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He Said, She Said

He said, "She's too outspoken."

He said, "She's too outspoken."

Tim's Side:
Sharing my frustrations with others and confronting people are two things I do only as a last resort. I consider myself more of a natural diplomat, which has its advantages.

Jill is just the opposite, although her cut-to-the-chase directness was one of the first things that attracted me to her. I sometimes found myself wishing I had her ability to be so forthright. She doesn't mince words when she disagrees with someone—an approach that comes in handy when an exterminator or plumber does a sloppy job and needs to be challenged. But sometimes her honesty makes me cringe.

Take, for instance, a church board meeting I'll never forget. Some of the suggestions Jill and I made were drawing fire from others. Finally Jill turned to one church leader and said, "Chuck, it seems to me that you put work first, family second and God third." I couldn't have agreed more, yet Jill's approach made me want to slink off into a corner.

Honesty is one thing, but bluntness? If it had been up to me, I would have met Chuck later for coffee—then inched up to the issue of his priorities. As soon as we got home that night, I phoned Chuck to set up a breakfast meeting to smooth out the situation.

When I found myself worrying about what Jill would blurt out next, I realized it was time to try to reconcile our differing styles of handling conflict.

She said, "He won't speak up."

Jill's Side:
I've always loved Tim's gentleness and his kind, low-key manner. But as much as I admire his "niceness," I'm convinced it sometimes stands in the way of truly honest relating.

Years ago, when I brought Tim home to meet my parents, they got concerned when he and I had disagreements. They would tell me, "You should be nicer to Tim." They seemed to think he needed someone to defend him, which he didn't. But I'll admit it was hard not to feel like the "bad guy" when I was arguing with someone as chronically pleasant as Tim.

We've been in a number of situations where it seemed that Tim cared more about keeping the conversation amiable than being truthful. Take the church board meeting where our differing styles were so apparent. I felt he was more concerned about not offending someone who was politically important in the church than he was about confronting Chuck with the truth.

I began to wonder if Tim's pleasantness grew more out of a need to be liked by others than out of true compassion. I wanted him to take more risks by speaking the truth directly when situations called for it. Whenever something wasn't right or someone tried to take advantage of us, why did I always have to be the one to confront the person and face his or her ire? I needed Tim to help carry that load.

What Tim and Jill Did:

Understanding each other's different approaches to conflict and confrontation didn't come quickly. Indeed, the Joneses had been married eight years when their differences clashed during the church board meeting. Not only were their contrasting approaches affecting their marriage, but their shared ministry was being impacted as well. Something had to give.

"The more I talked with Jill, the more I realized I was too worried about how people would take challenging words," reflects Tim. "I had to face my fear that something I said would turn people against me."

Seeing good results come from Jill's direct style further encouraged Tim to change. "Jill and I would come out of a meeting we led or a Bible study we taught and I saw that it was her comments that stirred discussion. I saw the value of not always being so careful with how I expressed myself."

As Tim's confidence grew, he found himself more willing to urge individuals to change, and not just accept them as they are. "I've learned how important it is to challenge others, as well as compliment them."

For Jill, change came as she saw that "love ultimately has more power than words" when serving or leading others. "As I watched Tim, I realized how important it is to speak the truth in love," she explains. "And I began to pray for more compassion."

Learning about spiritual gifts also helped them become more accepting of one another. The Joneses realized their individual tendencies weren't superior or inferior—just different.

"We saw that God gives some people the gift to speak boldly, while others are spiritually gifted to bring encouragement," says Jill.

Tim adds, "That helped us realize that our marriage—as well as the people we knew and related to—all needed the unique strengths we each brought." That insight has led them to value their contrasting styles. The temptation to change each other's ways of handling a conversation has given way to respect and admiration.

In fact, Tim says, he and Jill sometimes switch roles. "Often we surprise one another: I'm the one reacting strongly to someone's moral compromise or shoddy workmanship."

"We love each other so much and consider our marriage so important that we are determined to mesh our different personalities and gifts," says Jill. And, like a tapestry that is all the richer for its different stitches and hues, the Joneses find their marriage—and all their relationships—stronger because of their differences.

if you know a couple with a creative solution to a marriage problem, let us know. We'll pay $25 for each story that is featured in this column. Send the couple's name, phone number and a short description of their problem and solution to:

Work It Out
Marriage Partnership
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, Illinois 60188
E-mail: mp@marriagepartnership.com

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Conflict; Differences; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 1996
Posted September 12, 2008

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