.
How do we address this in our relationships, especially when we are dating or looking for a partner? The key is to address it early and openly. While the start of a dating relationship is meant to be all fun and games and no-one wants to get too deep in case it ruins the mood, if you are looking at a relationship that could develop into something meaningful then it is important to have these discussions early. It is important to know whether the person you are looking at being in a relationship with has any beliefs or attitudes which are on your non-negotiable list before you get too involved. It can be made less daunting (even fun) by having a question each date, or by taking turns picking the topics. However you do it, be honest about it so that you can both know where each other stands and your relationship can be founded on a solid base.
So what do we gain for all that work? Firstly, diversity creates depth in our relationships. When we are in a relationship with someone who is different to us our relationships are deeper and richer because of it. Each party has unique things that they bring to the relationship, like things they can teach or show to each other, and experiences they’ve had that they can share. This helps to make our interactions more meaningful and interesting, and encourages each party to think in ways that they may not have before.
Secondly, diversity creates strength in our relationships. When two people in a relationship have different things they are good at, different ways of looking at certain issues, different things that they find easy and challenging, it enables them to work together when things arise. The things that one person finds challenging the other and support them through, and vice versa. And if it is something that they both find challenging, then their different skills and perspectives can work together to find a solution.
Thirdly, diversity creates growth in our relationships, and in us when we allow it to. When we experience the depth and strength that comes from relationships which embrace diversity those relationships grow and develop, and we will also find that we grow and develop within ourselves. When we are in these relationships we will find our perspectives stretched, our knowledge expanded, and our experiences broadened. This growth then feeds back into our relationships to grow them even more.
Whilst it can be easy and comfortable to live in relationships with people who are the same as ourselves, at the end of the day when we do that we rob ourselves of so much. Relationships that embrace diversity create depth, strength, and growth. Whilst we need to be conscious of the things we are willing to have difference on, and the degree of difference we are comfortable with, when we can embrace difference in our relationships we will enjoy a richness in our relationships that we would otherwise miss out on.