People are as different as foods on a buffet. For example, I am an extrovert. I do my thinking on the outside. I think out loud. Nancy is an introvert. She likes to think before she talks (in spite of my consistent example to the contrary).
Sometimes it makes me crazy when I ask Nancy a question and she goes into a trance. I want to know what she’s thinking; I want to participate in the process. She, however, likes to mull ideas over before she offers a considered opinion—after several minutes. In the meantime, I tap my toe impatiently.
Of course, I have a talent for making her crazy (thankfully she is amazingly patient and forgiving!). When I am playing with an idea, I talk about it from different angles. Each time I talk about it, I make small refinements. But, to the untrained ear, it sounds like I’m saying the same thing over and over. It could make anyone crazy!
That is an enduring difference between us. Unfortunately there have been times when I have gotten impatient and pushed her to talk. I’m sure there are times when she wondered if I would quit talking.
Differences can irritate and grow. They can become defining issues. After all, the natural man is an enemy to his spouse. And always has been. And always will be.
There simply is no hope we will get along unless we can change the way we feel about our differences—“unless [we] yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19). Even then we will still be different. But the differences won’t bother us like they do when our fallenness is talking.
Daniel B. Wile, the insightful marriage therapist, observed:
There is value, when choosing a long-term partner, in realizing that you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years. (p. 13, After the Honeymoon)
Wile notes that we can get disgusted and leave our marriages. We can find new partners. And it will take a few years before we discover our unresolvable differences with our new partners. At that point we can leave those marriages and find new partners again. And thus we have the great American marriage pattern, serial monogamy. We stay frustrated and keep looking for the partner who is the perfect match, the one who completes us.
Or we can subscribe to God’s purposes in marriage. We can turn our discontents into humility and openness. We can try to understand and appreciate someone else’s perspective. We can seek to learn from each other.
If you have been paying attention, you have discovered the unresolvable differences in your relationship. You may have also discovered that they are not resolved as the result of candid discussion. Nope. Often they get worse. We get entrenched in our way of thinking and feeling.
There really is only one solution: heart-changing humility. When we become truly humble, we seek to understand our partners. We appreciate their uniqueness. We adapt to their ways. We even learn to appreciate them.
After all, God does not intend that we spend our lives coasting along in easy happiness. He intends to provoke us toward charity. Sure, God intends that we have times of peace and contentment. He also intends that we ascend the mountains of godliness. That will require real climbing—spiritual transformation. We “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love . . . that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:47).
Of course we must cooperate with God. When we feel ourselves getting irritated we must do more than wait for Him to patch our souls. We must actively call on Him as Alma did: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.”
Will the differences go away? Nope. God wants us to get disgusted enough with our grumbling and complaining that we beg Him for the mighty change that brings us charity.
The leading relationship scholar, John Gottman, has recommended that we start a dialogue with our unresolvable differences. Whether our differences are about relatives, money, sexuality, housework, or parenting, we can set aside our demands and seek to truly understand what matters to our partners.
We can stop thinking of differences as problems to be fixed and embrace them as opportunities for appreciation. We can stop holding up our own preferences as the standard of rightness. We can become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).
As we learn to appreciate our differences, we become more like our perfect Father.
Think about the things that irritate you most often in your marriage. How would you feel about those things if/when you were filled with the Spirit of God? How can you turn irritations into appreciations?
For more about coping with our differences, read Gottman’s The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.
For more about cultivating charity in marriage, read my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.