By Danielle Braff
When Monica Zanetti and Jeremy Reed first noticed each other at a furniture store, it was love at first sight.
Zanetti is tiny and outgoing, the product of a Catholic, Mexican-Italian family; Reed is a towering teddy bear, straight-laced yet raised in a secular family by hippie parents. They knew right away they’d marry.
But the Chicago couple, who now have two children together, started to bump heads. Reed was used to a calm household, and an evening’s entertainment might involve two couples and quiet conversation. For Zanetti, loud parties were the rule: the more, the merrier, BYO friend.
“Right away, we started to see the differences,” Zanetti said. “Every week, something really big comes up.”
In every marriage, there are plenty of issues that can divide couples, from differing cultures and religions to their stance on children, money and sex, said Gail Saltz, New York-based psychiatrist and author of “The Power of Different.”
“Opposites most definitely attract, but that’s a different question than longevity,” Saltz said. “In my experience, the further apart couples are on multiple things, the harder it will be.”
Compromise is necessary, which is easier to do if the two people are flexible, Saltz said.
But the closer a couple is on broad issues, life goals, values, morals, the less likely it is that hurdles will tear them apart.
Still, some differences are less important than others, said Gwendolyn Seidman, associate professor of psychology at Albright College in Pennsylvania. For example, those in interethnic marriages tend to be just as satisfied as other couples.
“This is generally because, despite their different backgrounds, they actually are quite similar in terms of age, educational attainment and interests,” Seidman said.
However, recent research has shown that those from a lower socioeconomic status are less likely to strive for power than those who are from a higher socioeconomic status.
“This could create conflicts where one partner thinks the other is not ambitious enough or one partner disapproves of the other’s scheming,” she said.
In general, Seidman said, the more important a value is to someone, the more important it is that his or her partner shares that value.
So if one partner is conservative and the other is liberal, but neither is particularly politically active, this difference is less likely to be a problem than if both partners are strong partisans.
An omnivore and a vegetarian can happily co-exist if the omnivore is content to cut down on meat.
“But if he needs meat at every meal, there is going to be a problem,” Seidman said.
If the couples are vastly different in terms of other parts of their backgrounds, they will need to be more open-minded and willing to try new things, which can be difficult, especially when it comes to raising their children.
That’s the reason couples who are similar have fewer conflicts.
“The more alike you are, the less there is to fight about,” Seidman said. “But the good news is that, as couples spend more and more time together, they start to become more similar, both because of their many shared experiences and because of deliberate efforts to get along.”
But no two people are completely alike.
“Every couple comes from two different families of origin, was raised with two varying sets of ideologies and experienced two quite unique paths to adulthood,” said Adam Smithey, marriage counselor in Greenwood, Ind.
They need to discuss their differences to find a solution that works for everyone.
That’s exactly what Reed and Zanetti do. They meet with a life coach weekly, who helps them understand each other and work through their issues.
Compromise isn’t always the best solution when it comes to raising children, however, if the couple come from different religions. Research on interfaith marriages found that the best outcome is to choose one religion or the other, Seidman said.
“Leaving it ambiguous by raising the child with both or neither can lead to confusion for the child,” she said.
Still, this method works for Zanetti and Reed, who are raising their children “Catholic light,” Zanetti said.
“We make it work with humor,” she said.