Do opposites really attract? In many marriages it seems so. No two people are exactly alike, but if opposites attract how can you build a functioning harmonious marriage?
You were initially attracted to your spouse in part by ways in which they were different from you. Vive la différence! Now those differences make life more challenging. He always seemed so strong and stable, not swayed by feelings, a perfect complement to your emotional vulnerability. Now his stability seems cold and distant. Her spontaneity and fun-loving nature gave you a new window on life your reserved personality needed. Now her mood changes drive you crazy.
Intellectually you may accept that you don’t have the right to make your spouse over in your own image; only God has that right. And yet deep personality differences can easily make many marriages much less than peaceful. But when approached in a healthy way differences don’t have to lead to conflict.
How can the two of you become one when you are so different? Fighting, withdrawing, and miserable détente aren’t good options. Conflicts over intimacy, money, household responsibilities, in-laws, and more are frequently rooted in core personality differences, and learning to deal with those differences constructively will improve your relationship greatly.
Here are some ways to move forward in several specific push-pull areas many couples struggle with. Simply understanding your spouse’s unique personality better may well decrease the tension between you. And then we’ll discuss three foundational ideas important in dealing with any “differences” between you and your spouse.
Unique Personality Differences
Introvert vs. Extrovert. You need to spend time around other people to feel refreshed and energized, while being with others drains your spouse’s internal juices to the core. If you’re the extrovert, take the initiative to do the “heavy lifting” with people; organize the gathering, initiate conversations, etc. Don’t force your spouse to engage if they’re not comfortable doing so. If you’re the introvert, stretch yourself to engage with others in situations where it’s meaningful to your spouse, and then be proactive in getting your own soul filled up at other alone times.
Night owl vs. Morning person. Acknowledge when each other is most “awake,” and don’t force your spouse to adopt your own sleep schedule. However, make it a priority for your relationship to go to bed together most evenings as a time of checking in with each other, intimacy, and connection. Guard that going-to-bed time even if it means one of you sometimes loses sleep, or one of you has to get up and “work” afterwards.
Saver vs. Spender. Talk about what money means to each of you. Does money mean security? Relationship (when you “buy” experiences with others)? Fun? Power? Decide in advance how much money you will save and how much you will spend, and both of you commit to the plan. Save more than the spender would normally do, and spend more than the saver would naturally feel OK with.
Methodical vs. Spontaneous. If you’re the planner, don’t make your plans so tight there’s no room for flexibility and fun. Learn that you cannot control life, but take the initiative for addressing the long-range plans you know your family needs. If you’re spontaneous, give your spouse as much lead time as possible when an idea comes up. Take the initiative to plan something fun. Cooperate with your spouse when long-range planning is necessary for the family’s future.
Talker vs. Thinker. If you’re the talker, don’t expect your spouse to always be ready to listen. Find a girlfriend or buddy to talk with also. Slow down and make sure you have your spouse’s attention before expressing something important. If you’re the thinker, make a conscious effort to share your thoughts and feelings with your spouse, even when it would feel most natural to be quiet. Stretch yourself to communicate even when it’s hard.
Safety vs. Excitement. If safety is most important to you, come to the understanding with God that you cannot control everything. Consciously think through what reasonable precautions are, and leave the rest in His hands. Once carefully considered, take a risk with your spouse. If excitement is your thing, acknowledge the fear such things may stir up in your spouse, and slow down long enough to “bring” them with you – at least emotionally if not physically.
Notice some patterns here? Let’s crystalize some underlying principles.
Foundational Principles for Handling Differences
- Don’t try to change your spouse’s personality. God made your spouse the way they are on purpose. Learn to focus on what benefits their uniqueness brings to your marriage and family. God needs them the way they are for a reason. Consciously celebrate what their unique characteristics make possible.
- Make sure you both get necessary soul nourishment. What fills us up is unique to each person. Find what fills you up, and do more of that. And support your spouse when they engage in activities or experiences that fill them up, even if it’s without you at times. Learn to feed yourself. Work very hard to NOT allow your own needs to excessively drain your spouse. If your spouse needs quiet, shut up! If your spouse needs excitement, let them experience it. If your spouse needs money saved in the bank, do it. If your spouse needs less chaos and more routine, make it happen.
- Move often into your spouse’s world. One of the enormous benefits of marriage is getting to experience things you never would have experienced alone. Your spouse’s differences are a primary way that happens. Get interested in what they value even if it seems foreign to you. Take a step in their direction, and then another. Ask yourself, “What does my spouse’s personality make possible that wouldn’t happen otherwise?”
For yourself, learn to treasure who God made you to be, with all your own uniqueness. Focus on being who God needs you to be – both as a person, and as a spouse.
And then learn to treasure who God made your spouse to be, with all their differences. God needs them that way.
And with His grace the two of you can experience much more of life and make a much bigger contribution to others than either of you could do alone.
Your Turn: How is your spouse different from you? How can you support and benefit from the unique way God made them? Leave a comment below.
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