A lifetime assignment
Goalies have different styles.
Take Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas, for example. For those who aren’t hockey fans, Luongo and Thomas are the goalies of the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins respectively, who are currently tied at three wins apiece in the Stanley Cup finals.
Several of the goals in this series have been a direct result of shooters understanding the unique traits of the opposing goalie’s style of play. In game two, Alex Burrows scored the winning goal by going behind the net because he knew Tim Thomas would come way out of his net to challenge the shooter. In game six, Brad Marchand beat Luongo on the upper left side after studying his goaltending style and habits, and discovering one of his weak areas. His goal may well have been the key to his team’s victory in that game.
Men and women also have different styles, different ways of doing things, different ways of thinking. Anyone who has been married for any length of time has discovered this.
As in hockey, so in marriage it is possible to catalogue your partner’s unique ways of thinking and behaving, looking for weak areas so that you can score points on each other. In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, that probably won’t lead to the most harmonious of marriage relationships.
But what if we studied our marriage partners with a different goal in mind – so that we can learn how to love them better?
I’m making a fundamental assumption here – that you and your marriage partner have both surrendered control of your lives to Jesus and invited Him to be the Lord of your individual lives and of your marriage. If you have not done this, most of the rest of what I say here won’t make sense to you. Our marriage changed radically when Marion and I both explicitly surrendered our wills to Jesus, and stopped trying to control each other. We still had lots of other issues to work through, but at least we had a starting point – we were standing on the same ground and walking in the same direction.
That was about twenty-five years ago, and since then, I’ve learned a few things. One of the things I’ve learned is that to love my wife really well, I need to understand how she thinks. A number of years ago Marion and I watched a series of DVDs by Dr. Gary Smalley called “Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships”. For me, probably the number one insight that came from this teaching series was the transformative power of one simple decision. I’m referring to the decision to honour, rather than bemoan, the built-in qualities that make my partner different from me. Smalley related how in his own marriage he had to learn to see the differences between his wife and himself (differences in emotional makeup and ways of thinking) as a gift rather than a problem.
I’m not talking about fundamental differences in vision, goals and purpose for living. A couple needs to be committed to unity in those fundamental areas for a marriage to work. If your basic visions for life are different, you need to listen to the Lord together until you come to agreement. But even if we agree on our fundamental visions and goals, men and women are different in the way we think, in the way we communicate, in the way we look at life. And beyond typical male-female differences, individual men and women have their own unique traits.
It’s easy to get frustrated by the fact that your husband or wife doesn’t think the way you do. But what if you choose to assume that God has made your marriage partner different from you for a reason? Then the differences, instead of being a cause of frustration, become an asset. When Marion and I are talking about a given situation, we often see things differently. We have learned that this doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong. It could just mean that neither of us sees the whole picture. Marion possesses wisdom in certain areas of life that can benefit me greatly if I am willing to humble myself and learn from her. I also have strengths in other areas that she has learned to recognize.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all of your marriage partner’s most irritating habits are God-given, built-in traits. Some of them are just bad habits, old patterns that need to be unlearned, maybe even sins that need to be repented of. Even so, I have learned that I can trust the Holy Spirit to show my wife the areas where she needs to change. My main job is to pray for her and encourage her. It’s amazing how much more responsive she is to me when I treat her with encouragement and acceptance. Funny thing, eh?
Newsflash : no marriage on earth is perfect, and at times every couple has to have an honest talk. But even those honest talks go a lot better if both partners start with the assumption that God gave us to each other for a reason, and that our differences are part of the package. Marion and I both have a lot of changing still to do as the Lord transforms us into His image, but no matter how much each of us grows in Christ, we will always be two distinct personalities, even though we are one in flesh and in spirit. If you are like most married couples, it’s probably the differences that attracted you to each other in the first place, and if your partner were just like you, you probably wouldn’t like it. So, you might as well learn to appreciate the differences – they aren’t going to go away no matter what you do. I am still learning to understand my wife’s ways, still learning to appreciate her fully. I think it must be a lifetime assignment – women are complex creatures – but it’s well worth the effort. My wife is a gift to me. She is a true woman of God, and the better I understand her, the more I realize this.
I remember an older couple who had a huge impact on Marion and me earlier in our marriage. Ray and Jean were in their seventies by that time, and Marion and I were in our late thirties/early forties. We were church leaders, but we still had so much to learn about life! They shared their hearts and their lives freely, and invested in us with all that they had learned over the years. I will always be grateful to them. Now it’s our turn to pass on some of what we’ve learned. Marion and I have been transitioning into a new season in our marriage over the last decade as our own children have grown up. We are excited about what is to come! We both sense that God is opening up some new areas of growth for us, and it’s our heartfelt desire that the lessons we have learned – and the ones we are still learning – will bless others who are seeking to honour God in their marriages.