Sunlight spilled into the bedroom coating the bed with a brilliant glow. Ross switched on the shower, flipped on the stereo and began humming along with his favorite musician. As Julie rolled over she pressed the pillow against her ears. With a heavy sigh Julie finally peered from beneath the pillow at her bridegroom of two weeks. What’s with this guy? she wondered. How can he be so joyful, so awake, at 7:00 a.m?
Julie had been drawn to Ross by his exuberance and gregarious personality. Julie’s family was composed of quiet, reserved parents and two sisters who, like Julie, tended to slip gradually into each day. Is this the way all men are? she asked herself. Was Dad like this and Mom toned him down?
This morning Julie again found herself fighting the urge to yell at Ross; to tell him to stop the racket, sober up and act like an adult. So far she’d been able to control herself, but needing to exercise self-control while still half asleep was something she was unaccustomed to. Am I going to have to live with this the rest of my life? she wondered.
My husband Pete and I teach Marriage Enrichment Seminars. We often ask the couples to indicate whether one is a night-person married to a morning-person; whether one of them is a stay-at-home married to a social-butterfly; or an extrovert linked with an introvert. It seems universal: we seek and marry our opposite.
Sociologists explain that we seek to marry those who have characteristics we lack. God explains that we are intended to complete one another, “the two shall become one flesh.” A marriage brings together two people who are to mutually contribute to and support one another in all areas of life.
Why, then, do those characteristics that first attracted us to one another later become sources of irritation, and often painful conflict? One reason is that we each like to think of ourselves as being right. “My way is best.” For example, by nature I like to know where each dollar goes. Yet in our early years together, when Pete confidently purchased something “because we need it and I know God will take care of the cost,” I was uncomfortable. Why? My way was what I understood. It was what I preferred, and still do.
Does your husband want to stay home after a day’s work, and you long to socialize? Perhaps you are the one who longs to stay home. Are you both intentionally trying to make the other miserable? It may seem that way, but the problem lies in two distinct personalities. Perhaps you are with people at work all day yet, because you are a gregarious person, you still look forward to the stimulating fellowship of a group gathering. Your husband may work in a less public setting than you. Yet, if he is primarily an introvert, he may be tired of being with people by evening. If you take time to explore your memories and feelings, you might realize that each was attracted to the social nature of the other. Through discussion and loving compromise you may discover each one’s needs and learn to meet them.
Sometimes simply recognizing our inborn differences and acknowledging them is sufficient to ease the internal pressure. More often we need to consciously work at the problem.
The first step toward handling our opposites is to choose to accept them. This means accepting my husband as okay just the way he is. After many years of frustration with Pete’s hard-to-get-the-day-started, late-to-end-the-day metabolism I finally said to myself, “It’s just fine with me that Pete is a night person and I’m not. I’ll accept him and learn to fit in with him.” Now when I’m tired and he’s sure he’ll simply lie awake unable to wind down, I kiss him good-night and go to sleep peacefully. No more begrudgingly lying in bed wishing to snuggle up next to him. I’m thankful there are plenty of times I feel like staying up with him.
Another important thing to do is explore the spiritual gifts God has given both of you. Has God given you the gift of mercy and your husband the gift of exhortation? If you study the various giftings in Romans 12 you’ll soon realize that when you see a friend in need and want to rush to comfort him, your husband may be looking for ways to point out to your friend the weaknesses he believes caused the problem. You each are looking at your friend through a different pair of spiritual glasses. Step back and let God minister to your friend through each of you in His way.
Sometimes what seems to be an opposite characteristic is no more than a matter of degree. When Pete asks for a cup of tea I know to let the water boil in the kettle. When he fixes me a cup he pours it before the water reaches the boiling stage. Are Pete and I opposites in this area or would someone else like her tea even less hot? One couple uses a unique method to express their different preferences. When they were making plans to remodel their home, finding fulfillment for both seemed impossible. Finally the husband suggested they assign numbers to their desires. A “ten” meant intense feelings, a “five” indicated strong feelings, a “one” or “two” only mild desires. By communicating the level of their feelings both husband and wife were able to get a sense of the other’s views.
Areas of opposite characteristics in a marriage have great potential for friction. We can embrace those same opposites and use them keep the marriage vital and fresh. My friend, a bubbly gregarious woman, is married to a hard working, pensive and private man. Though he often prefers to stay home seven nights a week he knows her interests in various causes provide fulfillment for her. He suspects they also may help prevent the stagnation he’s seen in marriages where the couple lives only unto themselves. He has become “her nodder,” listening with apparent pride to her animated conversations, and nodding in agreement.
Have you observed couples who’ve lived many happy years together? In many you’ll see they have become very much like one another – almost as though they started their life together that way. They’ve learned to take advantage of their opposites. When we see in our spouse areas of strength we lack, we can look for ways to develop those characteristics in our own lives. Proverbs 27:17 teaches that as “iron is made the finer by iron, (so) a man is refined by contact with his neighbor.” (Jerusalem Bible)
You might want to list the areas of opposite characteristics in your marriage. One couple found over 200 traits where they either had once been, or still were, opposite. You and your husband probably have at least thirty ways.
Now mark those that no longer are a problem to your relationship. Discuss these with your husband and fully enjoy those differences.
Then list in order of severity the remaining characteristics that cause friction in your marriage. Mark those in your husband that you know will never change, short of God’s intervention. Choose to consciously accept those and commit that acceptance to God. Now use a different marking for those areas in your life that you need to change. Determine a strategy for overcoming those areas.
A word of caution is in order here. Don’t become discouraged by trying to work on too many areas of needed change at once. Instead, choose one to work on and get started. Pray about each area daily, but ask God for special insight into your targeted area.
God said, “the two shall become one flesh.” That isn’t just a statement. It’s a commitment from God to work with us in the process of becoming one. As you allow Him, God will weave together your strengths with those of your husband. Learn to relax and enjoy the opposite characteristics in your marriage. Watch them add gusto to your marriage.
© Beverly Caruso
This is Chapter Twenty in the book, Making Your Husband Feel Loved, Creation House Publishing