Daryl and I were at Ikea again. I was in tears again. Standing in the bedroom furniture section, staring at yet another bed-frame, we were dejected and forlorn, like two defeated soldiers.
When it comes to shopping, Daryl and I have completely different styles. I value efficiency and functionality. He values beauty and workmanship. Left to my own decorating devices, our home would look much like my college dorm room—scattered bookshelves, bright colors, and worn-in furniture. If we needed a new furnishing, I'd run to the store and be back in 15 minutes with a real bargain. If Daryl was in control, it would look like Pottery Barn, only with more books. And his trips to the store would involve a week of research, an analysis of wood grain and fabric quality, and a much heftier price tag.
After hours of indecision during this trip, I was furious. Was he trying to wear me down just to get his way? Daryl was feeling frustrated and rushed. He couldn't figure out why I was in such a hurry.
"I can't do this anymore," I said, attempting to hide my tears from the shoppers who unwittingly wandered close to our tiff. We had yet to agree on a single piece of furniture. Two days earlier we'd left Target barely speaking. It seemed as if we'd never resolve this silliest of conflicts, and our empty apartment was beginning to seem permanently bare. "I don't want to sleep on a mattress on the floor anymore," I whimpered.
"As I stood there, wiping my eyes with my sleeve, a voice in Daryl's mind—perhaps some wisdom from God above—spoke some clarity.
'For the sake of your marriage," it said, 'Pick a bed.'"
He chose, and we drove home with our new purchase, but the conflict still simmered. Little by little we furnished our home, but with each new object came a fight. Oddly enough, we didn't argue about much else. Our budget was easy, we agreed on family visits, and even when he burned dinner or I shrunk his favorite shirt, we just shrugged and admitted that sometimes these things happen.
Although we found it easy to sacrifice in the big things (he turned down a Ph.D. program so that we could attend seminary together), we were discovering that little things caused our selfishness to run out of control. While both of us were willing to die for each other, we fought for hours about a lamp or a mirror.
One Step at a Time
Our lowest moment came months later when we argued about a hypothetical furniture item. Things escalated, and Daryl retreated to the kitchen while I sat on the bedroom floor, exhausted and sobbing. Spiteful thoughts swirled in my brain: Is he such a control freak that he can't allow me to pick out anything without his approval?
Daryl took the high ground and came back from the kitchen to rub my shoulders.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean for things to get out of hand."
"I'm sorry too," I replied. "Let's try Speaker-Listener," I said. "You go first." In Speaker-Listener communication, one person speaks while the other listens. Then the listener paraphrases what the speaker has said to make sure that there's no miscommunication.
"I want our home to be a safe and happy place," he began. Then he sighed. "The furniture in my home growing up symbolized that my parents' marriage was falling apart. Now when I visit my mom, I see mismatched pieces and some of my dad's leftovers. I hate it. I want our home to tell people that we love each other. Quality and aesthetics make me feel safe."
I paraphrased back to him, and he nodded. Then I began.
"I feel like you think I have terrible taste," I said. "Sometimes I want to go to the store and just buy a lamp because we need one, not discuss for a week what would be the perfect lamp. When I grew up, I loved the creativity my parents put into decorating. Our home was safe and inviting, but it was also fun and functional. Spontaneity and comfort make me feel safe."
We sat for a moment, staring at each other.
"Can we pray?" I asked. Because this fight seemed so ridiculous, we'd neglected to invite God into the conflict. But surely a God who cares about each sparrow cares about furniture too? We closed with an amen and looked up. Daryl's face was lined with frustration, mine streaked with tears.
"Well, that's a step," I said. And it was.
Compromise and Service
With God's help, Daryl began to affirm my tastes and desires for our home, not only compromising but celebrating when I decorated portions of it on my own. In turn, I started to become more patient, understanding that his appreciation for order was helping us craft a welcoming apartment. We haggled or compromised on bigger items, and assigned the smaller ones. We became friends again—not only outside of Ikea, but inside it too.
We're learning that a Christ-centered marriage means laying down our lives each day, in the small things as well as the big ones. And this means that while my makeup table will always be cluttered with knickknacks, our bookshelves will always be pricier than the ones from my dorm. It means that our apartment isn't Daryl's ideal magazine-ready home, but neither is it my perfect mix of value and fun. What it is, however, is a truthful picture of us, trying our best to serve each other in love, and that makes it perfect.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.