Marriage and Ministry, Part 3:
How Your Spouse’s Strengths May Surprise You
Today, families everywhere are torn apart and are in crisis, filled with conflict, isolation, or brokenness. Four out of ten children grow up without a father. One in three homes is led by a single mother.
Just a short while ago, Pastor Kevin would have been among the despairing, afraid that his family would add to the statistics. But today, as he looks at the photograph of his wife Karen on his desk, Kevin smiles. He thinks about how far they have come as a couple in just a short time … and that perhaps now they even have the chance to build healthier relationships with their two teenagers.
Appreciating Strengths Leads to Surprises
When we last saw Kevin, the senior pastor at a large church, he and Karen had reached a turning point. Isolation had threatened to bring an end to their marriage. But Kevin had humbled himself and asked Karen’s opinion about their many conflicts. Together, the couple resolved to learn about their differences and appreciate each other’s individual uniqueness.
Over a series of weeks Kevin and Karen explored their differences through the Different By Design material and had discovered their differences are a good thing given by God. In the process Kevin experienced a series of surprises.
A New Way to Lead: Showing Honor
Romans 12:10 says, “Honor one another above yourselves.” As Kevin studied that scripture, he saw how his previous attempts to get Karen to change to his ways were not only ineffectual, but even dishonorable. For many years, he had falsely assumed that being the leader in his marriage, home, and work meant that he needed to bring others around to doing things his way. Now, God called him to confer respect on his wife and her strengths rather than seek to put himself and his abilities forward in the marriage. The principle caught him by surprise. Could Kevin learn a new way to lead by showing honor to his wife?
By nature, human beings continually seek to elevate themselves, even over their spouses. Conferring honor, rather seeking to obtain it, is a shift contrary to human nature. Kevin had to set aside his familiarity with being in the spotlight and seek to show Karen honor instead. But once he began adopting the new mindset, Kevin began to feel pleasure not in receiving honor from his wife but in giving it.
As he and Karen talked through each others’ strengths, he took the time to tell her which ones he appreciated in her. Throughout the day he looked for things Karen did well and then told her what he saw. The more Kevin verbalized what made Karen unique – both to himself and to her – the more valuable her strengths became to him. He was leading by showing honor.
The Surprise of Mutual Respect
It came as a further surprise to Kevin that his growing appreciation for Karen’s uniqueness did not diminish him in the least. Ironically, the more Kevin learned to value his wife’s strengths, the more she showed him respect, too.
Where Karen previously had been irritated with Kevin’s analytical approach to handling conflict, now she thanked him. One evening their oldest daughter spoke disrespectfully at the dinner table. Kevin excused her and told her to rejoin them when she was ready to apologize. “I really appreciate your ability to stay calm and take charge of the situation,” Karen told Kevin later, not disguising her admiration. “It’s one of your strengths. I used to see it as a need to control but now I see how you are able to diffuse a situation.” Her words strengthened Kevin and encouraged him even more.
The Surprise of Transference
Both Kevin and Karen had taken an active stance, rather than a passive one, in valuing each other’s strengths. As they grew together, the couple concluded that their children were different by design as well. By learning to understand their teens, they could more effectively build relationships with them.
Together, Kevin and Karen made a decision to engage their teens in a whole new light. With humility they sat down with their teens and explained how they wanted to proceed – by discovering and appreciating the strengths God had placed in each of them.
In leading from his strengths Kevin not only regained hope for his marriage, but also for his family. What happened in learning to value his spouse’s strengths surprised him in a wonderful way.
And when you undertake that process, it will surprise you, too.
Read the rest of our Marriage and Ministry series