5 transformational lessons we’ve learned about our differences.
By Dennis Rainey
When Barbara and I first dated it was like she transported me from a world of black and white to full blown, ultra high definition, 4K pixel technicolor. She's an artist who continues to brighten my life with appreciation for all kinds of beauty.
After a couple of decades being married to Barbara I finally came to this conclusion:
Wherever she goes … Barbara makes things beautiful.
I am not wired with the same DNA. We are different … VERY DIFFERENT! But we’ve learned how much we need one another.
After over 50 years of marriage here’s a short list of a few discoveries we’ve made about one another:
She is an introvert … I am an extrovert.
I am energized by people … she is drained by being around too many people for long periods of time.
She is very disciplined and logical … I have a random aspect to how I get things done.
I like to arrive at appointments 10 minutes early … she doesn’t like to arrive late, but her concept of time is, well ... remember she is an artist.
She likes to plan … I am spontaneous.
I like to hunt, fish and explore … she’d rather stay home curled up by the fire reading a great book.
She LOVES to read books … I do love to read the very best books she recommends. (I just completed a novel, A Gentleman in Moscow because she read it then turned around and read it again! ) Fascinating novel, although not overtly Christian.
My love language is physical touch … her’s is acts of service (beginning with work in the yard, gardens, etc … which I have learned to enjoy!)
I love to eat … she eats to live.
She likes mild chili… 3-Alarm is my fave.
I am a fast processor and decision maker … she is a slower processor.
She values hard work … I do, too, but I also like to have a lot of fun!
We discovered that different isn’t wrong, it’s just different!
As a result of our differences we have come to an important conclusion:
Marriage is a lifelong journey of learning how to trust God
with one another’s differences and appreciate His design in our spouse.
With this premise in mind, I’d like to recommend five lessons that have been transformational for Barbara and me that you can apply to your marriage today:
Lesson #1: God created two distinct, different sexes: Male and Female.
In our book, The Art of Parenting, we speak candidly about the origins of our sexual identity.
God didn’t stutter when He declared in Genesis 1:27, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." This Scripture passage teaches three things:
First, God is the Creator. As such, He has the authority to design people, His creation, as He wants.
Second, God chose to create them in His image, in His likeness. Both male and female were made to reflect God … to do the same kind of work God does.
Third, God created male and female to be complementary, not identical, nor interchangable. God chose to make Adam incomplete without Eve (Genesis 2:18).
God is the Creator of humankind, not man. As a result three questions are significant:
“Is God worthy of being trusted for how He made your spouse?”
“Did He know what He was doing when He made your spouse for you?”
“Will you receive your mate as God’s provision for your aloneness needs?”
How you respond to those three questions determines the level of respect you give your spouse for his/her differences.
How you respect one another’s differences determines the depth of oneness or isolation you experience in your marriage. Why not stop right now and, by faith, give thanks to God for His ingenuity in designing your spouse? Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him.”
Lesson #2. Respect your spouse’s differences, don’t resent them.
Before marriage opposites attract. But after marriage some of those differences can irritate and repel us from one another.
When I think of how this works in marriage I like to compare it to how a magnet works. A magnet is “an object which is capable of producing a magnetic field and attracting unlike poles and repelling like poles.”
As a kid I thought magnets were mysterious and fun to play with, especially as I brought two of them close to each other. When opposite poles are brought near one another it’s nearly impossible to keep them apart. (Kind of like when you dated, huh?) But after marriage it can seem that two imperfect people can repel one another, just like magnets when two positive polls are brought together.
After three years and 36,000 miles of marriage, the cute jokes and humor that entertained you before marriage can get old. Perhaps you need to learn some new jokes (Barbara’s suggestion to me about three months ago). Perhaps you need to consider “opening some windows” in your marriage and allow the fresh air of kindness enrich your relationship. As Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger be put away from you. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”
Are you kind to your spouse? Or critical? Perhaps you need to try the “30-Day Kindness Challenge.” Think of how you can be kind to your spouse every day both in attitude and acts of kindness … for 30 days. And watch what happens.
How you express (or fail to express) respect for one another’s differences determines the extent of oneness or isolation you experience in your marriage.
Lesson #3. Marriage reveals our differences … having children and raising them magnifies our differences.
There’s nothing like having the doctor place your first born in your arms and realizing that God used you two to create this little human being. This assignment demands that you and your spouse must be in agreement about how you are going to raise your children … in spite of your differences!
You and your spouse were likely not raised in homes with the same values. Together, you now have to figure out for your children things such as character development and discipline. Training them how to relate respectfully to others. Teaching them how to handle money, tell the truth, and obey . There are countless issues which equip your child to become an adult.
You may have read about a project we completed early in our parenting years called “The Core Values Project." For more on this project click here or purchase The Art of Parenting to see our list of 40 Core Values we sought to build into our children. In a nutshell, what we did was go on a two-night retreat and hammered out our core values together. We each made a list of our top 10 core values and ranked them in importance. We discussed our lists, and then we did the hard work of reducing these down to “OUR TOP 5 CORE VALUES.”
That became our “north star” as we made decisions while raising our six children. Our discovery? Our differences complemented one another as we raised our children.
Lesson #4. Discover the differences and celebrate them.
When was the last time you thanked your spouse for his/her differences?
In research for writing this blog post, I asked our subscribers to share how they were different from their spouses. One husband wrote:
“She folds towels differently than I do. I jokingly tell her that she does it 'wrong.' But you know what? Both her way of folding and my way of folding fit in the same linen closet!”
Our differences do fit because they have been designed by God. Differences are new capacities to broaden our lives and compliment one another.
Your assignment? This one is real simple: Go out on a date night and have some fun working together to see how many ways you complement one another in your differences. (Like we did at the beginning of this post.)
Two ground rules: First, refuse to go negative. (It’s a bad way to ruin a great date night!) Be positive in your statement of one another’s differences. Secondly, take turns contributing to the list, so one person doesn’t dominate the compilation of the list.
After you’ve come up with 10-15 ways you are different, why not thank your spouse for the most important 2-3 ways he/she complements you. Praise does wonders for our sense of hearing!
Lesson #5. Ask God to help you be wise and understand each other and how you fit together as a team.
Wisdom is godly skill in everyday living. Proverbs 24:3-4 describes the outcome of a home built by wise builders:
By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
Understanding means responding to life's circumstances with biblical insight—a perspective that looks at life through God's eyes. Understanding your spouse from God's perspective results in accepting their differences and beginning to learn how God made them to complement you. Understanding produces compassion for your partner.
A handsome couple in their 30s once shared with me how they finally understood how their differences complemented one another. The husband explained:
“My wife is a prosecuting attorney. I felt like she prosecuted from 8 to 5 and I persecuted from 5 to 8. In the year and half we have been married I found out she is a strong woman. I had hoped I could pressure her to change; if I persevered, I might be able to beat her down. But I have finally understood that I don't have to compete with her. I can let her be who she is, and not feel insecure about who I am.”
What this husband discovered was an understanding of how he and his wife balance each other out. He realized he could lead her even though she might challenge him at times, but it is good for him.
This type of understanding has been key for Barbara and me. We are so different in so many ways, yet these differences complement each other and make us stronger as a team. We have come to a mutual agreement: WE REALLY DO NEED ONE ANOTHER!
Understanding builds oneness by establishing your relationship on a foundation of common insight.
Nearly five decades into our relationship we’re still learning how different we are and the positive impact those differences can make in our marriage.
We are continuing to learn that the key is our trust in God. He is using the spouse He has chosen —differences and all—as one of His key tools for making you complete. Remember …
God can be trusted with your spouse’s differences.
There’s more than one way to get things done, like folding towels.
Perhaps it’s time to give one another grace for their differences and stop trying to change him/her.
And different isn’t right or wrong, it’s just different.
In closing, it might also be good to remember Robert Lewis Stephenson’s quote, which would make a great mandate for every marriage: “Make the most of the best and the least of the worst.”
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