Mary loves spending time with other people. If there’s a party, she wants to be there. But Jim, Mary’s husband, is an introvert and a homebody. Jim would rather spend a quiet evening with a good book than attend a party. When Mary and Jim were first married, the differences in their personalities caused major conflict. Although Mary accepted every social invitation that came along, Jim usually dug in his heels and refused to leave the house.
Tensions built and tempers flared.
Mary and Jim had to learn to accept and work with their differences. Now they go out as a couple two nights a week and Mary can be as social as she wishes. Three nights a week they stay at home and Jim enjoys the peace of a quiet house. On the other two nights, Mary sometimes makes an effort to get together with friends on her own because she knows that Jim enjoys spending time alone.
Every couple has its differences. Maybe a spender has married a saver. Or a highly structured person is drawn to someone who celebrates spontaneity. Or a collector who likes a certain amount of clutter has married a tosser who draws great joy from clearing away the clutter.
God clearly has a sense of humor. He made us so that opposites attract. Often, once we get together, we drive each other crazy. As I counsel couples, I find that invariably it’s these differences that cause the most difficulty in a marriage.
Sometimes it’s easy to let differences get the best of you, and you begin to believe that you’re just too incompatible to make your marriage work.
We are all incompatible in some area or another. If compatibility were the main criteria for a great marriage, everyone would give up. Sure, some couples are more compatible than others, but that doesn’t necessarily make their marriages better.
If you and your spouse share a common faith with a true commitment to that faith, you already have a core value system that can help you deal with all the other differences you face.
If the two of you were completely alike, your relationship would be boring and out of balance. I know a couple who are both spenders. They have a lot of fun, but they also have seventeen credit cards filled to the max. I knew another couple who were both savers. In forty-two years of marriage they never took a single vacation and they rarely went out to a restaurant. They accumulated great wealth, but they never enjoyed it. Now they’ve both passed away and their children are enjoying a terrific inheritance.
God knows that balance is important; that’s why he gave you a spouse who is so different from you. Thank him for those differences. Don’t try to pressure your partner into thinking or feeling or acting like you do. Instead, make an effort to understand and appreciate the differences.
If you grumble or nag, you will become bitter. If you fight, you will become frustrated. But if you relax and accept the differences as a blessing, you will learn the art of flexibility and compromise. You will grow in maturity, and the texture of your life will become richer. In the end, you will develop into a better person — a person of character and compassion.
Remember Mary and Jim? Mary taught Jim to enjoy the company of crowds, and Jim taught Mary the value of a peaceful night at home. They both still have their preferences, but they’ve learned to appreciate something different. Mary saved Jim from isolation, and Jim saved Mary from social burnout. Together they have become deeper, more balanced, and closer to one another.
Most conflicts are not about major moral or ethical issues but about different preferences. She wants it her way and he wants it his. The Bible asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” In the next verse it answers its own question: “You want something but don’t get it” (James 4:1-2, NIV).
As we learn to accept that we won’t always have to have it our way, marriage becomes a lot easier. After a while we realize that most of our fights are either stupid or selfish. In fact, if someone had secretly videotaped our last few fights with our spouses, most of us would be quite embarrassed.
As you learn to respect each other’s differences, you’ll find that you aren’t fighting as much and that you’re actually moving closer to each other.
Tami and I have very different tastes in music. What she likes, I usually don’t, and vice versa. So she has her CDs and I have mine. Hers are kept in one room and mine in another. For a long time, this seemed like a great compromise.
But over the years something amazing has happened. I have come to like some of her CDs, and she has begun to like some of mine. No, it’s not a miracle; it’s the marvel of marriage. As we have grown closer over time, our differences have begun to blend. It started with just one CD, but now there are nearly twenty that we both like. We keep these CDs in a special place, and whenever I put one in the player, we both smile, knowing that no matter how strong our differences, there’s always hope.
As you begin to accept the ways in which you and your spouse are different, you will begin to grow closer together. And as you grow closer, the differences will no longer seem like such a big deal.
Copyright © 2006, Dr. Steve Stephens, Used with permission.
Dr. Steve Stephens is a licensed psychogist, marriage and family counselor, radio host, seminar speaker and author of nine books. His best-selling Lists to Live By series, compiled with John Van Diest and Alice Gray, has sold more than 600,000 copies. He lives in Clackamas, Oregon, with his wife and their three children, where he also serves as president of Every Marriage Matters.