So many comedies (and couples) are build on the premise that “opposites attract” and all its derivatives.
While that may be useful for awkward comedic situations (and any number of marriages) I tend to agree with Neil Clark Warren:
In his book Finding the Love of Your Life (originally published by Focus on the Family) he asserts that similarities are money in the bank (of marital harmony) while differences are drains on the account.
Basically, the more similarities you have, the less you have to fight about. Warren included in that book a very specific list of 50 areas of “helpful marriage similarities” where, essentially, similarity or agreement would simplify your life together.
In May of 2000, when Jay and I, in our different ways, were considering this marriage thing a possibility, I brought the list on one of our rambling drives and we began to work our way through it.
At this point I knew Jay wanted to get married, but I didn’t know what God wanted, and I didn’t know what I wanted. So having a list was useful to me: something concrete and definable.
Knowing Jay wanted to marry, and knowing he knew me and my reliance on… well, outside confirmation, you could call it, I completely did not trust him.
Not that I believed he would lie– I already knew him to be one of the most deeply honest and open people I’d met– but I didn’t trust that his innate flexibility wouldn’t mold his answers to be more… compatible than fully accurate.
It was a Monday night when we worked our way through the first half of the list, me making him answer first, because I didn’t want my answers to influence him. Before we’d made it through the first dozen I felt life a simpering “yes-man” because I was agreeing with all of his answers.
~ ~ ~
What I learned that night (and the next, before accepting his proposal Wednesday) greatly set my heart as ease.
When I first “noticed” Jay, my mind made a mental list of the dividing line of differences between us (the biggest I can remember at this moment being the type of movies he would see that I wouldn’t– mainly for the violence). It was literally a “deal-maker” to see in list form–to recognize– the amount of significant similarities we shared.
If you want to see the whole list you should pick up the book, but I wanted to share the majors as Warren lists them.
First though, as Warren points out, no one thing breaks a relationship on its own; it is about debts vs. credits.
That being said, there are some similarities that are especially important:
- Intelligence (not the same thing as education)
- How smart doesn’t matter, but closeness in level does (feeling markedly superior to your partner is not something I consider healthy)
- What’s important to you: morally, relationally, in how you spend your time
- Intimacy (of the non-sexual kind)
- Are you equally capable/open?
- Expectations about roles
- Do you both know who’s going to make dinner? Change the oil? (Please change your own; it’s so simple and will save you some serious money)
You can see these are all things that could create frustration and discomfort when “nothing” was really wrong in your world. Add in the normal stressors of life (and/or a kid or two) and you’re starting to feel like the ant under a magnifying glass).
When he listed the differences that cause the most problems I found myself nodding like a puppet– Most of us have heard of these being elements in the divorces we’ve been forced to observe:
- Personal habits
- e.g. hygiene, clutter-bug/neat-nick
- Use of Money
- Verbal skills/interest in being verbal
- Energy level
- this last item was one I hadn’t considered before, though I’d heard the others. But (especially having been married over eight years, now) I heartily concur.
Warren’s final observation is that flexibility can smooth over a great many differences; and “love covers a multitude of sins.”
To me the neat thing in all this was learning (the first time I read this book– before I even knew Jay, I believe) that there were things I could do before I was married to significantly reduce the amount of conflict in my married life.
For a (largely) non-confrontational type like me, that was great news!
And it has been a great life. I think of my grandparents and marvel that (Lord willing) I still have many times the years we’ve already spent.
Conflict and snappy comebacks are great for books and sitcoms, but in my own nest what I enjoy most is simple peace.
Wow! I checked your other posts. Your mom and sister were asked 3 times? Now that is persistence. I don’t know any men like that. I got asked on a date I didn’t realize it till 3 hours before being picked up from work when my paralegal took pity on me and informed me that it was in fact a date. Yeah I think I’ve inadvertantly turned men away. But I don’t have a problem saying yes.
What is it with saying yes?
I think it was on some level the realization that one word could change my life forever.
Tell me that isn’t magic. I won’t believe you.
Big magic is a scary thing.
My life was already pretty good– nothing like the many tales where the heroine has nothing to lose by taking a leap into the unknown (why do you think she’s got it so horrid at home? Why else would she leave!?). Even with a planed/calculated leap you have no guarantees.
And saying yes is making not only the first step of a commitment, it’s also saying I finally believe this *something* is real and worth displaying to the world. I had resisted such declarations up to this point, perhaps because of pride or fear; I didn’t want to be in a position where I could be proven wrong.
As for the asking three times, it was my dad who asked my mom 3 times to marry him. My brother-in-law only asked her to date him for his three times. (Jay says this is much less impressive– hardly worth mentioning– but it makes for a better set-up than just my mom’s story.)
By the time it came to them becoming engaged no one was surprised. I told her I’d been expecting a proposal for a long time– ever since I heard him say, “I know I won’t be marrying you, but I better approve of the guy who does.”
Hmm I never looked at it that way before- saying yes I mean.
I still admire the persistence your dad and brother in law showed. I wish more men these days were like that! It seems all the ones I know run as soon as they encounter any difficulty. A lot of it is scheduling. Planning ahead is a skill they don’t possess. They can’t comprehend the fact that I have substantial responsibilty with my job and that I can’t just drop everything the minute they want to have fun. Then on top of that when I suggest an alternative day/time they won’t work with me. Yeah I admire men who don’t give up easily.
Persistence is a tricky road. Done wrong it can be called stalking and the nice guys are generally trying to figure out what you want (which is part of why I think the song “Walk Away” is so sad/mean. Poor guy, ask a simple question…)
I loved the analogy I heard some months back about the woman needing to be a “coach.” I suppose it was the author’s distinction to still allow the man to be the “leader” while allowing the woman a great deal of influence/power.
There are some things that women simply *get* before or better than men, and I feel it’s unkind to watch them stumbling through figuring it out (or missing it) on their own if we can help. Of course that presupposes a relationship where such interaction is possible, but once there it gives you (me) an image to guide my choices.
(It works really well for the couple in my novel because Linnea is having to teach her husband the basics of human interaction: social limitations and so on.) And of course it can work the other way, but we’re not talking about that, now. So there.
I haven’t read the Warren book, but I suspect I would agree with much of it. My husband and I are in near 100% agreement on:
-leisure pursuits (as in being readers more than “going out-ers”)
and so much more and yet we still find plenty to argue over. (Discuss might sound better there.) Of course we’ve known each other since we were 4 & 8, so I suppose that has a lot to do with it.
Just think how hairy things might get in your home if you didn’t already have so much to agree on!
I suspect birth order plays in here somewhere; didn’t you once say you were an oldest?
Jay and I are both “middles” and (statistically speaking) we’re less likely to argue anyway.
This post has pondered a lot of thought. I agree in a lot of the basics, like religion and dreams, but at the same time, I didn’t wholly agree with the thought that we should have less to argue about. Although I’m not sure I feel it as strongly as that statement just made it.
I think the things that my hubby and I are opposites on actually work to pull us together because we have to learn from each other to compromise. I can roll with the flow more easily than he does and when we come into the middle, I learn that there are things I shouldn’t put up with and he learns that it’s ok for plans to change. And politics, while we are not at opposite ends of the spectrum, I lean far more liberal than him. (Meaning I tend toward the middle and he is very right.) But in talking things over, we find ways to come together in the middle. Now if only the politicians I know of would do that. . .
Anyway, being married to someone who is, in many ways, my opposite, really helps pull me out of myself.
However, we do agree on many of those basics you mentioned, so maybe it’s not all that hard for us. Hmm. . .
I’ve been thinking about this one a lot. Thanks for sharing!
Did it say anything about Need for Sleep? That’s something I don’t think remotely crossed my mind before marriage, but we have had to work through that difficulty. I truly need 9 hours of sleep a night, and Matthew can function at top level with only 6. That leaves me needing to go to bed hours before him, or sleeping in, or else take a nap during the day. We do all three as needed, but it has caused frustration for both of us at times. “Why won’t you stay up and hang out with me?” “Why don’t you want to come to bed with me?” etc.
Yes, Becky– sleep was an element, or, at least, I remember biorhythms being mentioned (night owls vs. early birds and so on). This is one of many areas where flexibility is so important. One suggestion I’ve heard is for both go to bed together and the one to get up after the other falls asleep.
I don’t think that Warren’s or my point is that you have to be completely the same, or that that could solve/preclude all problems. It’s more to point out that there are advantages to similarity, and knowing how things are between you is part of going into marriage “eyes wide open.”