Before Brett got married he dreamed about how wonderful it would be to get up every morning and have breakfast with his wife, Allyson. After he got married, he found out that Allyson didn’t do mornings. He dreamed of hiking and overnight camping, but he discovered that the Holiday Inn was her idea of overnight camping. He believed in saving money. In fact, he paid cash for the ring (it was a discreetly small one). Her philosophy was “Shop today; you may be sick tomorrow.” Brett believed there was a rational answer for everything. “Now let’s think about this” was his favorite statement. “I’m tired of thinking. Why can’t we just for once do what we want to do without thinking about it?” was Allyson’s response.
Most of us can identify with Brett and Allyson. The way we think, act, and approach life in general is quite different from our spouse. In fact, some would say, “We differ on almost everything. We are like night and day. We’re not sure how we ever got together.” Not all of us see our differences quite so profoundly, but most of us can readily identify a number of areas in which we are quite different from our spouse.
Many of our differences were established in the process of growing up. We observed our parents, who served as role models, and we either identified with them by responding to life in a similar way or we deliberately chose to respond to life in an opposite way, reacting to what we felt was negative. Each of us developed a unique pattern of responding to life emotionally, socially, intellectually, and spiritually.
Differences are also rooted in the fact that we are creatures of God. God is infinitely creative. No two of his creatures are exactly alike. We are God-made originals. He made us unique so that we would complement each other. Thus, in our dating we were attracted to someone different from ourselves. She was outgoing; he was shy. He was a hard worker; she was fun loving. He was a spender and bought her nice things, which made her feel special because she tended to pinch every penny. Opposites attract. In the dating process, we tend to be drawn to persons who complement our personality.
Some of our differences are rooted in the roles society teaches males and females. For example, Western society has taught men to hold in their emotions, while women are encouraged to give free expression to their feelings. Research has shown that American men and women tend to follow this cultural pattern. However, the fact that there are thousands of men and women who do not fit the pattern indicates that this is not a gender-related characteristic but one taught by the culture.
In summary, our differences grow out of the fact that we are creatures of an infinitely creative God, that we grew up in unique family environments, that we were taught cultural and sexual roles, and that we are influenced by our unique genetic composition.
I cannot predict the specific differences you will discover in your marriage, but I can predict that the differences will emerge. In this chapter, I want to share some of the differences I have observed as I have counseled couples over the past thirty years. I think you will be able to identify with some of these.
Morning Persons and Night
When James got married, he had the idea that about 10:30 each evening he and Susan would go to bed together, sometimes making love and sometimes simply enjoying each other’s presence in bed. Susan, however, had never dreamed of going to bed at 10:30. In fact, her prime time was from 10:00 p.m. to midnight. That is when she enjoyed reading, painting, playing games, doing anything that demanded a lot of energy. Susan is representative of night people. The world is full of them — male and female. Very often they are married to a morning person, whose motor turns off at 10:00 p.m. and cranks back up at 6:00 a.m. While the morning person awakes with the enthusiasm of a kangaroo, springing to face the day with excitement, the night person hides under the covers and thinks, They must be playing a game. No one could be that excited in the morning.
Before marriage, the person whose motor turned off at 10:00 p.m. was charged up by the excitement of the night person. James said, “Susan is the only person who was ever able to keep me awake after 10:00 p.m. That’s why I knew I must be in love with her.” Before marriage, Susan had told James, “Don’t call me in the morning; that is not my time of day.” James had lovingly complied with this request, never knowing how grumpy Susan could be before noon.
Dead Seas and Babbling Brooks
If you are familiar with the geography of Israel, you know that the Sea of Galilee flows south by way of the Jordan River into the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea goes nowhere. Many of us have that kind of personality. We can receive all kinds of thoughts, feelings, and experiences throughout the day. We have a large reservoir where we store it all, and we are perfectly happy not to talk.In fact, if you say to a Dead Sea, “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you talking tonight?” the Dead Sea will likely say, “Nothing’s wrong. What makes you think something’s wrong?” The Dead Sea is being perfectly honest. He/she is content not to talk.
At the other extreme is the Babbling Brook. These are individuals for whom whatever comes into the eye gate or the ear gate comes out the mouth gate — usually in less than sixty seconds. Whatever these people see, whatever they hear, they tell. In fact if no one is at home, they will call someone on the telephone: “Do you know what I just saw? Do you know what I just heard?” They have no reservoir. Whatever they experience, they talk about.
Often a Dead Sea will marry a Babbling Brook. Before the marriage, the differences are viewed as attractive. For example, while dating, the Dead Sea can relax. He or she does not have to think, How will I get the conversation started tonight? or How can I keep things flowing? All they have to do is to sit there, nod their head, and say, “Uh huh.” The Babbling Brook will fill up the evening. The Babbling Brook, on the other hand, finds the Dead Sea equally attractive because Dead Seas are the world’s best listeners. Five years after marriage, however, the Babbling Brook may be saying, “We’ve been married five years and I don’t know him/her.” At the same time, the Dead Sea is saying, “I know him/her too well. I wish they would stop the flow and give me a break.”
The Neatnik and the Slob
“I’ve never known anyone as sloppy as Barry,” said Meredith. How many wives have said this about their husbands less than a year after their wedding? Interestingly, before marriage this never bothered Meredith. Oh, she may have noticed that the car was sometimes dirty or that his apartment was not as neat as she would have had it. But somehow she concluded, “Barry is a more relaxed person than I. That’s good; I like that. I need to loosen up a little.” Barry, on the other hand, looked at Meredith and found an angel. “Isn’t it wonderful that Meredith is so neat? Now I don’t have to worry about keeping everything clean because she will take care of that.” Three years later, however, he is being bombarded with verbal stones of condemnation, to which he responds, “I don’t understand why you would get so upset over a few dirty socks.”
Aggressive Persons and Passive
The old adage says, “Some people read history; others make it.” Usually these people are married to each other. The aggressive husband or wife believes that each day is a new opportunity to advance the cause. Whatever they want, whatever they believe right, they are out to make it happen. They will go to all ends, they will turn every stone, and they will do everything humanly possible to accomplish their goals in life. On the other hand, the passive spouse sits by analyzing, thinking, wondering what if? and waiting for something good to happen.
Before marriage, these traits attracted the two individuals to each other. The aggressive partner found it marvelous to observe how calm, cool, and collected his/her future spouse could be in the midst of life’s experiences. How secure and stable the loved one was! The passive person was enamored by the activity of the aggressive partner and was pleased to have someone make plans and chart courses for their future. Now, after marriage, the couple often finds these same traits difficult to live with. The aggressive partner keeps trying to push the passive partner into action, while the passive partner keeps saying, “It’s going to be all right. Don’t get so excited. Everything’s going to work out.”
Organized and Spontaneous
In this marriage, one partner is organized and the other is spontaneous. The Organizer takes weeks preparing for a vacation — looking at the map, charting the route, calling ahead for reservations, planning, and packing. The Spontaneous Spouse waits until the night before and says, “Why don’t we go to the coast instead of the mountains? The sun is so beautiful, and the weather is wonderful.” This sends the Organizer into a tail spin, and the vacation becomes torture.
Before marriage, Tricia was impressed with her husband Trent’s organizational skills: “You balance your checkbook every month? That’s wonderful!” After marriage, however, she is asking, “You want me to record every check I write? That’s impossible. No one does that.” Trent, of course, quickly shows her his checkbook — with every check accurately recorded.
The Professor and the Dancer
For the Professor, everything must be reasoned out: “We must have logical reasons for doing everything we do. If it is not logical, we shouldn’t do it.” The Dancer is intuitive: “We don’t need logical reasons for everything we do. We do some things simply because we enjoy them. I don’t know why. Do I always have to know why? I want to do it just because.” Before marriage, the Professor was proud of the Dancer, as was the Dancer of the Professor. Too often after the marriage, however, the Professor is slowly driven insane by the same illogical behavior, and the Dancer wonders how he/she can continue living with a person so obsessed with reason.
“Ellen, listen to me. The walls are not dirty; they don’t need painting again. Don’t you understand that?” to which Ellen responds, “Yes, I understand that, but I don’t want pea green walls any longer.” The Professor has a difficult time making decisions based on desire. The Dancer cannot imagine why anyone would want to be held in the prison of logic.
The Reader and the TV Addict
The Reader will never understand how anyone can waste so much time watching TV, while the TV Addict deplores the silent withdrawal of the Reader. Rob said, “Why can’t we enjoy a TV show together? Why do you always have to sit around reading a book? We could have fun if you’d watch some things with me.” Grace responds, “I’ll never watch that junk. It’s a waste of time. I use my mind when I read.”
Rob and Grace are illustrating a whole category of differences related to interests. Instead of TV, it may be movies, yard work, computers, exercise, or any number of other activities. When spouses have different interests, sometimes one is unwilling to understand or accept the value of the other person’s pursuits. The symphony lover says, “Bravo, Bravo. Don’t you just love that Opus no. 12 in A Minor?” to which the bluegrass devotee responds, “You call that stuff music?” The jogger says, “My goal is the marathon. Rain or shine, I’ll be running,” whereas the walker says, “I don’t want to ruin my knees by jogging. I want to enjoy the scenery as I walk.”
Coach or First Class
The First Class thinker always wants the best of everything — the best shirt or dress, the most expensive of whatever. The Coach thinker looks for a bargain. The difference often arises when they are buying a car. One will want the extras; the other, the basics. When they go out to eat, fast food is fine with the Coach. After all, a burger is a burger. However, the First Class person would never eat a burger unless it were served on a crystal plate.
When they travel, one thinks economy is fine; the other has in mind the elegant. The Coach wants to squirrel money away for the future, while the First Class thinker isn’t sure there will be a future: “Let’s enjoy the present.”
Before marriage, the Coach was enamored with the money the First Class spouse spent to make them happy, while the First Class thinker appreciated the conservative nature of the spouse-to-be. After marriage, however, the Coach lives in fear of bankruptcy, while the First Class spouse is tired of the lectures on economy.
“I wish that just once you would order something that is not the cheapest thing on the menu,” said Philip. His wife, Gail, responded, “I thought you would be proud of me for saving money.” “It makes me feel like you think I’m a failure . . . like I can’t afford to buy you something nice,” said Philip. “I never knew you felt that way,” said Gail. “Waiter,” she said, raising her hand, “change mine to a filet mignon.”
Sunday-Morning and Wednesday-Night Christians
The Wednesday night crowd at church is much smaller than the Sunday morning crowd. We accept this as a way of life in the church. The problem comes when you are a Wednesday-Night Christian married to a Sunday-Morning Christian. You cannot understand how any Christian could be satisfied to go to church only on Sunday mornings, while the Sunday-Morning Christian feels that only a religious fanatic would go to church as often as you do.
The Wednesday-Night Christian often feels that he/she is more spiritually mature than their spouse. While this may be true in individual cases, it certainly is not true across the board. Who is more spiritually mature — the person who goes to church only on Sunday morning but has a consistent, daily quiet time with God and consistently applies the Bible to daily life, praying throughout the day and walking in fellowship with Christ; or the person who goes to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night but has no consistent quiet time with God, is not involved in intercessory pray throughout the week, and in fact, does not enjoy God’s fellowship between services. The answer is obvious.
Some will object that this illustration is going to the extreme. However, many pastors will bear testimony that some Wednesday-Night Christians are people who have tremendous emotional needs, so they come to church on Wednesday night to gain support. They are not mature Christians but Christians who have not yet learned to apply biblical truth as a way of life. Do not hear this as an attempt to discourage Wednesday night attendance but, instead, to indicate that this difference is not necessarily a matter of spiritual maturity versus immaturity.
As Christians we often take pride in feeling that “God is on my side.” If I can convince myself that reading is more spiritual than watching television, then I can blast my spouse who happens to be a watcher rather than a reader. If I can convince myself that any child of God should always go first class, then I can clobber my spouse as being less spiritually mature for wanting to travel economy class. However, it is not a matter of reading being more spiritual than watching television. The question is, what am I reading (or what am I watching), and how does this activity affect my relationship with God and my ministry to others. It is not that flying first class is always God’s will for his children. The question is a matter of stewardship. Each of us will differ in our preferences, but we must all put our preferences under the lordship of Christ.
Taken from Now You’re Speaking My Language: Honest Communication and Deeper Intimacy for a Stronger Marriage, by Gary Chapman. Copyright © 2007 Gary Chapman. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Published by B&H Publishing Group.