Comedian Bill Cosby said, “For two people in a marriage to live together day after day is unquestionably the one miracle the Vatican has overlooked.” He’s got a point. Once the masks are fully removed and a couple settles into married life with their differing personalities, it can seem quite miraculous that the relationship endures year after year.
What may be even more phenomenal is that a marriage cannot only survive, but it can actually thrive in the face of two differing and headstrong personalities that face off day after day. How can this be? Let’s take a moment to consider a few important facts about personality that can help us shed some light.
Personalities Can Be Seen
Of course, we can’t x-ray a personality, but we can observe it. How? We can see it because our personality is evident in our behaviors. We can deduce something, for example, about a person’s temperament when we notice that she does very careful research before buying a camera. And we can deduce something about personality when we see him purchase a high-priced gadget on impulse. Our behaviors reveal our personalities. And as Yogi Berra so famously said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Especially when that “watching” is done around the clock in a marriage.
Our spouse becomes witness to our traits day in and day out. It’s almost as if we are on surveillance without ever intending it. The mere time that marriage consumes cannot help but make us keen observers of each others’ traits as they become visible in our reactions, our expressions, and our behaviors.
You probably don’t need much convincing: Personality can be seen.
Personalities Are God-Given
You can’t choose your personality like you choose your wardrobe. Relatively speaking, you have just one personality for life. It is something you are born with. Sure, you can modify portions of your personality. Your response to your environment can cultivate or stifle aspects of it. But by and large, your personality represents your natural traits or tendencies.
Ask any mother who has raised at least two children, and chances are she will tell you that they were different from the beginning. For example, one child may have been very friendly and smiled at everyone; whereas the other was always frightened when strangers were present. Each was born that way.
The point is that your personality is in your genes. It is inborn. It is God-given. It is hardwired. You inherited a distinctive set of traits that is fundamental to your nature. Surely you’ve heard your spouse say something like, “That’s just not you.” If you’re on the more introverted side, you might hear that statement after your boss asks you to greet everyone as they enter a social gathering. Your personality just isn’t cut out for that. Do you do what your boss asks? You do if you want to keep your job. But it feels awkward. The point is that you can behave in a way that does not represent your personality, but it will not be your natural response. And it will always be temporary. Any number of situations may require that you behave in a way that is not natural for you to act, but when the need has passed, you will once again act in a way that represents your true temperament. That’s because your personality is innate, crafted individually by God.
Personalities Are Predictable
“I knew you were going to say that.” How many times have you and your spouse uttered these words to one another? If you’re like most couples married for even a short while, you’ve come to expect certain reactions and behaviors from your spouse. Why? Because personalities are fundamentally predictable. Thank God!
Can you imagine trying to be married if you never knew what to expect from your spouse? A marriage couldn’t survive if behavior was not basically predictable. Imagine if one day your spouse was extremely laid-back and easy going and then the next day was extremely intense and regimented? You’d be living in chaos. Without relative consistency from your spouse, marriage would be an unbearable roller coaster ride.
Now, we’ve all had married moments when we say something like, “I never would have guessed you would want to do that!” Even with a relatively consistent set of traits, our personalities make room for a smidge of the unpredictable. And that’s not bad. Changing things up on occasion can get us out of boring ruts. But for the most part, you can take comfort in knowing that your spouse’s personality (as well as your own) will remain pretty predictable.
Personalities Are Powerful
You’ve heard people say, “He has a powerful personality.” They typically mean that the person is charismatic or maybe even overbearing. Truth be told, everyone’s personality is powerful. Why? Because your temperament is an internal force that literally produces urges and drives. It’s not an exaggeration to say it produces needs. Like a hungry appetite, your personality’s needs must be satisfied.
Your personality drives you. For example, if you are inclined to be energized when you are around other people, if you like to talk and be active with others, you have a powerful force within you that finds ways to get this need met. You may be the last one to leave a party, for example. If someone asked you to explain it, you’d casually say, “I just enjoy being around people.” It’s such an ingrained and powerful part of you that you barely give it a thought.
Now, if you’re rather private in nature and feel more content not being around a lot of people, you’ll have an equal internal force that urges you to be less social. You’ll look for opportunities to retreat from interactions, even feeling like you need to “recover” from too much social stimulation. Both inclinations are normal. One is not better than the other. But both are powerful. They represent a highly desirable need in the core of the person. And because the need is so deep, because it is literally tied into the individual’s DNA, it can create discontentment, even anger, if it is not fulfilled. Make no mistake; the drives that stem from our personalities can be exceedingly powerful.
Personalities Have Strong Points and Weak Points
For you to be at your best, you need to have your personality needs satisfied. For example, your personality may crave a detailed plan with time to think things through — whether it be for a major project at work or an evening out on the town. A thoughtful plan makes you a happy camper. After all, this desire to be attentive and prepared has served you well. Other people have praised you for this ability. But if something or someone (including your spouse) stands in your way of having the time to craft a detailed plan for something you care about, you’ll inevitably feel off-kilter. You’ll worry. As your anxiety increases, you’ll get irritable. Even worse, you’ll become overly passive, clamming up when asked for your input.
Or perhaps your personality craves quick results. You’re decisive. At work you make decisions quickly, with confidence. You trust your instincts and you shoot from the hip. You certainly don’t waste time on small talk. The moment someone starts dragging you down by asking too many questions, or if a system impedes your progress with too much red tape, you’re bound to get more forceful. Maybe even boisterous and demanding.
You get the point. When it comes to personalities, your greatest strengths can become your greatest weaknesses. Think of it this way. Your personality represents what is important and highly desirable for you — deep down in your core. Meeting this desire is what your personality is consumed with. You are programmed for getting this need met. And when you don’t get this need met, your worst side comes out.
That’s why you’ll hear married couples say sarcastic things like, “Don’t you think you might be overreacting here, just a tad?” Or, “Are you losing your mind?” Or maybe, “Oh, that’s good. Blow a gasket because I didn’t pick up the dry cleaning.” These kinds of caustic comments are lethal to love, but it doesn’t stop most of us from using them. After all, we can’t understand how our normally contented spouse could suddenly “lose it.”
Personalities Can Be Improved
All of us can learn to improve our personalities. It basically comes down to developing our natural strengths and controlling our natural weaknesses. Blaming your personality for your attitudes or actions is not an acceptable excuse. You are in the driver’s seat of your disposition.
You and Your Love Style
By now, you understand that your marriage is the combination of two unique, powerful, and God-given personalities. Each personality brings a combination of strengths and weaknesses to the relationship. The mixture of these two sets of traits and temperaments creates a style of loving that is distinct and exclusive to your marriage. And when you unlock the mysteries of how your two personalities combine — how your two clusters of traits and temperaments mix — you discover your combined “Love Style.”
You love the way you do because of your genetic disposition. But you give and get the love you want when you use your disposition to maximize your Love Style.
You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.
Excerpt from L.O.V.E. Putting Your Love Styles to Work For You, by Les & Leslie Parrott
Copyright © 2010 by Les & Leslie Parrott, published by Zondervan. Used with permission.