Why Learning to Love Your Differences will Make Your Marriage Better

Author: Jessica Kegley

We all struggle with wishing our partner could be different.

Often times they socialize, spend their time, accomplish goals, react and express themselves in VERY different ways than we do.

It can make life together challenging and sometimes creates enough conflict that we begin to think “I wish he/she would just change,” or “Maybe I should have married someone who is more like me.”

In my work with couples, I see this time and time again. He likes to stay in, and she wants to go out with friends. She is passionate and emotional, and he has minimal reaction to things and generally seems to feel the same way about everything. He makes split second decisions and she needs weeks to think about a decision and then still questions it once the decision has been made.

When my husband and I began learning more about how we’ve been “wired” there were many “ah-ha” moments. We discovered that in this way we are truly opposites.

He is an introvert, preferring alone time, seeking the ideal in everything, and if he has an emotional reaction to something it is usually more negative. As for myself, I tend towards being a leader, driven, a planner, quick to make decisions, and also, prefer to be with people, socializing.

These differences can make it really difficult, almost painful at times when you relate to each other in such opposite ways. I know for us, the ways that each approaches life can leave us feeling like we are on different planets.

Then, we began learning about our individual temperaments…

What is Temperament?

When I bring the concept of temperament up in therapy the first question I usually get is “What is temperament?”

The way I like to explain it is, “Your temperament is the way God wired you from birth. It’s the part of you that precedes any environmental factors. In the “nature vs. nurture” discussion, temperament is the pure, undefiled, “nature” factor.”

Then I make the point that a person’s temperament, as this pertains to relationships, is the driving force behind why your spouse does, says, thinks, feels, make decisions, relates to others, and has fun the way they do — that is not going to change.

Art and Laraine Bennett, in their book, The Temperament God Gave You, respond to the question of Temperament as:

“The concept of the four temperaments – choleric, melancholic, sanguine,

and phlegmatic – was originally proposed 350 years before the birth of Christ,

to explain differences in personalities according to the ‘humors’, or bodily fluids.

And after more than two thousand years of intervening medical and

psychological advancement, the concept of temperament itself – and

in particular the classic four divisions – is still referenced by contemporary

psychologists, educators, and spiritual writers,”

…as I am doing with you today.

Through Understanding Comes Compassion

WHY learning about you and your spouse’s temperaments will make your marriage better:

When you take the time to learn about you and your spouse’s temperaments you can begin to understand better how to describe the dynamic in your relationship in a more meaningful way, increase understanding about what emotional needs you each have, recognize what motivates you and your spouse, and how these interact with each other.

1. We can’t describe things differently unless we are given the language to do so. I would encourage you to take the temperament quiz (see link below), and begin to learn the language to describe where you and your spouse fit, and why you do what you do. The descriptions open up a greater understanding. If you have a way to speak about a problem in a positive, accepting, and loving way, it increases intimacy. I’ve had clients come back after learning more about their individual temperament combinations, and instead of describing their struggles with each other in a negative, “put down” sort of way, they are speaking about the interactions of their differences with more acceptance. For example, a husband’s “take command” leader tendencies as a choleric can now be recognized as complementing a wife’s “laid back, go with the flow” way as a phlegmatic.

1. As humans, we have a natural tendency to search for what is not working and try to fix it. The reality is that we can’t “fix” everything, and when we run into problems that we can’t solve we can begin to feel hopeless. A critical piece to the study of temperament is that it shifts our focus off problem-solving, and onto strength-finding. When we focus on strengths and accept weakness, in a loving way, then real growth can begin to happen. I could have spent the entirety of

our marriage frustrated with my melancholic husband who takes a long time to make decisions, and has a tendency to focus on what may not work in most situations when, as a choleric, I tend to make decisions quickly, and think that anything is possible if we just work hard at it. But I know that I need to slow down and that without his presence and perspective I may have led us into some not-so-good situations. I try to thank him for that and to respect it when it comes time to make plans for our lives.

2. Often times we are just guessing at what our spouse needs emotionally but your desires may not be their desires. Usually when we approach the world from different viewpoints we tend to overlook what the other person needs emotionally. When we learn about the influence of temperament over our emotional needs we can better attend to those needs in ourselves and our spouse. If our needs are met, then we are more content. We tend to feel more secure in our relationship because we know that we will not be shamed but supported in getting our needs met. I know as a sanguine, in my “off time” I have a tendency to want to go out, to spend time visiting with other people, and to find new adventures. When I forget about the emotional needs of my husband’s melancholic/phlegmatic temperament, it can seem like his desires to stay in, to be alone, and to do activities that are repetitive are because he is upset or having issues; but when I remember that this is him trying to get his emotional needs met, then I can relax and be flexible, and be more loving in my response to him.

3. A significant part of our lives together is trying to achieve goals and accomplish tasks, and without an accurate understanding of what motivates each other, this can be difficult. Each of the four temperaments has very different motivating factors. If we try to motivate each other in the ways that work for us, chances are we are going to end up frustrated and disappointed in our spouse. Worse yet, we could be left with the sense that we cannot resolve conflict, are not on the same team, and finally this overarching feeling that we are just not right for each other. As a sanguine, you may try to motivate your melancholic spouse by offering rewards but instead they just need some encouragement and affirmation of their ability to accomplish the task at hand. Or, when the choleric spouse wants to motivate their phlegmatic spouse they will get better results with being gentle, patient, and inviting them to set timelines that seem possible for them, rather than taking a “forced march” approach, and getting frustrated with the lack of response and results. When we see progress, by offering motivation in a meaningful way to our spouse, hope is restored.

4. As you begin to learn more about how God created each of you, His perfect plan for your marriage is revealed. Another reason this is helpful information is that we come to understand that there is a greater plan at work than simply our own imperfect choices. If we can accept that God’s plan is perfect and if we

are willing to submit to it, then we can embrace what He has intended in bringing us together with our spouse. It can ease the feeling that we made a mistake (this may be more difficult to accept for you melancholics J). Often times there is an increased sense of awe for God, and His plan to put us together in such a complementary way. It takes the pressure off. When my husband and I learned that between the two of us we capture all four of the classical temperaments, it was such a relief. I am a choleric/sanguine, and he is a melancholic/phlegmatic. Truly, opposites do attract…and prosper.

Fear of the Unchangeable

Generally, we want answers, we want change. We are taught that we need to look for answers to problems and if we only work hard enough we can achieve what we are hoping for, but that is not always true. It’s difficult to accept that there are things in our lives that are challenging or even painful, that may never change. This is a reason people might choose to ignore information about the influence of temperament, it requires a level of acceptance, not only of our spouse but of us as well. I’m sure it’s the last thing that people want to hear from their marriage therapist, that a certain way of doing things may never change …but it is the truth.

Now I challenge you to begin; to find the freedom that is awaiting you in discovering the temperaments God gave you and your spouse, and the beautiful design for your marriage.

First Steps and Next Steps

Take the Quiz

  • Complete the online temperament quiz https://www.temperamentquiz.com/ .
  • If you would rather take it on a hard copy go to http://www.fobfamily.com/wp-content/uploads/Temperment-Test.pdf for a PDF of a temperament Quiz.

Compare Results

  • Have your spouse or partner take the quiz. The website allows you to send an invite directly which then allows you to see their results and receive a description of how your temperament combination is in marriage.
  • Share your results with each other

Look for Similarities and Differences

  • Consider asking questions such as, “What are our similarities? What are our differences? How are our similarities helpful to our relationship? How are our differences helpful to our relationship? What might be some of the reasons God brought us together? How might we use this union for the greater good of ourselves and those around us?”

Take it to Prayer

  • Pray specifically to see and love ourselves and our spouse the way God loves.
  • Prayer of Thanksgiving for how God has made each of us, and increase in love and compassion.

Read Up and Study Further

  • Get a copy of the book, Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett.
  • Read and discuss. It can make a great “book club” activity to do as a couple.

Seek Help

  • If you are having a difficult time interpreting the information, or understanding how to communicate around the subject, especially if your relationship is already in distress, consider seeking the help of a professional.
  • Get counsel on how to integrate this information into your daily lives together.

Thank you for reading!

I hope this helps you to discover how fearfully and wonderfully you (and your spouse) have been made.

I pray that it brings you your own breathtaking moment when you realize how perfect God’s plan is in bringing you and your spouse together.

…and please post comments as you feel moved to.


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