By: Chara Donahue
I love my husband dearly, but in my opinion, he is wrong about so many things. Not because he actually is wrong – he is right more often than I love to admit – but because his way is not my way. If you know the Myers-Briggs Types, he is an ESTJ and I am an INFP, and if you are unfamiliar with these letters, it doesn’t matter. All you really need to know to understand where I am coming from is that there are only two choices for each of the four spots, and as you can see, my husband and I have not one in common.
My husband and I knew at the beginning of our relationship that our souls were made of divergent qualities, but we both had Christ. We figured that would be enough to smooth out our dueling opinions, preferred modes of operation, and warring habits when the honeymoon period wore off. Of course, we thought, God would enable us to be patient, sacrificial, and understanding, and we figured that would make all the difference when it came to compatibility.
That would have certainly been true if we had known how to follow God perfectly, but we didn’t. We still don’t, but things have changed for the better. Our marriage has been a blessing to us both, not in spite of our opposing characteristics, but often because of their complementation. It just took forgiveness after fights weighted with sin, counseling (a mediator), and a couple years to figure it out.
In attempts to spare others some of those quarrels which erupt when strong opinions collide, I give you five tips we have picked up along the way.
1. Hold to the common bond.
In Genesis chapters one and two, we see the mighty creator who formed the Earth begin to spread good across the face of it. The first chapter of the Bible begins with this repetitious rhythm: “It was good….It was good...It was good.” Until he creates man and declares, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18
When God sends all the animals to be named by Adam, we see some hope come forth for those of us who have married our opposite, “So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.” Genesis 2:20
Even if we are opposites, at least we have more in common with our spouse than the animals do. We are suitable for one another. Let’s not forget how relieved Adam was just to have another human, “The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” Genesis 2:23
It is important even if you find your personalities clashing that you can easily pull to mind where you are alike—even if all you can think of in the moment is that you are both human.
"...your vows made your stories permanently intertwined."
There really is more, though. You both saw something in each other, and you knew you could go into the future together. Which means you most likely have similar goals or desires somewhere in there, and you cannot risk forgetting that. Otherwise, all you will see is competing ambitions, when your attention should be on how the varying abilities between the two of you can make your marriage and partnership stronger.
When you build a life with another person, you create commonality. You begin to share more than just living arrangements and bills, but also memories and moments that shape who you will become. The important thing is that after your wedding, you become who God created you both to be – together. While your personalities may differ, your vows made your stories permanently intertwined. It is vital that you are determined to not give up on the beauty of the covenant that God has created between you.
2. Forgive again and again.
This one is simple; if you want your marriage to succeed – to live, you must forgive. When there are differences there will be disagreements, and disagreements are a hot zone for sin when we are not armed properly.
Peter knew the pain of living with someone who constantly required forgiveness. He even went to Jesus looking for the definitive answer on how much forgiveness he had to offer. In Matthew 18:21-22 it tells us, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Don’t do the math and start keeping track, for love keeps no record of wrongs. Instead always be one whose heart is so yielded to Jesus that your natural posture is one of grace and forgiveness.
And don’t forget that you require the same. Tim Keller wrote in The Meaning of Marriage that, “Our sins hurt Jesus infinitely more than your spouse’s sins hurt you. You may feel your spouse is crucifying you, but our sins really dis put Jesus on the cross, yet he forgave us.”
3. Trust that God knows who you married.
Paul Tripp says in What did you Expect?:
“The struggle over differences is not some cosmic accident; no, it is a plan. You see, the same God whose creative artistry created the hardwired differences you and your spouse experience daily brought you together for his plan and purpose. Recognizing his sovereignty is key to understanding your marriage struggle and what to do about it.”
When you recognize that marriage is bigger than you and your spouse—that God knows the purpose for it, it empowers you to persevere through trials. Also, you will be held accountable before God for how you act in your marriage. What will your obedience in loving your neighbor as yourself look like?
"...let the challenges sanctify us..."
God is not surprised by the fact that you and your spouse sometimes hold opposing sides. He does expect that you fight for unity because he has made you one. A heated argument over deeply held ideologies can make the impurities of our heart rise to our tongue. When we delve into frustration with our spouse, we are quickly reminded of why we need Jesus. We must let the challenges sanctify us and do their work to make us more like Jesus.
"Our spouse also helps us to know God more."
Our spouse also helps us to know God more. We were all created in the image of God and carry reflections of his character within us, and when we are the primary witness to another’s character, we have the privilege of seeking to identify the truest things about them. It is in those true things of the life of a Christian that we see the imprint of God upon their souls. In these moments, we not only fall more in love with our spouse, but more in love with their creator.
4. Embrace the mystery.
You may never understand why your spouse does things the way they do, but you can enjoy trying to figure it out. Not only is the covenant and beauty of marriage a mystery of how Christ and his church interact, but also hidden in marriage are little mysteries that we get to try and solve over a lifetime. When we begin to look at the differences within our spouse as clues to deeper treasure, the irritation softens, and excitement begins to be birthed.
Now don’t roll your eyes at my use of the word excitement about the contrasts in character between you and your spouse; chances are that it was this thrill that helped propel you to the altar.
"...if you truly want to love God, look right now at the ring on your left hand..."
Gary Thomas encourages the refining work of matrimony in his book Sacred Marriage. He reminds us:
“Yes, it is difficult to love your spouse. But if you truly want to love God, look right now at the ring on your left hand, commit yourself to exploring anew what that ring represents, and love passionately, crazy, and enduringly the fleshy person who put it there. It may be one of the most spiritual things you can do.”
Ephesians 5:31-33 hints at the deep spiritual roots of connection, and knowing another in Christian marriage, “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
5. Don't expect it to always be easy.
It will not always be easy to love and respect, but it is a distinct honor to display a silhouette of the glorious relationship between Christ and his church. Our spouse may be our opposite, but both husband and wife are in many ways the opposite of Christ, yet he loved us without failure. He lived in perfect submission and obedience to God; we clearly have not. That is why we need Jesus. In a less severe and immediate way, we also should recognize God’s sovereignty in who our spouse is and why God may have placed them specifically into our life as a teacher, companion, and friend.
"You and your spouse were meant to sharpen each other."
Though tiffs and spats may emerge, what really matters is our willingness to work on our marriages as an offering to Jesus. A marriage with two people who seem to have everything in common can fail just as easy as one made up of opposites if no one is willing to sacrifice. Refuse to call it quits, build together, and grow towards God. You and your spouse were meant to sharpen each other. Wait, watch, and witness God’s purposes unfold as your complementary differences work wonders in His hands.