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Different By Design, Part 7: Managing Differences from This Day Forward

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Differences between a husband and wife need not be a threat in marriage … but rather can be the most significant factor pulling them together.

couple smiling

Image: Fort Lauderdale Orthodontics

That is the truth that has slowly dawned on Roger and Darlene. You’ll recall this couple had committed to attending a marriage conference at their church, but each did so filled with doubts. Yet over the course of the conference, both were surprised to learn that their God-given differences were actually strengths in disguise. Roger and Darlene discovered that each of them solved problems, processed information, managed change, and faced risk differently … yet those differences could make them stronger together.

As the conference drew to a close, Roger experienced a sense of responsibility for how he interacted with his wife. Meanwhile, Darlene was overwhelmed by the amount of information she needed to process. Both wondered how to take the next step. How would they move ahead from this day forward?

Choose One Area of Differences to Work on Together

Roger and Darlene wanted their marriage to be stronger and now possessed tools to make it so. They simply needed a plan.

Roger and Darlene were eager for a “win” – for a first step to take in which they could have success in their differences working together. They chose to focus on one area in which they perceived only moderate differences: managing change. This would allow them to begin to value the other’s strengths but not overwhelm either of them.

How you and your spouse begin to move forward with valuing differences is up to both of you, whether you choose an area of tremendous differences which leads to considerable isolation or an area that produces less conflict. The important issue is to choose one area together with the goal of moving from conflict to cooperation.

Know Your Triggers

Roger and Darlene worked independently to process an incident in the recent past which had created conflict between them. Roger thought back to that morning’s interaction about paying the bills. Darlene’s reaction to his spontaneity – “Is it a need or is it a want?” triggered his frustration. Roger wanted his wife to appreciate his enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, Darlene recalled Roger’s urgency in scheduling their vacation, compounding her other responsibilities. She recognized her trigger: Roger’s enthusiasm for many projects at once made her panic. She didn’t want to fail him, but wanted her husband to appreciate her ability to finish projects.

The couple agreed on a signal: a simple nose scratch would let the other know they were triggering a negative response. Roger and Darlene also agreed at what would happen next: the person who scratched his nose would be responsible for taking a step to move the conversation in another direction.

Be Responsible for Your Triggers

The opportunity to appreciate differences came much sooner than either spouse expected. “This is great!” said Roger. “Let’s go out after the conference to celebrate.” When Darlene didn’t respond, he looked over at his wife. She scratched her nose vigorously.

“I really appreciate your enthusiasm,” said Darlene. “It’s one of the things I love most about you.” She paused, holding her breath. “Could we go out for coffee rather than dinner and dancing?” Darlene knew she needed to take changes one at a time. Would her husband understand, too?

Roger grabbed her hand. “You bet,” he said, grinning. “Coffee is probably better on our budget, too. Thanks for thinking for both of us.”

Darlene had given Roger their signal – and he recognized it. Then, as Darlene expressed how much she valued Roger’s strength yet needed time to catch up to him, he in turn saw the value she brought to their plan. Small and subtle shifts make a big difference.

From This Day Forward, Will You Seek to Understand Differences?

Proverbs 2:2 says, “Incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding” (NKJV).

When you apply yourself to know and understand your spouse’s strengths – and how those strengths can blend with yours – you begin to build a unity you never dreamed possible. And when you make a practical plan to apply that understanding you can truly begin to build a stronger, healthier marriage.

That journey can start right now, from this day forward, when you take the first step.

Hundreds of couples have discovered their personal strengths, their spouse’s strengths, and have built stronger, more intimate marriages with the Different By Design curriculum. Learn more.

Marriage Series: Different By Design

Different By Design, Part 1: Surprised By Differences With Your Spouse

Different By Design, Part 2: Incompatibility – a Powerful Basis for a Great Marriage

Different By Design, Part 3: Problem Solving Together With Your Spouse

Different By Design, Part 4: Processing Information With Your Spouse

Different By Design, Part 5: Managing Change Together With Your Spouse

Different By Design, Part 6: Facing Risk Together With Your Spouse