Any married couple can attest that eventually differences erupt.  Things that might have been ignored or glossed over during the honeymoon stage can become very annoying. Slowly the reality that your partner isn’t going to change dawns. One partner might be extremely tidy whereas the other one is very messy. Mrs “always arrive ten minutes early” can get very frustrated with her husband, who is consistently late. One partner likes to save money and account for every cent, while the other runs the credit card to the max. Spending time with family, friends or doing leisure activities can raise tension in some couples. I also think when we go into marriage, we don’t always know or understand what we really want in that relationship. Yes, of course, we all want to be ‘happy’ and spend our lives together, but marriage is far more than just being together.

While confronting the differences between you can be difficult, it can also be a time of growth as a couple. Working through the small differences that arise enables a couple to develop the skills to be able to work through both conflict and bigger issues. Doing this well will lead to greater respect for each other too. So, how do we go about letting our partner know, “This is who I am!”  “This is what’s important to me!”  “These are my desires!”? First and foremost, be honest. Don’t say what you think your partner wants to hear. While that may be the easiest thing at the time, it only defers the problem.

It’s good to establish some ground rules when dealing with difficult issues. First and foremost – hear each other out fully before responding. Listen and try to see their point of view. Definitely don’t interrupt (I know, easier said than done), but really try hard not to. Rather than jumping in to explain your point of view, let your partner express his/her view. Be curious and ask questions if you need a point clarified. Say something like, “tell me more” and really mean it. Pay attention to what your partner is saying. Listening to another person is not surrendering. By listening carefully you are showing respect for your partner’s point of view and they are more likely to listen to you.

When it’s your turn to speak, allow yourself to voice your feelings. It can feel vulnerable, but it’s good to remember that as a couple you’re on the same team.  Be truthful, if you’re afraid of something, say so. Being honest enables you to learn more about one another too. Maybe your partner isn’t being stingy when he/she wants to curtail spending – maybe his/her family of origin struggled to make ends meet and were often hungry. A young man I knew always insisted on being early for everything. It caused tension between him and his wife and it was only after he explained that his family were consistently late for everything when he was growing up that she started to understand why it was so important to him to be on time.

Needing to assert differences can bring a couple to the edge, but once they discuss what’s underneath, they discover more about each other, understand better and like to develop a healthy respect for the partner. A marriage does not stay static over time, it’s an ever changing union between two people. It will have its ups and downs, but with a commitment to understanding each other and growing together the ups will eventually outweigh the downs. (If you are struggling in your relationship, seek help – that’s far better than ending up with a broken marriage.)

A Bible verse that I’ve needed to remind myself of several times is this one: A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. (Proverbs 15:1 NLT). So true!

(I will be working and available during the school holidays.)

Jenny Billingham

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