Our tenth wedding anniversary came, then went, much more quickly than we had anticipated, like a friend who can’t stay long enough. As we sat there on our date night, relishing a moment of peace looking out the big window of the restaurant, he gave me a gift better than anything I could’ve asked for. He gave me these words: “Let’s never stop being students of each other.”
Why? Why is it important to study your spouse? Why is it important to get to know each other? By the time we’ve reached ten years of marriage, shouldn’t most of us… already know?
Jeremy and I have found that a continual getting to know is crucial… because we are so very different from each other. He and I come from two different cultures, two different backgrounds, and we’ve two very different personalities. In the past, we’ve cited our differences as cause for our difficulties; but with time, we’ve learned that a little discipline and a lot of grace can turn those same differences into our strengths.
So just how do you love a spouse who’s so very different from you? What are some grace-filled ways to respond when those differences pop up and you feel like a deer caught in the headlights? Looking back over the bumps and the curves in my own path, I can spot five key tips and tricks for Loving Your Different Spouse. Since part of the purpose of How To Bless is to expose what I like to call the “heart behind the hard”, you’ll find that a few of these tips involve asking the question why.
1) Ask the question: Why does this difference bother me?
In the stresses and the messes of our daily lives, a small difference of opinion or of habits between spouses can grate on the nerves like a fingernail on a chalkboard. Or a fingernail on a cheese grater. (Choose your preferred method of torture here.) Just this once, I don’t mind confessing to you that I have never been a tidy person. My husband knows this. He knows that I make sure the needs are met – as in, the people are taken care of, the meals are cooked, the dishes are done – but that the putting away of stuff is not high on my priority list. To me, the piles are not distracting or bothersome – after all, I know where everything is! To me, it’s creativity happening, but to him, it’s a messy house.
This is a difference that could be easily solved through the making of chore charts or a schedule, you might be thinking. And you would be right. But in the meantime, while we’re looking for a solution, Jeremy has shared with me that when my different style of housekeeping starts to get on his nerves, he’s learning to ask himself the question why. What stresses in his own life have taken this minor irritation and turned it into a big bother?
Asking ourselves why we are bothered can unlock a clue to a heart issue we didn’t even know we had.
2) Ask the question: Why is my spouse different in this way?
I’ll go back again to my housekeeping skills (tell me I’m not the only one, please!) Yes, some reasons behind my crazy method of “organizing” are simple things like personality type, the season of having little ones in the home, and priorities.
But part of the reason is my past. You see, an impactful memory of my childhood, one that’s stayed with me in a powerful way, is the memory of a spotlessly clean house. So spotless, in fact, that I was the recipient of many screaming matches over what would seem to you and me like a harmless violation – over things as simple as leaving a pair of clean sneakers downstairs in the living room. As I grew older and realized that I would have my own home one day, I decided I wanted that home to be more relaxed.
In the spirit of “carefree,” or “fun,” or even “creativity”… yes, I do let the house get messy. But as Jeremy begins to understand those pieces of my past, those pieces of the puzzle that make me who I am, those answers to the question why, he’s learning to have grace for this difference of mine.
If you find a difference between yourself and your spouse and you just can’t understand… try asking: Why? Maybe your spouse’s difference isn’t due to some past trauma. But I’ll bet you anything that they do have a reason.
3) Find the light side of the moon.
I can still remember when we sat in premarital counseling, and our pastor told us, “There’s always a dark side to the moon.” There are always two sides to every character quality, he was saying. “Those things you love about each other now… are going to be the same things that drive you crazy later!” he told us emphatically. Jeremy and I have actually laughed together over how true this is, especially in the area of our differences.
But if there is a dark side to the moon… then there’s a light side of it, too.
For instance… my husband is a verbal processor. Sometimes he just needs to vent his feelings to me. But the sensitive person I am can easily forget that he is simply processing out loud. I can easily take things too personally, and get my feelings hurt.
But then I remember: when we were dating, I just loved that wears-his-heart-on-his-sleeve quality. I loved that I didn’t have to second guess what he was thinking or feeling. I loved that he was an open book. And I still love those qualities.
When you’re stuck on a difference your spouse has… one that drives you crazy? Ask yourself: how is this difference actually a gift to me? And how did I feel about this trait when I first met my spouse? The answer just might help you see the light side of the moon.
4) Remember that the two of you are together on purpose and for a purpose.
I remember sitting in the break room with my friend and fellow nurse Amy many years ago. She was relating something her spouse did that just rubbed her the wrong way. But then she said, “I told my grandma about it… and she said, ‘Well, you married him, Amy!’” She laughed and went on her way, happy in her marriage. Amy wasn’t a person of faith as far as I know. But I was struck by the profundity of her words.
This simple truth is just as much of a perspective-changer now as it was eight years ago in the break room. The truth is, if you are living in a Western civilization, in our current time period… you chose your spouse. With all your mental capacities available, you willfully and happily walked down the aisle and pledged your lifelong love.
On the hard days, on the why-is-he-so-different-from-me days, on the I-just-can’t-understand-her days, let’s remember: We chose each other for a reason.
And for the Christian, there’s an even truer truth: God put us together for a reason.
God has His purposes for placing His children in families. Of course we find happiness, fulfillment, laughter, and love in our relationships with each other. But Jeremy and I are also learning that one of God’s primary reasons for putting us in families must be to help us grow our character. What better way to grow our character in love, to grow more like Christ, than to be faced with our spouse’s differences, and take it as an opportunity to practice patience and kindness?
5) Remember that at the end of the day… we’re really not all that different.
When we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, that Saturday night a few weeks ago, my husband gave me one last gift. He turned to me and said, “You know, I think we’re really not all that different. I think it’s a lie of the enemy that we’re too different to get along. But really, we’re more alike than we are different.” And I tucked his words deep in my heart.
Because we’ve learned, after ten years…
We might have different ways of showing it… but we both just crave acceptance.
We might have plenty of spiritual ideals and expectations… but we both have human limitations.
We might have our masculine and feminine differences… but we are both specially created and loved by God.
We might have our unique past histories, with our own troubles and fears… but we are both saved by hope in Jesus and committed to finding our healing in Him.
I am proud to say that after ten years, we’re learning to turn our differences into our strengths. And we’re learning that at the end of the day… we’re really not all that different.
Friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! Please comment and share below: is there a difference in your marriage that has turned into a strength, or that you’d like to see turn into a strength? I’m honored that you’ve spent a moment here.
And, if you’d like to learn more about turning our marital differences into strengths, I highly recommend reading Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. * This book is a lovely source of encouragement that unravels the threads of our expectations and laces them with hope.
In His Love,
*Some posts may contain affiliate links. I will only share reading material that I have used personally and that I believe my readers will find helpful.