When I married Jim, I was very attracted to his fun-loving playfulness. He frequently made me laugh with his gregarious joy. (Even as I write this he is singing and chatting while making our coffee!) He loved how responsible and focused I was and how I thought deeply about life. Opposites attract, right? We were smitten. We would soon learn that to parent together when you’re opposites is extremely challenging!
Ten years and 3 kids later, our opposite personalities caused more struggle than attraction. My vigilance about schedules to keep, messes to clean, and laundry to do were a mismatch for Jim’s tendency to sometimes postpone responsibility in the name of fun. While we had a deep and abiding commitment to each other, the same basic goals for each day, and a shared vision for the kind of family we wanted to be, the surface issues rooted in our differences were gaining power.
We found ourselves sliding into polarized “Fun-meister vs. Task-master” roles that often had us feeling like we were pitted against each other instead of being two members of the same team.
A counterproductive cycle
As I grew resentful when he escaped to fun, my steady reminders to get on task became more stern. As Jim grew resentful of the steady reminders, he more readily escaped to fun. We were in a counter-productive cycle and each had blaming fingers pointed at the other. Defensive reactions ricocheted between us. Our efforts to communicate about these differences frequently ended in each of us feeling like the core of who we were was being judged and rejected.
These were the toughest years of our marriage. We know now, from our work coaching lots of parents who struggle with similar dichotomies, that Jim and I are not an isolated phenomena. Learning to parent together when you’re opposites is a common issue in many families.
In our own way we were each at points where we knew that looking to the other for our satisfaction was not enough. It was when we humbly turned to God and admitted our need that the growing tension in our relationship began to wane. Each of us had specific new insights that encouraged us. Jim had a realization about embracing the “wife of his reality”. (You can read more of this story starting on page 22 of our book How to Grow a Connected Family.)
The turning point
The turning point for me came one day on a prayer retreat. I was in a church with an intricate stained glass window, and the carpet glowed with beautiful patterns of light. It struck me: How boring it would be if all the pieces were the same color! I imagined that Jim was the bright, energetic red in the design, and I was the rich turquoise – very different, not as intense, but beautifully complementary as the light of Christ shone through us.
Jim bought me a turquoise cross necklace that summer, and our little daughter Bethany even bought me turquoise earrings to celebrate that realization. I began to fully embrace my unique “turquoiseness” (my focus and love for order), and how God had placed me in our noisy, disorganized family as a gift.
As Jim learned to let go of the dream of me being a wife who is always happy, fun-loving, and eager-to-serve, the pressure was off. He found new freedom to accept the real me, and I found new freedom to grow into it. It made him more appreciative of and attentive to my needs and me more appreciative of and attentive to his.
Essentially what changed back then (and is still changing us today) is that we each, in our own way, made the commitment to point the finger of responsibility firmly at ourselves. This feels unnatural, and we’re still learning. If either of us keeps the “I blame you” attitude for long, our commitment reminds us to shake it out and try again. We laugh at ourselves more – even when we go back into the old blaming pattern. As a result, we keep growing more and more in love as we appreciate new aspects of the unique ways we’re each made.
Questions to ask yourself if you want to dig a little deeper:
- What does your spouse or co-parent bring to the mix, and how is that a valuable contribution?
- What are the unique traits that you bring to your family? In what ways are those characteristics a valuable contribution?
- How might you adjust the way in which you use your unique gifts, in order to maximize the benefit to your family and God’s purposes for you all?
As you learn to parent together when you’re opposites, and you’re in one of those arguments that just doesn’t seem to get anywhere, remember that it’s likely that your figurative (or maybe even literal) finger is pointing at your spouse. Imagine yourself turning it to yourself. And then remember, both of you provide an important color in the beautiful stained-glass mosaic that is your marriage and family.
Have you ever thought of applying the Connected Families Framework to your marriage? If you don’t already have a Connected Families Framework magnet we would encourage you to purchase one or download a printable version of our framework today. Put the framework on your fridge, your bathroom mirror, your car, or wherever you might need a quick reminder as you seek to lead your family with grace throughout your day.