I just had coffee with a single, female colleague that I had not seen in several months. After catching up on job stuff, she began to talk about a budding relationship that she is in. For the most part, it sounded very promising, but then she began to share some concerns. The biggest was that she was raised in a very expressive family, where the words “I love you” were said and heard often. He was raised in a far more reserved family where feelings were not openly shared. She finds she spends a lot of emotional energy trying to get him to “open up” and becoming frustrated when he does not.
It occurred to me that I see this in a lot of marriages. Much frustration is encountered when spouses don’t act as expected. Over time, this frustration can turn to anger and ultimately to bitterness.
In my opinion, many (most?) look at this from the wrong perspective. Our egocentric natures put us in a position where we try to transform those closest to us into exact reflections of ourselves. Sort of a “I do it this way. You do it that way… Please change and start doing it my way” mentality. God never intended for us to marry ourselves. When He created Eve, He did so to complete Adam, not to duplicate him. We need to see our spouses as the one person in life that is able to complete us. Completion is all about filling in the gaps that we have which will naturally conflict with the way we think.
I know from my days in building cross-functional teams in my corporate career that the best teams were highly diverse in their makeup. Those teams would outperform homogeneous teams every time in terms of performance and deliverables. Granted, there was more conflict, especially in the early phases, but once these teams learned to harness the breadth of perspectives offered, there would become unstoppable.
Marriages are no different. Shocking marriages accept and embrace the differences brought by both spouses and play to their respective strengths. Effort is not put on conforming, but to developing. This can and should be a life-long process for a couple. Let me give you an example.
Tara and I have been married thirty-five years. I am a morning person, she is not. Early on in our marriage we got a set of Odie and Garfield (cartoon characters) Christmas ornaments for our tree. We jokingly said that these represented us in our relationship, especially as it pertained to mornings. When Tara and I have coffee in the morning (my most energetic time of day), I love to plan and talk and solve the world’s problems. She typically sips her coffee and slowly nods her head in response. Recently, she told me of some article that she’d read about non-morning people and introverts and how they hate being overwhelmed with too much stimulus prior to fully waking up.
The following morning I got my coffee and sat quietly across from her. After a few moments she looked up and asked me “What’s wrong with you?” “Nothing”, I replied, “I was just waiting to speak until I was spoken to”. I went on to explain that I was trying to be sensitive to the article she’d told me about and not drive her crazy in the morning. I loved her response. “I don’t need you to change, just don’t expect me to be like you.”
You see, while she may not be a morning person, she loves the fact that I am. Her only resentment stems from when I try to make her more of one (a reflection of me).
Celebrate the differences that you have. Learn to capitalize on them. Accept that your spouse may be strong where you are weak – that’s a beautiful thing. Allow them to complete you, stop trying to make them a reflection.