John is outgoing and can talk easily to almost anyone. Sarah is more reserved and prefers socializing in small groups. She finds herself hurt and uncomfortable when John makes the rounds at parties, leaving her to fend for herself. He can’t understand why she prefers the wallflower approach.
Darrell is practical and pays close attention to details. It is second nature for him to keep careful records of how he spends money. Record keeping is not that important to Kate. She feels restricted when she has to stop and make note of every transaction, as Darrell would prefer.
Tracy is quick to notice people’s feelings and tries to avoid arguments. Chris is firm-minded and enjoys a good argument. He likes to analyze, and persuade with the use of logic. It frustrates him when Tracy says that he is not listening to her when he’s only trying to prove his point.
Michael wishes Anna would pay more attention to punctuality and get to places on time. He prefers life on a schedule and would not think of being late himself. Anna wishes that Michael would be more flexible and not get so uptight about 5 or 10 minutes.
All these couples are dealing with personality differences in their marriage relationships. Though the scenarios seem trivial, these differences can affect essential relational components such as compatibility, emotional support, cooperativeness and intimacy. The very traits that originally attracted and drew these couples together can later seem like flaws that need eliminating within the marriage.
How can couples avoid getting caught up in the power struggles of trying to change the other when their own particular way seems best? Henry Higgins in the musical, My Fair Lady, exemplifies this relational dilemma when he wonders why Eliza Dolittle can’t simply “be like me?”
The task of attempting to sculpt our marriage partner into our own likeness fails before it begins. God made us unique with our own particular style of “being,” and much of our personality patterns come with the package. The saying, “I’m OK, you’re OK” can be applied to personality differences, for it reflects that no one style is better than the other, and that our differences are an expression of our God-given diversity.
We each have natural inclinations in varying degrees from extroversion to introversion, as well as preference patterns for perceiving information, making decisions, and structuring our life and time. When we try to change our spouse’s natural personality patterns, we negate our partner’s essential goodness and usually cause resentment, hurt and distrust.
Understanding and Generosity
There is great value in exploring a couple’s personality match to gain a clearer understanding of self, our partner, and how our styles impact our relationship. Identifying similarities and differences helps couples understand the dynamics of their relationship more clearly, but generosity towards each another is still key to personality compatibility. If we choose to see our differences as GIFTS, we are drawn towards greater acceptance. When we concentrate on our partner’s strengths and complimentary style, we can appreciate and affirm rather than criticize. Since no personality style is better than another, we can choose to give up our superior attitudes as well.
Balance Leads to Harmony
We also tend to overuse personality patterns with which we are most comfortable. When this occurs, our corresponding limitations become more glaring. For example, the extrovert becomes overbearing or the introvert may appear non-communicative. It’s true we don’t tend to change our basic preferences, but we can develop maturity within our basic style for the sake of our marriage. A generous effort to curb our overuse of a pattern preference increases our own personality balance and brings harmony to the relationship.
Accepting one another’s personality differences is an ongoing process within marriage and is part of the couple’s spiritual growth. As partners recognize each others’ patterns to be as valid as their own, they allow themselves to be influenced by them as well. Then the saying, “I’m OK, You’re OK” becomes a reality.
Many of us have been exposed to personality inventories through college or jobs. A great resource book for couples is, Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey. It contains a personality style assessment instrument and chapters on marriage and parenting.
Judy Clark is Co-Director of Family and Adult Ministry at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Plano, Texas and a licensed professional counselor.