When the house alarm went off in the middle of the night, I jumped anxiously out of bed and sprinted to our bedroom door. My groggy, half-baked plan was to protect the children by knocking over the intruder (like the 5'2" linebacker that I am) with sheer speed and willpower, rendering them unconscious while my husband called 911. In reality, I broke a lamp, swiftly turned the corner, and face-planted as I rushed up the stairs in total darkness.
My husband had a more measured approach. He stirred. Checked the baby monitor. He moved deliberately to find the alarm in question, passing me in a heap on the stairs as I scrambled to catch up to him.
Everyone was OK. There was no intruder - just a false alarm that by the grace of God did not wake the kids. But, this little anecdote tells you a lot about us and how we're wired. Maybe you can relate. Ball of fire ready to protect your babes by throwing yourself in front of a train or mountain lion or whatever the situation requires? My sympathetic (fight-or-flight) system is always ready to go. Or are you calm under pressure and not one to react hastily? You may be more apt to tap into the parasympathetic system (great piece on some of the physiological differences between introverts/extroverts here).
During our almost 12 years together, a few insights have been especially poignant for us:
We Don't Speak The Same Language
When we were engaged, we realized our love languages were polar opposites during a marriage prep class. He was off the charts for physical touch and I scored a goose egg in that category. Oops. I craved words of affirmation and verbal encouragement, and his best efforts typically sounded like: "That's good," "I like it," or "Good job." Womp. Womp.
We both score pretty high on acts of service these days - because, kids. But whatever season of life you're in, you'll benefit from checking in with that quiz. If you score high for "receiving gifts," your partner might worry you want an expensive gift every day. Let them know that grabbing your favorite coffee, leaving a little love note, or picking a flower from the garden pushes that button for you, too. While our partners may never be fluent in our love language, most are pretty willing to learn - especially once they realize they don't have to work as hard to communicate their love once they learn to translate better.
We Don't Take The Same Batteries
What about our personality styles, you wonder? I am energized by talking and spending time with people. He likes people, but after a while, that stimulation gets draining. He prefers time alone to really indulge in his hobbies and intellectual curiosities and to ponder life's big questions. I am a talker and a doer, and sitting alone in silence with no projects to work on is awkward and awful for me. [For more on introverts/extroverts, you've got to pick up Quiet by Susan Cain].
So, in our early years of marriage, I took offense when my husband needed time to himself. We had been apart all day! I expected lots of chatting and reconnection the minute he walked through the door. He, on the other hand, needed to decompress and refill his cup. He was spent from a day of talking at work and sitting in meetings, and he knew he needed to put something back in the tank to be good for me. Once I understood he wasn't rejecting me, my mindset shifted. Instead of viewing his alone time as selfish or a stiff arm, I better understood it was his attempt to take care of himself, so he could take good care of me. That made it a lot harder to get upset with him. [Impossible, no. Harder, yes.]
It's reminiscent of the flight attendant's warning: put on your own mask before you try to help others. If you're overstimulated, stressed out, exhausted, famished, or furious, how much do you really have to offer in the way of encouragement, attention, support, grace, and patience for anyone else? He's always been far more in-tune to his needs in that way, and I'm just now beginning to take notes.
The Dreamer and The Doer
Fast forward many years, we discovered the Enneagram. It honestly took me over a year to accurately type myself because each of the 9 types can overlap in different areas, and we all have a bit of each type in us. My husband is a classic 9. He's an easygoing peacemaker, and more of a dreamer by nature. I'm a 1 - the hyper-practical, principled perfectionist and reformer. You probably see where this is going...he has an idea, and ten minutes later I have a domain purchased and business cards on order. I'm learning to indulge his dreams and ideas in a more hands-off way...by listening and imagining with him, not hijacking and optimizing them. That one's a work in progress!
While we don't celebrate Valentine's Day, this time of year gets me thinking about love...our love story in particular. Over the years, our rough edges have sometimes grated against each other and we've misunderstood each other, but we've also learned to manage the perpetual differences in our wiring and styles to forge our way together.
I know enough in my line of work to know you never fully "arrive" in marriage...you just keep showing up, ready to put in the work.
I'm grateful to be fully known and fully loved, even though I'm likely to drive my husband crazy for the long haul. We have enough skin in the game now to reminisce, cringe a bit, and feel some mutual pride at the progress we're making. So many of the growing pains along the way are being redeemed as we make a study of loving and understanding each other better. We feel ourselves growing, and we see each other growing. Having a front row seat for someone's transformation is a pretty sacred space.
Dr. David Schnarch probably said it best. When we do it right, "Marriage is a people-growing machine."
Which relationships are growing you for the better?