“People have one thing in common: They are all different.” (Robert Zend) Yes, Indeed! And after we marry, we see those differences cause all kinds of problems. The problem is, how do you marry your differences and pull together as husband and wife —to “cleave together” in partnership? Working with differences is an important job every couple needs to do to grow their marriages.
Working with Differences
Dr Gary Chapman, in his book Covenant Marriage (Broadman and Holman Publishers) gives the following for us to consider:
“Why do you suppose Jesus chose 12 men with different personalities to serve as his disciples? I believe it was because he did not desire uniformity but, rather, unity —where each complemented the other as they worked together as a team to accomplish God’s purposes. Likewise, in marriage there is a vast difference between unity and uniformity. It is God’s purpose that we become one, but it is not God’s desire that we become [completely] alike.
“The differences are there so that we complement each other and strengthen our effectiveness in serving Christ. Differences are part of our humanity. There will never be a married couple with no differences. They key is to make our differences an asset rather than a liability.
Gary goes on to write:
“Identifying those things you find irritating or troublesome is a positive step in the process of learning to delight in our differences.”
A further step is [asking yourself] the questions, ‘Why Does that disturb me? What is there about me, my history, and my belief system, that causes me to be irritated with my spouse’s behavior?'” It comes down to personal accountability and making the choice to work with your own issues. It also helps when you have a spouse that will work with you in partnership to help you with your problems (although you shouldn’t use it as an excuse not to do your own work in this).
Author Gary Chapman goes on to write:
Most of the time, the answers to these questions are found in our past. We were brought up to think and to respond a certain way. Thus, when we discover that our marriage partner doesn’t agree with our beliefs, thoughts, and behavior patterns, we find ourselves frustrated. Until we analyze ourselves, however, these reasons may be hidden in our subconscious.
When I better understand myself and why I find certain things irritating, I am better able to reveal the source of my feelings to my spouse. Such understanding creates a climate for talking about our differences and finding new ways of responding.
For example an aggressive husband may have been raised by an aggressive mother or father who communicated clearly that in order to be valuable you must be aggressive. “If you let people walk on you, you are a nobody” is the emotional message deeply written within. With such a background, it’s easy to see why this person is irritable. They don’t want to be a “nobody.” The issue is really their own self-esteem. Such insight prepares the way for meaningful [respectful] dialog with the spouse as opposed to arguments that seldom lead anywhere.
Changing Wrong Beliefs
And then comes the difficult work of changing wrongful beliefs, embracing truth, and changing unhealthy behavior. Gary also writes:
The question [to ask yourself] is, “Why does this bother me?” Perhaps you’re bothered by your spouse’s taste for expensive things. You were reared to be frugal, and you feel that it is almost sinful to spend so much money. Perhaps you were raised in a poor family in which you lacked the essentials of life, and you now live in fear that the same will happen to you and your children if you aren’t frugal.
On the other hand, perhaps such display of expensive items causes you guilt because you feel others will interpret it as a display of materialism. The answer to why a difference with your spouse bothers you can be answered only by you — for only you can discover your inner feelings, which grow from your history and personality.
Once you’ve analyzed your own thoughts and feelings about what irritates you and why, you’re ready to talk with your souse. One of the keys in good communication is using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. The purpose is to explain to your spouse your understanding of why you find their behavior to be troublesome. It is essential that you allow each other to be human — to have differences and to have feelings that arise from those differences.
Difficulties that have developed from differences can be resolved. If we accept the differences, stop condemning each other for being different. Focus instead on the difficulties that have arisen from our differences, then we can find resolution. We will feel accepted as persons and not condemned for being who we are.
We realize there are many of you who are in marriages where the spouse doesn’t want to grow in partnership with you. It may be out of fear or wanting to live life as they see it without desiring to change. But prayerfully, as long as your spouse isn’t abusive in their actions, you can patiently petition God. (Then keep on the lookout for His answers.) Ask God to give you insight as to how to help you to live in partnership with them in the healthiest way possible.
Dr Chapman goes on to write:
“The process I’ve described isn’t easy. However, Christians have outside help. Jesus once said, ‘You can do nothing without Me.’ (John 15:5) Some of us have tried to keep our differences from dividing us, but we have been unsuccessful. We need God’s wisdom if we are to understand and utilize our differences in a constructive way. The Scriptures encourage us to ask for help: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.’ (James 1:5)
Most of us admit that we need wisdom —a new way of looking at our differences. Perhaps you will want to pause and ask God to help you work through the differences you have never been able to resolve.”
“Hopefully an open conversation with your spouse will lead you to verbally accept each other’s differences, removing the spirit of condemnation and strife and creating a spirit of friendliness. … Now that you are friends looking for solutions, you are open to the possibility of making adjustments that will make the differences less irritating. ‘How can I adjust to make life easier for you?’ is a good question with which to begin.”
Don’t Limit God
We hope this is helpful. We realize that there are many of you who do not have spouses who are presently willing to work with you in partnership in your marriage. And for this we grieve with you. But we also urge you not to give up hope. Reach out for the help the Lord can give you. We serve a God who can resurrect the dead and create beauty out of ashes. Don’t limit what He can do for you and your spouse. It may not be on your timetable. But it’s amazing what He can do when we trust in Him and give Him full reign of our lives!
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ALSO —
The following is another article, which you may find helpful. It’s written by the chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishing, Michael Hyatt, and is posted on his web site. Please click onto the link below to read:
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