Derek and Missy Irvin Discuss how the very things that draw you together can later be the things that cause conflict.
There is an old saying that at first opposites attract and then they attack. The very differences that draw us together are the same ones that later annoy us and become a source of conflict. When this happens, our differences can cause us to turn on each other rather than to complement each other. The more different you are from your spouse, the more you are going to have to work at understanding and communicating around those differences.
Marriage Shouldn’t Be This difficult
People will sometimes say to me, “Marriage just shouldn’t be this difficult. There must be something wrong.” When differences are causing significant conflict, a couple may start to wonder if they married the wrong person. Part of the issue is an expectations problem. They expected things to be light and easy and a continuation of what they experienced when they were dating. There is an old joke, “love is blind, but marriage is a real eye opener.” They didn’t expect that managing their differences would be so difficult.
I like to challenge this premise. First, it sure seems like God designed this whole “opposites attract thing”. And second, our differences are both what makes marriage rich and full, and it is also what makes marriage challenging at times. Think about it. We have different personalities and different genders. We come from different family of origins and come to the relationship with different accumulations of emotional baggage.
We think differently and on top of it all we have a bent toward selfishness. We like to get our own way. We bring this all together into the ultimate oneness relationship called marriage and it’s like … of course we are going to have difficulties.
Marriage is the Ultimate Cross-Cultural Experience
Marriage is the ultimate cross-cultural experience. What we experience in our families growing up is our primary frame of reference for how life and marriage should be done. Some families are quiet and reserved while others are loud and emotional. Some families plan everything and get the work done first while others are more spontaneous. Even if your spouse is from the same town, the same race, and the same religion, marriage will still be cross-cultural because our families shape our view on what is the “right way” to do things. Part of succeeding in marriage is having communication, flexibility, and grace in the way you negotiate this.
Resist the urge to judge the differences. We get ourselves into trouble when we start to assign motives and judge the differences in our spouse. It becomes easy to criticize. Because we believe we are doing it “right”, therefore they must be doing it “wrong.”. And then criticism gives way to contempt as we conclude that not only are they doing it wrong, but something must be wrong with them for not doing it right.
Knowing When to Let It Go
There are many things in marriage that absolutely need to be addressed. Some people do not want to rock the boat, so they stuff their emotions and try to convince themselves that this thing should not be bothering them. They fear that bringing up difficult topics will only make things worse. However, the truth is that not bringing things up that need to be brought up is harmful to a marriage.
How do you know when you should let something go? It begins with doing the work of self-discovery to figure out why this thing is bugging you. One tip is to try journaling about it. When this thing that my spouse does bugs me, what do I feel? Why do I feel that way? What do I want to feel? In this journey of self-discovery, you will sometimes discover that you could just let it go. For example, does it really matter if my spouse loads the dishwasher in a less than efficient manner? Also, doing this work may help you to uncover the emotions that are under this thing that is bugging you which can lead to healthy communication and solution.
Part of marriage is understanding that you each are going to have different needs, hopes, desires. You will each have different things that are important to you. It can be a gift to your spouse to make something important to you only because it is important to them. Learn to communicate and understand each other’s differences and they will mark you stronger as a couple.