They say that opposites attract. But for my husband and me, that’s not quite the way it worked. While I certainly wouldn’t have said we were exactly alike, some of the things I found most attractive about him were those that felt familiar: backgrounds, interests, sense of humor…They made the quirky aspects of my personality feel more “normal.” Around him, I felt comfortable and at home.
Very soon after we got married, however, we came face to face with our differences. I irritated him by taking forever to get ready for church, often resulting in our being slightly late rather than half an hour early (as was his wont). He irritated me by being irritated about this…Why was it such a big deal? He then upset me by spending so much time and energy on his work that I felt rather ignored. I upset him by complaining about this…Why couldn’t I appreciate that he was doing his best to provide for our family? And so on.
We also came to realize that many things we assumed would be true of each other as a member of the other sex were not necessarily true for our spouse. We are in many ways opposites of the stereotypes for our gender. So much for those marriage books that tell men exactly what ministers to a woman, and vice versa.
At times, we recognized these issues as being a result of our unique personalities and preferences, and we figured out ways to compromise. With the “bigger” issues, however, we often either: 1) got angry at each other for being so obviously “wrong” and unwilling to change, or 2) agonized over our own weaknesses or inability to fulfill the other’s expectations.
I speak about this in the past tense, but I won’t pretend these issues don’t still exist in our relationship. Over our nearly 11 years of marriage, however, and especially more recently, I think we have come to a better understanding of one simple fact: it takes all kinds of people to make the world go ’round.
For whatever reason, one thing that has helped me to grasp this is personality testing. After many results that didn’t quite seem to fit, I ran across one Myers-Briggs test site that I felt was absolutely spot on (I am an INFP-T in case anyone wants to know). One thing I love about this particular site is that, while it acknowledges the weaknesses of each personality type, it highlights the strengths—that is, it points out that the very things we may hate about ourselves or drive each other nuts are only one side of the coin. My tendency to do or prefer things a certain way does not make me crazy…it just makes me different.
And differences are good. I am well on the “P” side of the fourth category (tending toward flexibility, spontaneity, a desire to explore new options). My husband is almost as far as you can go on the “J” side (preferring order, structure, security). This does not mean that we are “incompatible,” but that we can complement and balance one another if we are willing to work as a team.
Granted, we each have our personal sin areas that are in need of sanctification. But oftentimes the intensity of our disagreements might be much lessened by the simple admission that there is more than one way to do something. (Except hanging toilet paper…That one is totally black and white.)
Understanding such differences can be integral to our homeschooling as well. Of course, most of us probably realized almost from the moment of our child’s birth that we had produced not an extension of ourselves, but a completely separate little person. The fact that we can tailor an education to each individual child is one of the major benefits of homeschooling. But it also means we must anticipate that their strengths and weaknesses will not only be different from each other, but sometimes also different from us. Other times, they may reflect our own weaknesses back to us, such that they are impossible to ignore.
For instance, one of my children is quite organized, focused, and diligent (like her daddy). It is not a problem for her to finish her work, because the mere existence of the work is enough of a goal in itself. Another child, however, tends to daydream and get easily distracted, more like…well, you know. I’ve tried reasoning with her and allowing her to learn from consequences, both with poor results.
The best way I’ve learned to motivate her is to give her a specific time goal, occasionally accompanied by a reward. Like magic, she finishes her work in a fraction of the time and often does it better than she would have otherwise. I think it’s something about that “P” trait we share…We are much more productive under a deadline than when we think we have time to dawdle.
On the flip side, I have one child who seems to have missed the perfectionist gene evident in the rest of the family. It’s great—she has never shed a single tear over a speed drill, while the other girls have produced buckets. It’s also not so great—in the sense that she can scrawl her way through handwriting and act like the illegible mess is perfectly acceptable. I am still working on the solution to this issue, but the best I’ve found so far is to keep an upbeat attitude and (gulp) let my own standards slide where necessary to keep her moving. As hard as it may be for my personality to grasp, the goal is progress, not perfection.
Whether in marriage, parenting, or homeschooling, recognizing our differences can help us to live and to grow together. As much we may drive one another crazy at times, we must remember that God made each of us with unique strengths and weaknesses—and that’s exactly why we need each other.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.