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 things. Opposites attract, right? We were smitten.
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 avoid responsibility in the name of fun. While we had a deep and abiding commitment to each other 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 two members of the same team.
As I grew resentful of the escapes to fun, my steady reminders 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 both 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 from our work coaching lots of parents who struggle with similar dichotomies that we were not alone in this.
In each of our own ways we were both at points where we knew that looking to the other for our satisfaction was not enough. We needed to humbly turn to God and admit our need. Only then did the growing tension in our relationship begin to wane. Each of us had specific new insights that encouraged us both. Jim had a realization about embracing the “wife of his reality” (you can read more about this topic on page 24 of our book, How to Grow a Connected Family).
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.
In Jim’s letting go of the fantasy of the always-happy, fun-loving, eager-to-serve wife, 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 ways made the commitment to point the finger of responsibility firmly at ourselves. It’s not natural to do it 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.
Apply It Now:
So the next time you’re in one of those arguments that just doesn’t seem to get anywhere, remember that it’s likely because your figurative (or maybe even literal) finger is pointing at your spouse. Imagine yourself turning it to yourself. And then remember, all fingers point to an important color in the beautiful stained-glass mosaic that is your marriage and family.
- What are the unique traits that you bring to your family? (i.e. what is your “color” in the mosaic?) In what ways are those characteristics a valuable contribution?
- When you point the finger of responsibility at yourself, what one thing are you thankful for and what one thing could you start working on?
- What does your spouse or co-parent bring to the mix, and how is that 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?
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