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Complementary Differences

June 4, 2016

At a ‘Yin and Yang’ yoga class today- combining dynamic, fast and vigorous Vinyasa alongside gentler poses, held for longer- it seemed the difference between the two characters defined the session as a whole.

I now sit with the difference between compatible and complementary, particularly in relationships, romantic or otherwise. I often hear a desire for compatibility, and I relate to this as the implication is that there is enough similarities between you and me, so we get on steadily, smoothly and with minimal conflict. However, I have often been attracted to those different to me, be this cultural, professional or otherwise, as these differences somehow allow for a sense of completion in one or more ways. In other words, the relationship feels complementary, precisely because of the two different elements, which when combined, have the ability to emphasise and enhance one another.

In marriage, my parents were as seemingly compatible as can be. Their characters are similar (grounded, intelligent, pragmatic and appeasing), their interests (all things original and innovative) and tastes too (from food to furniture!), they shared one nationality, similar family backgrounds and theirs was a pretty small community in Baghdad in those days; they were both well travelled (before they even wed) and educated in both Iraq and overseas yada yada… you get the picture. Their union did not last five years. There was no dramatic affair, addiction, or such story. For subtly complex reasons, they parted ways with a relatively amicable divorce. Yet by its nature, the parting was painfully and humiliatingly public, particularly as divorce wasn’t as common nor normalised as it is today.

As a child, I used to imagine my parents couldn’t stay together because they were like magnets of the same charge; unable to stick together. Anything else was hard to imagine, as I’d never heard either speak ill of the other, and seemed to get on exceptionally well. 

Meanwhile, my grandparents were decidedly chalky and cheesy in their differences, and somehow managed to make their romance last for over fifty years. They had their disagreements, with pretty tempestuous arguments in their youth, and visibly struggled to accommodate their opposing perspectives and attitudes. They bickered on a daily basis. My grandfather would say things like: ‘Just as our prophet was divinely inspired when he received his revelations, I believe Mozart was too when he composed his music’, to which my grandmother would interrupt with: ‘Please keep your opinions to yourself!’ He prayed and fasted, she didn’t. They joked and laughed together (serious belly laughter!), travelled regularly together and recited poetry to one another well into their 70’s. 

There are many reasons why relationships last and just as many as to how they might fall apart, though right now, as I reflect on my partner and friends, I am grateful for our differences, as well as our commonalities. If it was all smooth and easy, how would we be challenged? Would we sincerely grow and develop together as individuals? Of course, differences, if not addressed, can also fester and rip an otherwise, peacefully artificial facade. That’s where the effort comes in, the building of trust to hold and contain, negotiations and communications, allowing conflict to energise and move forward rather than quietly stagnate.

As Ramadan approaches, I recall how my grandfather defended my grandmother, when I asked him why she was the only member in our household who did not fast during the Holy Month: ‘how a person chooses to practise their faith is between them and their Creator, and not for you and me to judge’, then he added, ‘it’s her skill, care and love that creates the most inviting home and atmosphere for us to break our fast. Plus, she has to put up with our tired, drooping faces all day!’ There was utter respect and acceptance of difference. 

My memory of them today is of an elderly couple, sitting on their balcony in Ras Beirut, where they retired, watching the sunset in silence. Together and apart. 


I wish everyone, a harmonious, deeply reflective and attuned Ramadan, where I hope thoughts and prayers are sent to those in the Middle East, and across the world, struggling for the simplest morsels of life.

From → Random, Therapeutic

One Comment
  1. zuzaya permalink

    how moving that you should link family to Ramadhan and so poetically.
    while complementarity is a key ingredient of successful relationships, shared core values, sacredness of the marriage vow, are the invisible threads that hold relationships together.

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