What to do when you don’t know what to do with difficult differences...
We’ve talked quite a bit about handling conflict for the past few weeks. It told you about our first fight, then about four things I wish I’d known when I married Phil (Tip#1), (Tip#2), (Tip#3), (Tip#4)— things that would have cut down on conflict and made it easier to come to a place of peace.
Today I want to talk about the best way to handle those areas of your personality that don’t fit very well with your husband, or your boyfriend, or your friend-who-might-turn-into-more. I’m not talking about major sins or mistreatment or the kinds of things that must be confronted and dealt with— just those clashing points that come up over and over again.
Differences that make life difficult.
But first, I think I need to open up our lives just a little more in order to make this so practical that you’ll really know what to do when you don’t know what to do… Here’s reality at our house: Phil and I are polar opposites.
He is a crazy extrovert. Which means that he never tires of being together. Phil’s idea of a good day is all about companionship and talking and me coming along as he does what he needs to do. He wants to experience life together. That’s wonderful, right? Well…. I am a raging introvert. Which means that I crave time alone. My idea of a good day is all about aloneness. Space. Time to think inside myself and not talk, then write about what I’ve been pondering and reading. I crave time alone.
As if that’s enough to polarize the two of us, there’s this: Phil makes decisions by examining and eliminating all the negatives. Because of this he makes really good decisions. But the process is… negative. Every possible problem must be looked at. Every solution rethought to make sure its right. Over and over again. I have a low tolerance for negativity. I want everyone to be happy, happy, happy all the time. All that examining and processing can seem overwhelmingly negative to me. And since happy all the time is not realistic… we sometimes clash.
So… what to do? How can Phil and I… and you and whoever it is you are called to love, reconcile all those differences while remaining true and loyal and lovely to each other… and our own selves? And since next Monday I’ll be posting The Solution, for now I just want to unveil the way women deal with these differences by default.
These are our go-to modes of overcoming those differences that cause difficulties in relationships.
Default method #1: Ignore it
This is when I just brush away the irritation and pretend it isn’t there. I look away. Hide. Play nice.
For years and years I tried this. I thought it was the valiant thing to do. After all, I reasoned, Love covers a multitude of sins so I’ll just cover over this and hope it goes away. Only what really happens is we start to stack all those clashing differences into a stone wall. And over time that stone wall becomes impregnable until we take sledge hammers out to knock it down.
And that’s a messy and inevitably hurtful process. Or worse, we stuff and stuff and some small incident blows all that stuffed stuff way out of proportion. And that’s another messy and inevitably hurtful process.
Default method #2: Grin and bear it
This method is an outgrowth of default method #1. A little more honest, but just as ineffective. This is when I decide, through gritted teeth, to accept him as he is. So when he does something I don’t like I just pretend to be okay with it and blame myself and slather a smile over my face.
It doesn’t work for long. Inevitably my smile slips and shows the frown of disapproval underneath. Or I withdraw into a silent funk, unreachable, unresponsive, cold. What man wants that kind of companionship? Ugh.
Default method #3: Fix it
When ignoring it doesn’t work, and grinning and bearing it leaves us with more of a grimace than a grin, most of us set to work to try to fix it.
I’ve tried this a million times. And even with a humble husband who receives my “suggestions” seriously, this has never once worked. Instead I leave the poor man feeling poked and jostled and generally disliked. For instance, when I want to neaten him up a little. Not for my sake of course… this is most certainly in his own best interest. (please note the hint of sarcasm here!)
So I zip his brief case, mention for the umpteenth time that its not designed to be filled so full, remind him that Steve (our amazingly talented son-in-law) would be appalled at how pushed out of shape the case has become, and try to “help” him tidy it up. Which leaves Phil feeling shamed, disrespected, and uncomfortably dishonored. Not exactly a friendly way to love my man.
Not one of these default methods of dealing with differences honors my husband. Nor do they work in the long haul. Oh, he may try for a while to please you, but eventually that trying wears him out and he goes back to being who he is.
And all three of our defective default methods slip you and me into that contentious woman category so bluntly described in the book of Proverbs. These verses just make me cringe… “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”Proverbs 21v9 NASB
Or, as the Amplified Bible drives it home… “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a nagging, quarrelsome, and faultfinding woman.” Proverbs 21v9 Amplified
As if to make sure we get it, the writer of Proverbs repeats his frustration just a few chapters later… “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”Proverbs 25v24 NIV
And then there’s the one we Northwesters fully get… “A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping.” Proverbs 19:13 NLT
I refuse to underline those verses in my Bible. And every month when my Bible reading takes me to those chapters… every 19th, every 21st, every 25th, something in me shrinks back at the shear honesty of the description.
And when I walk into our upstairs bathroom, there I see it again. Unbeknownst to us, our shower was leaking for a long time, dripping inside the walls. And though its been fixed now, the damage is there. Swollen baseboards, contorted wood, painted over ugliness.
Dear girls, we’ve got to stop the leaking of our frustrations onto our men. We can’t ignore it. Grinning and bearing it will not work. And our manic attempts to fix him only lead to ugliness.
Remember what I said about confession? Maybe you and I just ought to take a little time alone with the Father and talk to Him honestly right now…
From my heart,
P.S. Can you see yourself here? Do you try to ignore your differences? Are you pretending? Raising a ruckus by determining to fix it? Can you leave a comment that will encourage us all to be honest with ourselves?
P.S.S. The Solution… next Monday