By Gayla Grace
"The qualities that drew me to my husband are the same ones that eventually began to drive me crazy," my sister, Marilyn, remarked of her 30-year marriage to her husband, Chris, and the struggles they've overcome.
"Chris is very different than I am, and I felt increasingly drawn to wanting someone more like me - in fact, I deserved someone more like me, because I wanted to believe my way was simply the best way to do life! His qualities of fun and light-heartedness in the beginning began to look like irresponsibility and shallowness. His quality of patience began to feel like stubbornness."
"I'm now aware of the need we have to balance one another's strengths and weaknesses," Marilyn added. "I constantly see how God puts people together who fill in each other's gaps. I need Chris' spirit of fun to balance my need to plan and schedule life. His high level of tolerance and patience provides encouragement when I want to give up. I wish I had realized sooner the value of our differentness."
We've all heard the old adage "opposites attract." It isn't hard to find extreme differences in most married couples. Some theorists believe we are attracted to those who represent our underdeveloped side of self, balancing out the qualities we lack. But the ironic part comes when we try to change that person to function as we do.
We ask our mate to alter their spontaneity because we like well developed plans. We nag about our partner's messiness because we prefer order. We can't relate to our spouse's punctuality since we don't mind being late. And the list could go on.
So we are confronted with a choice: will we dwell on the negative side of our differentness, resulting in inevitable conflict, or look at the positive aspects, appreciating the unique way they complement us?
When opposites attract, we need good communication with one another to learn how to accept each other's uniqueness. It may require compromise in some areas for both partners to feel comfortable living out their differences. It may involve acceptance of something we don't necessarily like, but will tolerate for the sake of our mate's creative or artistic side. But if we find ourselves trying to control our partner's personality or change their way of doing things, we need to evaluate our motives and talk about our differences.
My husband, Randy, and I have significant differences that initially brought us together, but turned difficult to manage as a married couple. Randy is a socially extroverted person. He loves people and is energized by spending time with others. He will seek people out because time alone is boring for him. I was attracted to his strong people skills and ease in relating to others. However, I tend to be more introverted, preferring time alone for thinking and reflection. I enjoy people, but find that long periods of social interaction are draining for me. I need time by myself to recharge, content to curl up with a book or writing endeavor for hours at a time.
As a married couple, we spent years trying to mold each other into a person similar to our self. I tried to keep up with Randy's social calendar but wound up emotionally exhausted at the end of a day. Randy agreed to isolate himself at home sometimes, yearning to spend time with others. After periods of frustration because of misunderstood judgments of each other, we began to understand and accept our differentness. We learned how to change our expectations and adjust our schedules. Randy recognizes my need for quiet time and realizes he may find me in my favorite reading/writing chair after a day surrounded by people. I appreciate Randy's love for others and don't criticize him for lengthy conversations or extended visits with others. We talk about our social commitments in advance each week, compromising when necessary for the sake of our relationship, aware of our individual needs and desires.
Marriage unites two unique individuals with varying likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Matrimony with someone too similar to our self becomes boring and routine. Thus, the attraction to "an opposite" is common.
The value of our uniqueness emerges when we choose to embrace our mate's differentness, thankful for the diversity it offers. Only then can we offer unconditional love and acceptance for one another.