Posted By Tina Dubin, Ph.D. on July 6, 2013 at 9:34am | General, Tina's Musings

Being  on a Different Page is a Very Difficult Situation, especially so because it is not recognized as such.  The tremendous threat it holds for relationships is not realized.  It occurs when each person holds a different value, belief, perspective or desire for something that has great emotional significance.

 Any of these six major conflict arenas can lead to feeling on a Different Page in marriage.

  • Money
  • Sex
  • In-laws
  • How we spend our time
  • Who does what around the house
  • Children – whether to have them; how to raise them

In addition to these are our  beliefs about religion, politics, household cleanliness and our view of ourselves.  These are more than just the conflicting coping mechanisms of the Exquisite Dilemmas.  Being on a Different Page has to do with how we give meaning to our lives and how we identify who we are.  Unlike an Exquisite Dilemma  (see “Exquisite Dilemmas” issue of Tina’s Musings),  it is not so easily resolved by compromising or taking turns or choosing for who wins.

When you and your partner are on a Different Page, it easily leads to feelings of not being known or understood by the other – even not feeling loved.  You feel disconnected from your partner, less cared about and thus less caring.  It makes it easier to turn to someone else or even to leave.

 Erin and Nathan, a couple for three years and living together for two,  had a lot in common in terms of  background, values and goals for their future.  In terms of how they liked to spend their time, though,  they were definitely on a Different Page.   Erin liked to be active, exploratory and spontaneous.  Nathan preferred sedentary activities like board games and television.  These preferences seemed workable, at first.  Each would make compromises for the other.  Erin would look for others with whom to be active , and Nathan would be satisfied being sedentary alone.   Even understanding each other’s preferences did not ultimately allay feelings of loneliness, abandonment and resentment on her part and frustration, irritation and helplessness on his.  When Erin finally decided she could no longer take the life she was leading in the big city, Erin let Nathan know that she felt the need to move. Because it was not in Nathan’s plans to move – leave family and friends behind, he opted to stay where he was.   With that, the relationship broke up.

This vignette involves differences in how one chooses to spend time along with the importance of parts of our identity.  Erin not only missed being active and outdoors, she missed the part of herself she saw as adventurous.

The next vignette relates to differences in both the desire for sex and what one looks for in sex.

Sex meant a lot to James in terms of his self-esteem – feeling accepted, taken care of,  and attractive.  For his wife, Estelle, sex was fun and a nice way to be close but it did not carry the importance it did for her husband.  She didn’t really “get” how important sexual intimacy was for James.  Even when she did come to understand, it was still hard for her to always feel as equally desirous.  Often, she felt like he didn’t respect her feelings about intimacy.

Being on a Different Page regarding their sexual intimacy was terribly difficult for them both.

Being on a Different Page about wanting children can also be sad and frustrating for marital partners.

Carol had always wanted children.  When she married Sam, she made that clear.  He had had children in an earlier marriage but agreed to have more with Carol.  After she experienced two miscarriages, she felt very low – in ways that Sam found hard to understand.  They had done what they could.  He gave it his all.  It hadn’t worked out.  It was time to move on.  From Carol’s point of view, Sam didn’t really understand how much it meant to her to become a mother.  He knew she was unhappy and tried to be supportive but he didn’t really “get” the significance of Carol’s loss – the loss of a dream.  This caused a disconnection between the partners.

Couples can also end up on Different Pages with regard to chosen career paths as they affected financial contributions to the family.

Roger had always wanted to be in the performing arts.  Though his college degree reflected that interest, he eventually went on to take a job in the marketing end of the theatre industry.  Though this allowed him to earn a living he found little satisfaction in his work and after ten years at it, he let his wife know that he wanted to again look for work as a performer.  She brought up the needs of the family; there were now three children.  Though Roger could certainly understand her view, he still couldn’t help but feel that she really didn’t understand him and perhaps couldn’t really love him if she didn’t comprehend all this meant to him.

Couples can easily end up on a Different Page when an old flame gets in touch.  When a former girlfriend contacts a husband, for example, the wife sees the woman’s sweet overtures as disrespectful and threatening to the relationship.  The husband sees it as a pleasant, commonplace situation, catching up with an old friend, with no inherent danger to the relationship.  Within the situation as she defines it, his communication with the woman of his past is hurtful (bad) or naïve (stupid).  Within the situation as he sees it, his wife is off-base (wrong) and overreacting (crazy); she is controlling and distrustful in a way that he believes threatens the relationship.  Indeed, this situation morphs into a tight knot or noose as it seems that either one must be crazy or the other must be bad or stupid.  “I’m not crazy; you just don’t know how women operate!” the wife says.  “I know perfectly well how to behave”, he answers.  “I would not hurt you; I am not an idiot.  You’re nuts!”

You know you are beyond an Exquisite Dilemma and onto Different Pages when there are fewer and fewer compromises or options available to resolve the problem.  And once it has reached the point of disconnection, the relationship can be hard to put back together.  Indeed, it leaves one vulnerable to connecting with someone outside the relationship who finds it easier perhaps to understand one’s feelings at the time.


As with any Difficult Situation, the first step is to recognize that you are in one.  This alerts you to be careful about getting stuck in a blaming game – whether towards yourself or your partner. It also means you must be prepared and able to move on to problem-solving – and back into it as many times as necessary.

Being on a Different Page, more than any other Difficult Situation, lends itself to defensive posturing – holding tightly to your view, explaining it more vigorously since your partner doesn’t get it, and pointing out more vigorously what is wrong with their view.

Arguments when partner are on a Different Page, go round an around as the words of each continue to confirm such fears as – “you don’t understand me”; “you don’t get it”; “you don’t care”; “you’re unwilling to make things better”.

Yet the only way out is to continue talking and listening until each partner does understand – however little at a time – the other’s view or perspective.  Each partner has to stop defending their position long enough to listen and to try to understand their partner – what they are saying and feeling; how they are thinking, and what the situation is like for them.  That can be very difficult when you are put on the defensive, – when it seems that your view is wrong, bad or crazy.  Almost always, there is some truth and validity to each side – which is easier to see when intense emotions lessen.  It is only by being able to step onto the page of the other – however difficult that may seem – that there is any chance to find your way out.

Empathy is the most important part of the solution.  Even if ultimately you do not end up on the same page, empathy still makes a difference.  Think about how much it means to you to have your partner understand all you’re feeling.  (S)he feels that way too.




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Posted by Tina Dubin, Ph.D.

I received my doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of Kansas in 1977. I completed my post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin Counseling Center. Since then, I have been a research associate at the Institute of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Texas, a founding associate of Family Eldercare, and have been in private practice with my husband, Dr. William Dubin, at Psychological ARTS since 1980.

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