“We just think differently!”
I uttered this phrase in irritation, many years ago, while driving around an unfamiliar city and helping my husband navigate from the passenger seat. Can you relate? Two people with a very different sense of direction and driving style are trying to get to x location. One makes decisions on gut, one uses logic.
That day, when he was asking me where to turn, I said something like, ‘after that gas station.’ He was expecting a street name. We missed the turn (how?!) and well, we were both annoyed. I think I threw the GPS down onto the floorboard in exasperation and said, “We just think differently!”
That was long ago, but we often quote that phrase in laughter now, realizing it captures a deep truth: We DO think differently. How we view the world and people and work and purpose and free time and friendship and parenting is different. It took me a LONG time to realize, accept and even appreciate this fact. Because well, it’s easy to view differences as wrong or weird. Now, I try to put myself in his shoes and see the world from his perspective (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t!).
Know your spouse’s personality.
On the Meyers Briggs, I am an ENFP, my husband is an INTJ. He is introverted, I am not. He is a thinker, I am a feeler. He likes to have a plan, I do not. It’s taken me 10+ years to realize this is HUGE in marriage, something that you have to pay attention to and respect in your spouse. Otherwise, big conflict will occur. What is refreshing to me is not necessarily refreshing to him. What appears to be ‘order’ to me is ‘disorder’ to him. (i.e., I like to keep the general living area tidy, but stuff things in closets in haphazard piles that may fall on top of you if you dare open the door. He likes things to have a home, assigned to a specific place in bins with labels or hanging on hooks and such!). On the weekends, he likes to be productive: run errands, do yard work, catch up on bills. And well, I wake up and say: what fun thing can we do today? We are good for each other. He helps me create structure, I help him enjoy the moment.
Be a Team.
Early on in marriage, my husband would constantly say: I’m on your team. Let’s be a team. It really annoyed me. What the heck does that even mean? Over the years I’ve learned it means that in stressful moments and times of conflict, we try to work together, rather than back into corners and bring out our big guns. Easier said than done, I know. When his schedule his crazy, I try to be compassionate and willing to pick up the slack without resentment. I accept the fact that our duties will rarely be ‘even.’ But when I put his needs before my own (with healthy limits, of course) and try to understand what is causing him stress, things tend to go much more smoothly. Many tense moments have dissipated when I’ve chosen not to respond in anger, but instead, with tenderness and compassion by trying to understand where he’s coming from and why he’s stressed (and yes, sometimes that means just keeping quiet until I can respond with a kind word). It’s not easy, but it makes a world of difference.
Know Your Spouse’s Love Language.
I’ve always thought that book was a bit cheesy, but I’ve come to see the value in this concept. If your spouse feels loved through acts of service, find ways to serve them. If quality time is the key to their heart, make it a priority. This sounds easy in theory, but when life is hectic and kids and work and schedules demand your time and energy, it’s easy to let this fall by the wayside and just do life in constant survival mode, when you can barely tend to your own needs, much less think about those of your spouse! That’s often when little things become big things. When I don’t feel loved, I go defensive and hear everything as criticism.
Be Intentional with Your Time.
Everybody says this, but again, what does this really mean? Here’s what I’ve learned: as a people-pleasing extrovert, I tend to overschedule myself so that I am completely spent by the time my husband comes home at the end of the day. I work part-time, which is very different from the norm, where both have full-time careers. But even when both of us were working full-time, I had some choice in how I spent my time. I could choose to book my evenings with girlfriends and work-outs and church events and errands. I could choose to work that extra shift because I hate to say no. I could choose to serve on that committee even though I’m already serving on 3 others. I could choose to stay up late and be a grump for our date night the following evening. In all of these things, we have some choice. This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn (and am still learning!) – being disciplined with my time and what I say yes to so that I do not sacrifice time and energy with my family. The more I pour out outside my home, the less I have to give to my family.
There are things in myself and my spouse that will probably never change this side of heaven. We all have selfish tendencies that can hurt and isolate others. Yes, God can refine and even change those things with the help of prayer and gentle feedback from our spouses. But they may never fully go away. Accept your spouse’s weaknesses by acknowledging your own.
I tend to be the first one to ask forgiveness. That’s the people pleaser in me that can’t handle unresolved tension. I could choose to get annoyed and resent that fact by keeping a mental tally in my head and priding myself on how humble and saintly I am every time I move towards my spouse first. But that’s not truly seeking forgiveness. That’s actually rooted in pride. And my husband sees through it every time. Over the years, my husband has been the one to move towards me more often. It’s beautiful. It’s what a marriage is meant to do – soften our hard edges and help us become more like Christ – full of humility and love.
Hope and Encourage His Best Self.
One of my favorite books is “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis. It’s a story of a bus full of people who take a trip to heaven (from hell!). They meet several individuals, many of whom had no status or impressive qualities about them while on earth. But now, they have become radiant people, full of light and love and laughter. We all have a ‘best self,’ a fuller and more complete version of ourselves. I’ve heard some theologian say (?), we are most fully human when we are walking in the ways God intended us to walk, using the gifts and abilities He has given us to honor Him and bless others. That’s when we begin to truly thrive. We are not hoarding our gifts or being selfish with our time. We cling loosely to the things of this world and have a peace about us no matter what the circumstances are around us.
I bet you can imagine what that looks like for your spouse. What does it mean for him to thrive where he is right now, using the gifts God has given him to bless those around him? Let’s HOPE in that vision for our spouses, let’s ENCOURAGE them to walk towards that fuller self, not with nagging or nitpicking, but with prayer and patience and hope, just as we ask that they do the same for us.
Father, give us the power to love and forgive and hope in our marriages. Help us to throw off the sin that so easily entangles – anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from our lips. Help us to lay our burdens at the cross, leaning on You as our Strength and our Refuge, rather than expecting our spouses to bear all of our burdens, those things that only You can carry. Let our marriages be full of light and life and faithfulness, that they may bring You praise and point others to You. Amen.