The things that draw us together when we are getting to know each other are often the very things that cause conflicts a few years into marriage. How do we embrace our differences? How can we love each other through the strengths and weaknesses that our differences create?
Here is an example of one difference in my marriage:
In our 20-plus years of marriage, finances have always been an area that brings out the differences between my husband and me. I remember finances coming up as an issue for the first time while we were dating. I had received some money as a gift and was excited to have some money to spend on me. His first reaction, and strong suggestion, was that I put it toward my school bill. YUCK! That thought had not even crossed my mind. This money was prioritized for FUN, obviously!
Finding a budget that worked for us.
When we first were married, he drew up a budget. That was a very responsible and good thing for us to do as newlyweds with very limited resources. I fully endorse wise financial decisions, and often a budget is a means to this end, but my personality hates budgets! He asked me to keep track of every receipt so we could track our spending. UGH! It truly is not possible for me, and I was VERY frustrated when I tried to do it.
We have always lived on a budget, but it has morphed and changed over the years for a couple of reasons.
First, I hate the word “budget.” I feel myself choking just by saying that word, because I feel controlled by the “mighty budget.” Believe it or not, changing that word to a “spending plan” brings a much needed sigh of relief for me. I can relax and know that I am helping to plan our spending.
When we changed the terminology and tweaked a few ways of doing things, it made a huge difference for us. To him, "budget" was just a word, but he never belittled me or mocked me for wanting to change the words we used to describe the process. He recognized my need and now calls it by the new name. I recognized his need to know where our money is going, and after understanding that it was a spending plan, I was willing to keep track of what goes where.
We made our differences work for us instead of against us.
There are several things that can help you understand your personality differences and use this knowledge to enhance your marriage.
1. Understand what the differences are.
My idea of a fun birthday is “the more the merrier.” A party is an excellent idea with games and great food and 15-20 (minimum) of my closest friends. When we were first married, I didn’t understand my husband’s desire to celebrate birthdays and Christmas as a couple instead. The “us” has grown from the two of us to the five of us over the past 20 years. I have come to accept this as one of our differences. I gain energy from people. My husband enjoys being with a select group of people and is drained by interaction with crowds. He gains energy from down time, quiet time and going out “just us.” We have come to an agreement over the years that I get to throw him a party on the decade birthdays, and it is just us the rest of the time.
2. Understand why the differences exist.
Often, we think that the other person is doing that “thing” just to irritate us and that they should stop, just because.... In reality that “thing” is often an innate part of their personality that they really cannot change without great difficulty. Doing a personality test can help you learn some of the reasons why you each do what you do.FamilyLife Canada uses the Personal Style Indicator to help couples begin that conversation, but there are many tests and questionnaire to choose from in that regard.
3. Accept the differences and stop trying to change each other.
There are many things in our relationship where change is not necessary. Acceptance is. That said, no one is perfect, and owning our weaknesses is important. Each of us is a work in progress. The first step is to turn your eyes back to yourself. What do you need to work on? You cannot change anyone else, so if change is needed, start with yourself.
Next, I suggest you make a list of all the things you love and appreciate about your spouse and remember the things that brought you together. Look at that list and see how much you are drawn to the personality you married. Then accept some of the things that may bother you, and let stuff go. Perspective can make a huge difference.
4. Focus on your spouse’s needs.
This will require some shifting for each of you. A good starting point is asking yourselves if something is of larger importance to one of you than the other. Once you identify some of those things, one of you shifts to accommodate the other. For example, in our finance story I got hung up on the word “budget.” My husband shifted to “spending plan” for me because the new terminology was no big deal for him. This example was something kind of silly, but it mattered to me. There will be things in every marriage that will be on the “kind of silly, but matters” list, and there will be things on the "REALLY matters" list. Work together to identify some areas in which each of you can shift to accommodate each other.
5. Finally, communicate with each other.
Communication is so important! Talk things through, make a plan, and celebrate the unique couple the two of you are together! Find a book on personality styles to help you. How do you see the differences in your marriage? How have your differences helped you do life stronger and better? What hurdles do you currently need to overcome, together?
If you would like help in dealing with the differences in your marriage, our free, confidential online mentors are trained to assist you. Connect with one today.
updated November 2019
This article was written by: Ella WeckPhoto Credit: Justin Follis