Marriage is hard. Marriage is taking two people of different genders, personalities, and backgrounds, who are both bent towards sin, and bringing them together as one. Only a God as amazing as ours can pull this off and also bring so much beauty through this special union. Jesus, citing the book of Genesis, said in marriage “they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6 NIV). Still, this marriage journey exasperates at times, and with many differences it may often feel like your spouse doesn’t see you or understand your needs.
Newlyweds quickly see the impact their spouse's family of origin has had on them. Each person enters marriage with an expectation that the way they grew up is the "normal" way. Comfortable practices feel like rules; it's uncomfortable to have them challenged. My husband loves to point out my mom’s love of containers every time I insist on using one. We are directly impacted by the environment we have been raised in both positive and negative ways. If your spouse is quick to run out of the house in the middle of a fight, there's a good chance they had that behavior modelled for them growing up. Is your spouse insistent on going big while celebrating birthdays, while you prefer to skip them altogether? Chances are these are differences in how you both have been raised. The key is to see these connections of your behavior to your upbringing, help each other accept these differences, and work together to find compromise in them to help meet each other's needs.
Personality differences also create distance in our struggles to understand one another's needs. Is your spouse neat and organized, while you are someone who isn’t bothered much by a mess? Are you someone who is great with communication, while your spouse struggles to keep everything they are feeling inside? God has given us all different strengths and weaknesses; our differences complement each other in our marriages. Where your spouse is strong in an area, maybe you struggle, vise versa. With all the good these differences create, they also create tension. These differences will require an extra effort to try to understand things from your partner's perspective, and work towards respecting your differences instead of falling into the trap of wishing they were just like you. The Bible talks about the different gifts God has given each one of us just as He has designed. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them” (1 Corinthians 12:4 NIV). The truth is that God made us all uniquely the way we are and just because we see or do things differently doesn't mean we are wrong. Our differences are often a gift in disguise.
It’s no secret that males and females were created differently. These differences often complement one another, and bring out strengths in our relationship that we wouldn’t have without them, but they also can cause conflict. When we see things through our own view, it’s easy to get stuck thinking that the other person is acting in order to hurt us, when in reality they just have a different mindset altogether. Men are often more sensitive to disrespect and distrust, and may act out when they feel this is threatened. Women on the other hand often crave safety in the relationship, and often need to feel more reassured of being loved and valued. The Bible speaks on this when it states “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33 NIV). We all need love and respect, but I believe some perceive differently how love and respect for one another is communicated. It’s important to share how we receive different interactions between one another to have a greater understanding of how to respect these differences between us.
Often we communicate without realizing the negative appearance towards the person receiving it, and this approach hinders our understanding of one another. When expressing a concern, it’s best to use “I feel” statements instead of “you are” statements. So instead of saying “You don’t care about me anymore,” it’s better to say “I feel disregarded and ignored.” Testifying to your experience rather than speculating about someone else's motives helps make your communication come across as less of an attack and more of an expression of your feelings. As the Bible says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (1 Corinthians 12:4 NIV).
Another communication skill is working on avoiding blanket statements such as “You always" and "You never.” These are overstatements and accusations that often cause more division than connection. Avoid saying things like “You never care about me anymore” or “You always make me feel like I am failing.” Neither of these statements are true or fair, and we need to be careful to avoid these overreaching accusations.
As we consider all of the differences that hinder our understanding of one another, we also need to consider if the problem lies with us. Are the expectations we have placed on our spouse too high? Are we giving into the lie that our spouse should fulfill us? Sometimes we project our ideal of the perfect spouse and find disappointment when we discover the real and flawed person we married. The truth is our only true fulfillment is found in Christ. Paul talks about this fulfillment in Christ: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13). When we make Christ our foundation, and find our value, worth, and joy in him we are able to be more realistic about the expectations we have for our spouse.
When you begin to recognize all the areas of differences that have hindered your spouse from understanding your needs, it’s important to take the next step and make an effort to communicate how to understand and work through them. In understanding that there are many reasons your spouse doesn’t understand your needs, it helps to depersonalize things and talk about your differences in a more loving and understanding way. It’s important to pray to God for guidance, and continue to lean into your relationship with God as your source of fulfillment. Keeping God at the center of your fulfillment will help you place healthy and realistic expectations on your spouse. As your spouse and you begin to work towards understanding and respecting each other's perspective in your marriage, your unity and appreciation for one another will only continue to grow and flourish.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster