By Gary Moore
In case you haven’t noticed, you and your spouse are different. And I don’t just mean anatomically. You’re different in every aspect of life – talkers often marry people who are quiet and reflective; early risers often marry those who “don’t do mornings”; planners often marry people who work out the details as they go along; penny-pinchers often marry spenders. I’m sure you could add many more examples.
Our personalities are even different. And even if we have the same basic personality traits, we express them differently. In many marriages these differences first irritate, then grate. Then after many years of arguing about differences, each trying to convince the other that his or her way is the best way, couples often conclude that they are incompatible. In fact, incompatibility – or “irreconcilable differences” – is often given as the grounds for divorce.
In God’s plan, our differences were never intended to divide us. God instituted marriage as a union of two unique individuals. He knew He was creating unity out of diversity. In God’s mind, our differences are designed to be complementary, not to cause conflicts. This principle is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul describes the Christian church as being similar to the human body – composed of ears, eyes, legs, feet, arms, and so forth. When everyone works in unity, each part enhances the others and together they serve the purposes of God.
God designed our differences to be assets, not liabilities. When we learn to maximize our differences for the benefit of the marriage, we align our lives with God’s purposes. The Bible calls this marital unity.
In working with couples, I’ve found that it’s relatively easy to get them to recognize the differences and then accept their differences. However, getting them to celebrate and affirm each other’s differences is a “different animal”. But when they are able to celebrate and affirm their differences, they weld themselves into an unbeatable team.
How do we “maximize our differences”? Let me suggest five steps that Dr. Gary Chapman lists in his book, The 4 Seasons of Marriage.
Step 1 – Identify Your Differences. How are you different? The most obvious differences will be those that are the most irritating. Thus, one way to identify your differences is to make a list of all the things that irritate you about your spouse. After you’ve made your list, ask yourself two questions: Why do these things irritate me? What differences do these irritations reveal?
Let’s be real. In most cases, the reason you get irritated is because your spouse doesn’t do something the way you would do it. And the way you do it works for you so you know it must be right. Guess what? Your spouse feels the same way about their way of doing things. You and your spouse are simply different in these areas, and thus far in your marriage you have seen these differences as irritations. Subconsciously you are saying that God made a mistake in the way He designed your spouse. Identify the differences that these irritations reveal.
Step 2 – Look for Assets In Your Differences. Every difference has a positive side. We don’t have to see our differences as irritations. How we view them is a choice. Many times, couples live with a low-grade resentment of each other just by the way they are viewing their differences.
Most of the differences that irritate us in the normal flow of life do not involve immorality. They are simply expressions of our unique design, and there is always a positive side to our uniqueness. If we are to maximize our differences in marriage, we must look for the assets.
Step 3 – Learn From Your Differences. There are always lessons to be learned from our differences. God’s design for our differences is that they be complementary. They are not intended to divide us, but to unite us. God’s design for marriage is that it will stimulate our spiritual, intellectual, and emotional growth. When we look for the lessons in our differences, we will find them and benefit from them.
Step 4 – Replace Condemnation with Affirmation. When we view our differences as irritations, we typically deliver sermons of condemnation to our spouse that become personal character attacks. Such criticisms build icy blocks of resentment. However, once we understand that our differences are designed to be positive not negative, we can replace condemnation with words of affirmation. Both partners in a marriage need to feel appreciation rather than condemnation. Mutual affirmation creates an atmosphere for positive change.
Step 5 – Discover A Plan for Maximizing Your Differences. Once you have established a pattern of affirmation and cooperation, you can begin to explore a plan for maximizing your differences. A plan assumes intentionality. And that’s exactly what it takes – intentionality.
Recognize, accept, celebrate and affirm your differences. They are part of God’s design and plan for your spiritual, intellectual, and emotional growth.
Gary Moore served as associate pastor at Cloverdale Church of God for 15 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He does a weekly radio program called Life Point Plus on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. Monday mornings at 10 a.m. he does live relationship teaching called MUM Live on his Facebook page Mutual Understanding Method. He may be contacted at [email protected].