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He's Practical; I'm Not

How I learned not to take our personality differences personally.

"That thing isn't doing much good." My husband laughed as I raised my battered purple umbrella, scant protection from the light drizzle.

I'm a packrat. I rarely throw away anything. No matter how shabby, if the item is usable, I keep it, along with treasures I'm not using right now but might need someday.

James, on the other hand, throws away everything. His perspective: If I need it later, I'll buy another one. On occasion I've retrieved from the trash items he discarded. Storing these treasures has been a "sore spot" in our marriage.

"What is all this stuff?" James would say, looking around our basement. His frustration didn't motivate me to change my hoarding habits, and more stuff accumulated. Although he seldom criticized, his disapproval wounded me. I wanted him to accept me unconditionally.

James and I are opposites in other areas too. He loves pie; I prefer cake. He plans ahead; I take life an hour at a time. He likes being home; I enjoy social events. He's low-key and organized; I lean toward excitement and chaos. He's practical; I'm a dreamer. 

During our two-year courtship, love, youth, and ignorance covered potential problems. But moments after saying, "I do," we found ourselves in disagreement. I'd never told James my childhood dream: riding away with my Prince Charming in a shiny car, "Just Married" written in shaving cream on the windows, colorful streamers and noisy cans dangling from the bumper.

James didn't understand such dreams. He hid the car—his pride and joy—at his uncle's house and borrowed one to drive to church. During the reception, when friends badgered him to reveal the hiding place, I nagged him to tell.

"You're my wife. You're supposed to be on my side," he told me.

It was a small issue, but I felt deeply hurt, though I smiled as we ran through a shower of rice to the borrowed car. His buddies guessed the location and decorated his car. I was secretly pleased. But James immediately drove to the car wash. Tears flooded my eyes as he washed away my dream before the first mile of our honeymoon.

That incident was this 19-year-old bride's first clue that personality differences would cause many challenges in days to come. Although we agreed on important matters of life and faith, we approached day-to-day issues from different perspectives. We didn't deliberately provoke each other; we simply held conflicting points of view.

I knew James loved me. Just 22, he took seriously his role as leader, protector, provider. But I wasn't sure he liked me. I was talkative. There was my hoarding habit, and I habitually ran late. 

And I wasn't sure I liked him—a perfectionist who could be impatient, insensitive, and harsh when stressed.

I silently nursed my wounded feelings, wondering if I could ever please him.

One morning, nine years into our marriage, I rushed into our couples' Sunday school class frazzled and irritated over James's critical remarks about my being late as usual. He'd made no effort to help dress the kids—and I'd even laid out his clothes!

I vented, "Someday I'm writing a book about how to be the perfect husband."

One woman grinned. "I think I just read that book."

The next day I hurried to the bookstore and found Understanding the Male Temperament: What Women Want to Know About Men but Don't Know How to Ask. 

The book explained temperament as inherited characteristics that strongly influence behavior. It described four basic temperaments, listing strengths and weaknesses.

I identified James's choleric strengths: strong-willed, productive, decisive, practical. Weaknesses: insensitive, inconsiderate, sarcastic. He had a generous blend of melancholy: gifted, analytical, perfectionist, yet negative, critical, rigid.

As for me, sanguine to the core! Outgoing, friendly, talkative, compassionate, but undisciplined, disorganized, insecure. Throw in some phlegmatic weaknesses: stubborn, indecisive.

Epiphany! Our conflicts mostly resulted from temperament differences, not malicious intent.

Remembering my wedding-night heartbreak at the car wash, I realized James wasn't intentionally cruel and insensitive. He was being what he is—a practical man taking action to prevent damage to the paint.

My insecurity made me overly sensitive, vulnerable to constant wounding by his weaknesses and strengths. As I stopped taking everything personally and considered the circumstance behind James's behavior, it helped me to remember a few things.

 Accept each other as is. Understanding temperament helped us move from frustration to solution. We learned to accept each other as is, weaknesses included. We're both flawed (it's a humanity thing). Nobody got all strengths. We married the whole package, and living with another person's weaknesses is difficult—for everybody! 

When I'd start to criticize, the Lord spoke quietly: Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your [husband's] eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3). A plank—in

my eye? Did it irritate James as much as his "speck" annoyed me?

Then I'd hear that inner voice: In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12). Reluctantly, I tried to show the same patience with James's imperfections that I expected to receive. What I gave was returned abundantly. It's the way God works. Accepting the whole person as is reduced tension, allowing patience, affection, and friendship to grow.

Appreciate our differences. Being different didn't make either of us superior; we brought a variety of gifts to the marriage. We could appreciate our differences, realizing strengths of our opposite temperaments balanced and enriched our relationship and compensated for each other's weaknesses. My compassion helped James (task-oriented workaholic) become more people-focused. His calm, level-headed approach helped me overcome emotion and develop consistency. 

Verbalizing genuine appreciation for his strengths (qualities that first attracted me) increased my respect for him and his desire to please me. Nagging never achieved that!

Apply Scripture. We discovered the Bible overflowed with relationship principles. "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up… . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger… . Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:29, 31–32). "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).

Let it go. Temperament didn't excuse bad behavior. Encountering Psalm 19:14 proved my defining moment: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."

Correcting my husband's flaws was not my responsibility. Christ holds me accountable only for my life of obedience.

Time, maturity, and following Christ made amazing changes in both of us. The closer we drew to Jesus, the closer we grew to each other; the more we desired to please him, the more we wanted to please each other. We agree on a budget. I temper my dreams with practicality and work at being punctual. James is more sociable and flexible. Occasionally I bake a pie.

Knowing that my disorganization and hoarding grieved my husband, I stopped whining about not feeling accepted and determined to do something about the problem.

I attacked the basement clutter, reminding myself it's wasteful to hoard unused items that can meet someone's need. Sorting stuff brought a smile, as I remembered a line from our wedding vows: "All my worldly goods I thee endow." If James had only known!

I gave away nonessentials and stored genuine treasures and heirlooms. Organization brought me huge satisfaction and won James's praise.

While shopping on a rainy day, I purchased a new umbrella but hesitated before trashing the old purple one. Maybe James should watch me throw it away. What a memorable moment!

Skipping the fanfare, I tossed the feeble thing in the trash but later told him about it. The next day we spent a sunny afternoon weeding flower beds and trimming shrubs. After finishing, I nearly stepped on a surprise just inside the door—my purple umbrella! My serious-minded, no-nonsense husband had retrieved it from the trash. While his creative joke made us both laugh, it communicated to me an important message: acceptance.

My sweet husband had minimized my weakness, covering it with love—and humor. The reappearing umbrella proved we had come a long way.

But I have a problem. Now that the umbrella has worth, how can I ever throw it away?

Dianne Barker, a freelance author, has been married 42 years.

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

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