At the beginning of every relationship, there is a high level of hope and desire that causes it to run on autopilot. But over time hope and desire begin to erode when disappointment enters.
There are dozens of ways we can disappoint one another in a relationship as close and intimate as marriage. From I thought it would be different to actual differences in upbringing, values, habits about money, personality, motivation, work ethic, and sex drives, we have the makings of marriage wars. Sometimes people come across offensively because they are reacting to pain from the hurts that they have experienced in the past, and they are just trying to protect themselves from being injured again. Wounded animals do not act predictably when you approach them; neither do emotionally wounded humans.
When Jim and Laurie walked into my office, I was shocked to discover they were about to call it quits. From the outside, they looked like a great couple. Fun. Social. They were active in church. But secretly they were at war with each other. A lot of it had to do with the way each had grown up.
Jim grew up in a home where both his parents were quiet and seldom, if ever, raised their voices. In Jim’s home, raising your voice meant you were extremely angry. Laurie, on the other hand, grew up in a larger family, where you had to yell or you lost your opportunity to get the food at the other end of the dinner table. The only time her family got quiet was when they were really, really mad.
When incidents that required discussion arose after and Laurie married, Laurie would naturally begin to raise her voice. Jim would think, Oh my! I’d better not say another word. She has lost her temper!
Jim would walk silently out of the room, thinking he was helping the situation, while Laurie was thinking, Why won’t he talk to me? Why is he so angry? He must hate me.
They totally misunderstood each other.
Thankfully they had enough sense to come and talk with me about it. Many couples won’t talk with anyone else about their struggles. Instead of working to understand each other or learning to navigate through their differences, they buy into the lie that differences are signs that they were not meant to be together.
We need to rethink how we respond to differences. We need to get smarter, to become more gracious, to learn how to value the unique way our spouse is different from us, even though that is pretty hard to do.