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Lost in Translation

When communication broke down, Dave and Merry Marinello had to learn a new language.

Merry's side: He doesn't get it

I opened the car door to blaring music that felt like nails on a chalkboard. How can he listen to that noise? I thought impatiently. Heaving a sigh, I clicked off the radio as I slid into the passenger seat.

"How was work?" Dave asked cheerfully.

"Exhausting and stressful."

I couldn't wait to get home. I envisioned our large bathtub filled with steaming water. A 30-minute soak with no interruptions just might make me feel human again.

"I've got an idea—let's go out for dinner," Dave suggested.

Pulled from dreams of candles and bubble bath, I frowned and shook my head. "Not tonight. I just want to go home." Restaurants can be so loud, I mused, and we can't afford to spend the money. I was imagining myself curled cozily into a chair, sipping hot tea, when Dave spoke again.

"Well, would you like to invite over some friends for dinner?"

Was he nuts? I tell him I've had a terrible day and he wants me to clean the house and cook dinner for company? "I said I've had a hard day. Didn't you hear me?" I snapped, amazed at how oblivious he was being.

Dave didn't respond, but a moment later he put his hand on my knee and smiled at me.

"Why are you so happy?" Did he actually think I'd feel like having sex tonight? We passed the rest of the car ride in silence.

How could Dave be so insensitive? This wasn't the first time he'd been less than understanding of my feelings, but it felt like the last straw. Why can't he be more attuned to what I need?

Dave's side: I can't win

I pulled up to the building where Merry works, five minutes early and feeling on top of the world. Turning up the radio, I tapped my fingers to the music as I waited for her to appear. When she did, however, her expression was tense and unhappy.

Uh-oh. Bad day, I thought. I flashed her a bright smile. "Hi, honey!"

Click. She turned off the radio once she climbed into the car. When I asked about work, she only muttered that it had been stressful and tiring. Determined to cheer her, I came up with the perfect solution.

"Let's go out for dinner." I figured Merry could vent her frustrations over a nice meal without the hassle of cooking and cleaning up.

She was shaking her head before I finished speaking, looking even more on edge. I racked my brain for another plan, something to make Merry feel better without leaving the house. Maybe some company would do the trick—dinner and a game night with a few close friends, since I know being around people always makes me feel more relaxed.

"Would you like to invite over some people?"

You would have thought I'd suggested a root canal. Merry's eyes flashed with anger, and her tone made me feel like a little kid.

Deciding that perhaps she just needed some physical comfort, I rested my hand on her knee and gave her my best "I love you" smile. For some reason, that made her even angrier.

I'd fixed the plumbing in two apartments that day, but I couldn't seem to fix Merry's bad mood. I love Merry and want to be a good husband, but sometimes it feels as though no matter how hard I try, I do the wrong thing.

What they did

Soon after the incident in the car, Merry and Dave took a personality test, in which they discovered they scored opposite in a majority of the personality indicators. The results opened their eyes to the way they communicate and respond to each other. "I always assumed Dave thought like I did," Merry says. "Boy, was I wrong!"

"Merry's an introvert who needs quiet to recharge her batteries," Dave explains. "But I'm an extrovert, which means I'm convinced the surest cure for the blues is a party. No wonder we had trouble that day in the car!"

Dave and Merry realized that coping with their different personality types would require them to work harder at communicating. "I've been expecting you just to know my needs—such as how I want to unwind after a bad day—and meet them," Merry confessed to Dave after they received the personality results. "When you don't, I assume you're not even trying."

"I'm not a mind reader," Dave replied. "You need to clue me in on how I can help."

Merry admitted that the conversation in the car would have turned out differently if she'd simply told Dave she craved a nice warm bath—and no interruptions or responsibilities.

On the other hand, Dave needed to stop trying to "fix" Merry. "I'm not a technical problem to solve," Merry reminded him. "I need you to listen and care, not offer a quick fix."

Both Merry and Dave have learned not to make assumptions. "Since we're so different, taking a personality test and studying each other's communication styles helped us better understand each other and communicate our preferences," Merry says, adding with a sheepish grin, "instead of becoming defensive and attacking each other."

Dave agrees. "Before we were merely reacting to each other; now we ask questions—we want to know what each other is thinking. We know we have a choice to make in how we respond. We don't want a marriage where careless comments escalate into anger and bitterness. So now we try to assume the best about each other, and to cherish our differences."

The result of consciously choosing how they communicate is that both now define love on a deeper level. "First Corinthians 13 says, 'Love always trusts,'" says Merry. "I wasn't trusting Dave with my thoughts, and I didn't trust his motives—I jumped to all kinds of wrong conclusions."

"It also says, 'Love is not proud,'" adds Dave. "I was caught up in my pride over my ability to fix everything. That's not love! I need to slow down, be patient, and listen."

Dave and Merry now can laugh about that day in the car, knowing God made them each unique and learning to appreciate those differences. "Life might be easier if we were exactly the same," Merry says. "But it would be a lot less interesting!"

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Conflict; Differences; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2006
Posted September 12, 2008

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