"The old saying 'opposites attract' is often true. The difficulty is once they marry they drive each other crazy. Our opposites tend to fascinate us because they add variety to life and pull us from our comfortable rut of familiarity.
"Opposites stretch us beyond ourselves, forcing us to broaden our horizons. They add depth and provide opportunities for growth. It's from them that we learn our most difficult lessons. They expose us to thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are foreign to us. They balance our lopsidedness and make us more complete." (Dr Steve Stephens)
That concept sounds great, but can we truly embrace our differences? That's our hope. That's why, for the next 2 weeks, we'll be sharing information written by Dr Steve Stephens that could potentially help us, which we're gleaning from his book, "Marriage: Experience the Best" (which unfortunately, is out of print). We're hoping it will help us better understand each other and grow closer together, despite our differences -- approaching them in healthier ways.
In his book, Dr Stephens points out that: "Differences are healthy but they're also frustrating. The biggest frustrations come when we start thinking of opposites in terms of right and wrong. What that usually means is 'I'm right; you're wrong.'
In working with people, I've discovered that most couples have little understanding and no tolerance for differences. They want each other to think and act as they do. They're astonished that someone would actually approach life differently and think it was okay. So they begin a process of trying to convert their partner to the 'right way' or the 'best way.'
"This is like trying to convince a Norwegian that Egyptian is the right language or someone who is Japanese that Spanish is best. It's not an issue of right or best --just different. As couples, we need to acknowledge our differences and accept them." Dr Stephens challenges all of us to, "Look through the list [below] and try to find which differences apply to you and your mate:" - "EXTROVERTS VS INTROVERTS: Extroverts love crowds --the more people, the merrier. They're expressive and frequently think out loud. Introverts, on the other hand, would rather spend the evening in solitude or with a close friend than go to a party. Being more reserved they tend to think through all the options before talking."
[The author gave the example of a couple where the wife "loved people" -- she said they energized her. But her husband said, "They wear me out!" This came as a real surprise to his wife. She needed to socialize and he needed peace and quiet. So they looked for ways to meet both their needs. And if nothing else, it helped them understand each other's needs in a new way so they could better appreciate where the other was coming from and make it work FOR them rather than against them in their relationship. Dr Stephens pointed out that his wife is an extrovert and he is an introvert. He's learned to appreciate that about his wife and said, "I'm glad I married an extrovert. She pulls me out of my solitary ways and encourages me to socialize." On the other hand, he can help her to be more balanced in how much she socializes so she doesn't wear herself out and can better appreciate quiet times --much like the Mary and Martha situation in the Bible in Luke 10.]
-"LEAPERS VS LOOKERS: Leapers take risks. When they see an opportunity they want to jump on it before it's too late. They appear to be fearless, or at least oblivious to potential danger. Lookers are more cautious than leapers. They like to carefully check everything out before making a decision. They gather information, analyze, ponder, consider options, question, ruminate, evaluate consequences, pray, investigate, and then decide.
"Another common difference between these two approaches to life is that leapers like new and unique experiences, while lookers like the comfortable and familiar. Leapers help lookers stretch and grow. Lookers help leapers think and plan before they leap. We need each other" (once the spouses learn how to compromise and work with their differences).
-"OUTLINERS VS DETAILERS: Outliners have a general focus and look at the big picture. They think in terms of direction and getting things done. Detailers look at the nuts and bolts. Their concern is how to get things done. Outliners are abstract thinkers who see the whole forest, while detailers are concrete thinkers who see the individual trees. Outliners develop outlines and detailers fill in the outlines with details. Both perspectives are important."
[Dr Stephens told how he and his wife learned to make their differences work for them while vacationing as they drove the long distance in the U.S. from Portland, Oregon, to Disneyland. He developed the big picture for their trip and his wife began questioning the details. He said to her, "We'll get there and we'll get back. That's what's most important." But then he went on to say, "The big picture was most important to me, but the details were important to her. She came alongside me and filled in all the holes in my agenda. I created an outline and she breathed life into it. Without the outline we would have no direction, but the outline would break down without the details.]
- "PLANNERS VS FLEXERS: Planners love structure. They want everything organized and neatly packaged. They like schedules and deadlines. They want their life to be neat and tidy. Their philosophy is, 'There is a place for everything and everything has its place.'
"Flexers bend with the flow of life. They see planners as being rigid and over-controlling. They tend to be more spontaneous and laid back. They take things as they come. Benders don't worry about schedules or deadlines, Loose ends don't bother them because things work out. Planners frequently see this as lazy and irresponsible."
[This is an area of marriage than can be especially troublesome when a planner is married to a flexer. But ask God to help you work through this --showing those who are planners how to be "dispensers of grace" to the "flexer spouse, as 1 Peter 4:10 points out.
For those of you who are flexers, ask God to help you to "go the extra mile," as Matthew 5:41 points out, in ministering to the needs of your "planner" spouse. It will probably be a life-long challenge for the both of you --which will take LOVING perseverance. But it's worth the work. Keep in mind: When differences are turned inward, partners battle each other. But, if spouses stand together, they can use their differences to battle life and support each other. Accepting and appreciating our partner's differences "sends a strong message of positive regard" –which is something husband and wives need from each other to keep their relationship alive.
We hope these thoughts are helpful to your marriage. Next week we'll explore this topic further with more thoughts from Dr. Steve Stephens.