I hear that refrain a lot from unhappy couples. They bemoan their lack of common hobbies and interests. He likes watching sports. She likes reality TV. He enjoys go-cart racing. She prefers basket weaving. He likes to socialize. She likes to stay in.
Most people assume they must have things in common in order to be happy, but you really don’t. You need very little common ground to make a relationship work. All you really need to have in common are two things:
- You both want your relationship to work.
- You are both willing to make changes to continually improve your relationship.
That’s it. You don’t need to do every single thing together in order to be happy. You don’t need shared hobbies. You just need a good relationship, one that is based on mutual respect. The “we have nothing in common” complaint is really not a complaint about having things in common. Rather it’s a complaint about the overall state of the relationship, which usually isn’t good. Couples who complain about not having things in common usually have other problems: they are not communicating, they are not having sex, they are not romancing each other, and so on.
Once you fix the other issues, the issue of not having things in common usually evaporates. After all, if it were really an issue, it would be easy to solve. You’d just come up with something you both want to do together-perhaps learn a language, start a fitness regimen, or spice up your sex life-and you’d do it.
I know all of this because my husband and I are complete opposites, and we’re very happily married.
This wasn’t always the case. Just a few years ago, I was as miserable as any wife could possibly be, and I told anyone who would listen that my husband and I had “nothing in common,” as if having nothing in common was a disease that married people could catch.
But it wasn’t. We’re happy now, but the not having much in common hasn’t changed.
For instance, just yesterday he rode his motorcycle to Philadelphia to marshal a bike race. This is something I would never in a million years want to do. You could not pay me to do it. Not even a million dollars. My husband? He’d probably pay someone else for the privilege. For safety, he wore full riding gear that looks a lot like what firemen wear when they go into a burning building. Theoretically such protective gear would keep him from losing every inch of his skin were he to get in an accident, but it also serves as a great insulator. It was 85 degrees yesterday. He basically spent his day hunched over on his crotch rocket, riding in circles while wearing the equivalent of a down jumpsuit.
When he got home and took off his helmet, his hair was all matted together and his face looked like it had been exposed to an Everglades swamp for a few weeks. My parents happened to be visiting. My mother said, “He just rode that thing to and from Philadelphia?”
I said, “There are things I will never understand about my husband. Wanting to ride a motorcycle for 8 hours straight in the heat is one of them. That doesn’t mean I don’t love him.”
And it’s true.
There are many, many things I will never understand about my husband. I still wonder how anyone could want to spend so much time reading about cycling as he does, for instance. I also can’t, for the life of me, figure out exactly what he does with his portable GPS and why whatever it is that he does with it takes up so much of his time. He even tried to help me understand this. One night he asked me to sit next to him while he showed me the GPS readout from one of his bike rides.
“See that’s the route,” he said. “If I press this button here, see what happens!”
What was happening was that a little arrow was following a line around the mapped out route.
“Oh, interesting, “I said. What I really meant was, “Oh, I really don’t find that interesting.” But I didn’t say that because I thought it was incredibly sweet that he was trying to help me understand his hobby. I also like that he’s blessed with a sense of direction. I’m not. Getting lost is a way of life for me. Oh, and he knows how to light a charcoal grill. That’s something I don’t know how to do. In fact, I’m sort of scared of the grill, much as I was scared of Bunsen burners when I was in high school. He doesn’t mind killing bugs either. That’s a good thing because I hate bugs, and I also hate killing them because I hate the squishy stuff that comes out of them. He can also throw a baseball in a fairly straight line, something that my daughter will tell anyone I just can’t do. I’ve accidentally lobbed balls into her head I don’t know how many times.
I appreciate that my husband is not me. I’m very glad that he’s not me. If he were just like me, we’d only be able to eat grilled food at BBQ restaurants, our daughter would have a permanent concussion, our house would be overrun with bugs, and we’d be lost somewhere on the Interstate.
In the end, you really don’t need to adopt each other’s interests, and you really shouldn’t. It’s good to have a strong identity. It’s not good to lose yourself in your partner, only to, years later, realize that you have no idea who you are. If you are opposites who have nothing in common, stop worrying about it. Just focus on what’s most important: continually getting to know one another just a little bit better.
Do you think couples need things in common in order to be happy? Leave a comment.
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.