I grew up in a home where my dad had one way to do everything. Having a military background, he had a system for sweeping a porch, doing dishes, trimming trees and much more. At meal time, we had designated seats and weekly would have family meetings around the table. At Christmas time, when we were decorating the tree, my dad would line my siblings and I up and hand each of us 3 strands of tinsel to hang as he would dole them out until the box was empty. You get the picture—a system for everything. One right way.
In our first few years of marriage, Gary and I lived in married student housing at UCLA and had a little porch off our small apartment. I noticed it needed sweeping and asked Gary if he could tackle it. He grabbed the broom and started in. I made the mistake of watching him. He was not doing it the right way! I decided he probably needed a bit of coaching which, as you might guess, was not well received. We laugh about it today but back then it was serious business.
We come to marriage with enumerable differences. These differences come from the way we were raised, our unique life experiences and perspectives, our gender differences and our personalities. Even if you and your mate grew up in the same area and have the same core values, you will still experience the tension created by the ways in which you are wired different. Initially, we are uncomfortable and even judgmental about the ways our mate is different. And we have an array of tactics for getting them to conform . . . to the right way.
Initially, we might try to inform them that our way is best. “Hey, can I just show you how to get that dirt out of the corner?” If that fails, we resort to the complaint: “You didn’t get all the dirt.” If that doesn’t work we amp it up to the jab: “My dad would have never left any dirt. Now, he knew how to sweep a porch!” Criticism often follows if the more indirect jab doesn’t do the trick: “You can’t even sweep a porch correctly.” If we don’t get our way with that one, we pull out the stops and utter contempt: “You are so inept!” Our efforts to force conformity to our way of thinking meets with resistance.
Perhaps the most difficult difference Gary and I have struggled with is our perception of how much to provide for our children. I came from a home where I needed to earn what I enjoyed. I believed this was character producing. Gary came from a home where his parents were very generous with what they had. Although they didn’t have a lot, they would support each child’s unique needs as they could. He was, therefore, inclined to be very generous with our kids and I took a harder line. I wanted them to learn the value of a dollar by working to attain it. He wanted to provide. As tensions mounted over this disparity, I called him an “enabler” and he called me “cheap.” Yes, we resorted to the pinnacle of mature conflict resolution: name-calling.
If we can step back from our entrenched positions and our need to be right, we can begin to consider that we simply see things differently. We can even begin to appreciate the position of the other. Gary is a generous person by nature. He is generous with me, he is generous with everyone. His inclination to provide is, for him, part of what it means to be a dad. My concern that our children will become responsible adults is also valid. As we began to accept and even embrace our differences, we were more able to come to good decisions that respected the feelings of both. Our differences have ultimately led to greater compassion and better decisions.
Clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 (NLT)
In what ways have you been trying to get your mate to conform to your “better” way? What would be the first step you could take to begin to appreciate the differences between you? Take a fresh look at what good there could be in your mate’s position. Let them know! And let me know how it goes!