Relationships succeed if there is respect for differences. They fail if there is not. Two people, no matter how much alike, are not clones. In Pittsburgh, we are a city of bridges because we sit in a triangle of three rivers. Many of our bridges are very beautiful. The 16th St bridge is my favorite because I see it every day. Bridges are what every couple must learn to build in order to respect each other’s differences.

I am totally committed to the idea that two heads are better than one. I was disturbed that the Republican party dug their heels in to oppose the health care bill, instead of working to influence it to a better outcome. When Conservative David Frum expressed this opionion on his blog he was fired. I do believe a health care bill that two parties worked upon would have a better result. We have a very polarized, win/lose attitude both in politics and relationships.

Elegance in building bridges is rare. Elegance means beginning by acknowledging the other person’s reality. “Look, I know you have ADD and you get distracted and don’t follow through on your promises. It means lost, unpaid parking tickets that pile up with fines. I draw the line at losing our W-2 forms that I need to file for taxes. Do you agree?” Building a bridge means acknowledging why what you want is hard for the other person. Fights do not have to be either you or me. Besides the you and the me there is the us. Elegance in building bridges is a way to acknowledge the us.

It’s so easy to fall into a pattern of blaming the other person and never make any I statements. I guarantee the other person has stopped listening when the “you do this, you did that,” sentences multiply like weeds in a garden that choke out all the flowers. Recognizing your part in things and acknowledging it specifically requires some depth, self-awareness and willingness to grow up (all of which are in short supply in our culture). Think of all the orchestrated, sound-bite apologies we have been saturated with by famous people. Vague generalizations don’t really come across as heartfelt.

When you really accept that part of the infrastructure of life is that every decision has tradeoffs and few things in life are simply good or bad, right or wrong, then you have more ability to build a bridge. The city closed off my shortcut down the hill because a big boulder is coming loose from the mountain. The solution is a big pile of gravel to “catch” it which looks like a permanent answer. Even while I was grumpy about the loss of my time saver, I knew something else would surprise me as an asset. Sure enough, my home now feels like it’s part of a quiet dead-end and I don’t have to pick up nearly as much litter. Everything in life has strengths and weaknesses and both points of view always deserve respect and the time it takes to build a bridge of understanding in between.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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