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Make your differences work for you

The things that draw us together when dating and getting to know each other are often the very things that cause conflicts a few years into marriage.  How can we love each other through the strengths and weaknesses our differences create?

How do we embrace our differences?

In our twenty plus years of marriage, finances have been always been an area that brings out the differences between my husband and I. I remember finances coming up as an issue for the first time while we were dating. I had received some money as a gift and was excited to have some money to spend, on me. His first reaction and strong suggestion was that I put it toward my school bill. YUCK! That thought had not even crossed my mind. This money was prioritized for FUN, obviously!

Finding a budget that works for us

When we first were married, he drew up a budget. That was a very responsible and good thing to do as newlyweds with very limited resources. Except that, I hate budgets! I fully endorse wise financial decisions, and often a budget is a means to this end, but my personality hates budgets! He asked me to keep track of every receipt so we could track our spending. UGH! It truly is not possible for me, and I was VERY frustrated when I tried to do it.

We have always lived on a budget, but it has morphed and changed over the years for a couple of reasons. First, I hate the word “budget”. I feel myself choking just by saying that word, because I feel controlled by the “mighty budget”. Believe it or not, changing that word to a “spending plan”, brings a much needed sigh of relief for me. I can relax and know that I am in control of the plan to spend.

When we changed the terminology and tweaked a few ways of doing things, it made a huge difference for us. To him it was just a word, but he never belittled me or mocked me. He recognized my need in this and now calls it by the new name. I recognize his need to know where our money is going, and with the spending plan I can keep track of what goes where.

We made our differences work for us instead of against us. No two people are the same so they have different priorities. There are several things that can help in understanding your personality differences and using this knowledge to enhance your marriage.

Understand what the differences are.

My idea of a fun birthday is “the more the merrier”. A party is an excellent idea with games and great food and 15-20 minimum of my closest friends. When we were first married I didn’t understand my husband’s desire to have birthdays and Christmas as just us. The “us” has grown from the two of us to the five of us over the past 20 years. I have come to accept this as one of our differences. I gain energy from people. My husband enjoys a select few people and is drained by interaction with people. He gains energy from down time, quiet time and going out “just us”. We have come to an agreement over the years that I get to throw him a party on the decade birthdays, and it is just us the rest of the time.

Understand why the differences are that way.

Often times we think the other person is doing that “thing” just to irritate us and they should stop, just because. . . In reality that “thing” is often an innate part of their personality that they really cannot change without great difficulty. Doing a personality test is a great help to learn why you do what you do. There are many options to choose from.

Accept the differences and stop trying to change each other.

There are many things in our relationship where change is not necessary, acceptance is. However, no one is perfect and owning our weaknesses is important. Each of us is a work in progress. The first step is to turn your eyes back to yourself. What complaints does your spouse have that you need to work on? You cannot change anyone else so if change is needed, start with yourself. Next, I suggest you make a list of all the things you love and appreciate about your spouse, remember the things that brought you together. Look at that list and see how much you are drawn to the personality you married. Then accept some of the things that may bug you, and let stuff go. Perspective can make a huge difference.

Focus on your spouses’ needs.

This will require some shifting for each of you. A good starting point is asking yourselves if something is of larger importance to one of you than the other. Once you identify some of those things one of you shifts to accommodate the other. For example, in our finance story I got hung up on the word “budget”. My husband shifted to “spending plan” for me because the new terminology was no big deal for him. This example was something kind of silly, but it mattered to me. There will be things in every marriage that will be on the “kind of silly, but matters” list, and there will be things on the REALLY matters list. Work together to identify some areas in which each of you can shift to accommodate each other.

Finally, communicate with each other. Communication is so important! Talk things through, make a plan and celebrate the unique couple the two of you are together! Find a book on personality styles to help you. How do you see the differences in your marriage? How have your differences helped you do life stronger and better? What hurdles do you currently need to overcome, together?

(Written by Ella Weck – Ella holds an MA in Counselling Psychology)

Maybe consider joining us here at FamilyLife for our insightful one-day retreat Understanding One Another, and learn how to really embrace those differences.

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