We’re all different. But do we understand the emotional toll of not dealing with personality differences in marriage?
Adrienne Koziol, from The Zoo I Call Home, a wife, a writer, and a homeschool mom to 9 kids sent me this article, which I thought was great, and which I’m proud to share with you today!
It was years ago when I first took a Meyers Briggs personality test. After multiple retakes and researching my “type” (INTP) I was hooked. I had my husband (ESTJ), brothers, and older kids take it and compared results. It was all very accurate! We had fun digging into how each type handles situations, talked about the accuracy, and learned quite a bit about each other in the process. It gave us a lot to think about.
Our Personality Differences Begin to Clash
Fast forward five or so years. I felt myself closing up, withdrawing, mostly from my husband. I saw him being critical and harsh, getting worse over the years. To protect myself from what I saw as a barrage of negativity and hurt, I shut down all emotion (there isn’t much to begin with- I am far from emotional!). Accepting the unfair treatment and falling into my own world inside my mind, my days became robotic.
I spent large amounts of time researching, almost obsessed with “figuring it out” (what is the cause? What action should I take? Am I being too extreme?).
Opening Pandora’s Box on Our Issues
And then, one day, it all started to unravel. My husband, sensing my distance and bitterness, left work early and took me to a lake. There we sat in the car, openly talking about issues and taking an honest look at our future, and if we even wanted one.
The problem was, as open as we were being, it was not open enough. It was still barely scratching the surface, but we didn’t know it. We had no idea what kind of infectious crud lay below, itching to burst.
We both knew we wanted it to work, or at the very least, wanted to want it to work. The vows we had made before God were in the forefront of our minds, and trusted that His strength would carry us through. We both acknowledged the need to work on communication and understood why we were responding to each other the way we had been.
And we both inwardly wondered if the other really understood their role in the mess that had been created. Still, it felt like progress had been made.
Sin Rears Its Ugly Head
Remember that crud I mentioned? It turns out that a lot of it (I mean A LOT) was inside ME. Those emotions I was shoving down, ignoring, thinking I had under control, had been growing into a huge, ugly mass and was becoming more and more angry. It no longer wanted to be kept in the basement and was finding ways to seep out. Sin does that to a person. But I still didn’t see it.
Two instances over the period of a few weeks caused the infection to finally erupt. Multiple times we talked all night. At times it felt like our marriage could be on the verge of ending. Like really ending. The first time was monumental. Eye-opening. I saw in myself things I did not like. For the first time I was able to see how my actions and reactions over the past 22 years had played a big part in putting us in our current situation. Those INTP traits of being logical, analytical, unemotional, and independent can become very… dark when taken to an extreme.
Likewise, my husband became more aware of how I felt and why I shut down. He understood why I reacted the way I did and saw in greater depth his own actions and how I perceived them. He also had allowed parts of his personality to get extreme.
The Endless Cycle of How Our Differences Could Cause Conflict
It’s almost laughable now, how we brought out the worst in each other. It should have been obvious. Our personality types, when we are at our worst, cause the worst possible reaction in the other. It became a cycle.
Example: Husband is stressed from work and hopes to come home to a little bit of order, a little quiet, and warm greetings (we have 7 kids at home so the first two are relative). His type likes order and hates inefficiency. He is more attentive to details, and quality time is high on his love language list. A kiss and hello from his wife mean a lot to him.
Wife, however, is stressed because things are NOT orderly, or quiet. She’s trying to finish dinner and get everything else done. I’d say it’s “one of those days,” but really that’s almost every day. She is a big-picture person, so things like cleaning up get put off when something more important, like conversation or playing together, is happening. Her love language is serving, so her priority becomes the work Husband would like done because it’s how she shoes she loves him.
He walks in and sees a messy house with kids running around, looking as if there has been nothing but disorder and inefficiency ALL DAY. Instead of a kiss, his wife is at the stove barely aware he is home. Stress increases.
Wife senses this and recoils, on edge now, because she does not handle criticism well, especially when she feels it’s unwarranted. Things have not been crazy all day, and plenty of work had been done. She is not a naturally touchy person so a kiss doesn’t cross her mind. In her mind, she’s showing him love.
Now Husband is even more irritated because not only has everyone been noisy and lazy, but his wife is mad at him for who-knows-what when all he wants is her attention for a second to reconnect.
Now the whole night is nothing but irritation and bad attitudes, all because of a massive difference in how different personalities see things and respond. Assumptions based on an individual’s filter instead of taking the glasses off to see clearly. The inability to step outside of the situation to make a proper assessment and to cool things down.
Seeing Clearly on How to Bring Out the Best in Each Other
We see this now. We see more clearly than we ever have and (mostly) strive to bring out the best in each other. This happened not too long ago, a month to be exact, so not far enough to say we’re on the other side of it. It feels like a long time ago, though. After so much emotion, turmoil, and most of that crud coming out, we feel better. I feel better.
Happy is the man who finds wisdom,
And the man who gains understanding
The pain of dealing with issues feels so much better than living in cold apathy. We’re finding that there is still infection inside, but each time it comes out we also know it’s that much closer to being gone. We know there is an end to it and now come together instead of pushing each other away.
The wounds are healing and we are learning to trust each other again. Personality type has nothing on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Constantly Working Towards a Happier Marriage is Worth The Effort
This has been hard work. Harder than I ever imagined, despite the traditional “marriage takes work” quotes. New habits have to be established and it takes constant reminders, prayer, faith, and a lot of intentional effort.
I have to stay open and share every thought and concern in order to fight my natural tendency to solve everything or withdraw.
For now, every time I get upset, mad, or stressed I have to stop what I’m doing and talk to, or text, my husband. If I don’t, I overthink it and the situation builds. Even seemingly little things! Things I know might be silly but are stressing me out. I share the good things, too. What makes me laugh, what I’ve learned, what I’m thinking about. Being more open with how I feel and offering encouragement and support. These are all things I have failed to do in the past.He has to watch his tone of voice and demeanor. Not assume the worst. Realize there is more to what he sees, more depth than just the surface story. Let go of control and expect mistakes.
Pressing Forward and Seeing Hope in the Future
Looking back, I wish we had noticed these things earlier. It feels like a lot of time was wasted, but we are so thankful that we can look forward to the future with hope.
It’s an ongoing battle, but this time we aren’t making each other the enemy.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Love much, forgive often, and trust that God can produce fruit in soil we think is dead.
Wife first, mom second, but actively filling the roles of teacher, counselor, nurse, chef, maid, chauffeur, accountant, sleep specialist, writer, and blogger. Twenty two years of marriage and eighteen years of homeschooling nine kids keeps me always learning, adapting, laughing, and on my toes. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!