Four weeks ago we started a series entitled “Family Matters” in our church in Makati. This series is about topics on the family and it will run until November 29. Yesterday’s message was about overcoming differences in relationships, particularly in marriage.
The principles shared relates to all relationships. The fact is, whenever two people relate together closely, in a close intimate way, the issue that often has to be addressed first is, “How do we deal with our differences?”
First, I would just like to tell you something about our marriage. This coming December 8, Jennie and I will be celebrating our 8th year of marriage. I’d be lying if I said we’re living a happily ever after kind of marriage. We’ve had to work very hard at our marriage and God has worked miracles in our marriage. There was a stage we thought we wouldn’t make it. But God has worked miracles. We’ve loved each other dearly and we’ve disliked each other immensely. We’ve been through sickness and health. We’ve been through richer and poorer. And we’ve been through better and worse. And we give God glory today that He’s brought our relationship where we are comfortable but with God’s grace, are still working on our marriage to become better.
Incompatibility is a Given
One of the things I have seen in relationships is that incompatibility is a given, particularly in the marriage relationship. I believe that marriage is the union of two imperfect people in an impossible relationship. Humanly speaking it’s not supposed to work. Humanly speaking, the differences are so great that it is almost impossible to make it work. But the miracle is that God does make it work. Marriage is a life-long process of building a union of two people who are so different, so far apart that without God’s work it isn’t going to work.
Since incompatibility is a given, it is very important to have the right model of marriage. If couples had the wrong model of marriage in mind, then obviously they’re not going to come to terms with this issue of the differences between the two of them.
Most people have as their model of marriage something that goes like this: Marriage is like buying a new car. It’s good to begin with, but in the process of time it turns bad. So in this model, you buy a new car. You drive it off the lot. It starts easily, it runs smoothly, it smells good. But after a little while, even though you park on the line, straddling two parking places, sooner or later your car will get some scratches. As the carburetor gums up, it starts to not run so smoothly, gets difficult to start. Dirt and dust sets inside and the smell becomes bad.
In this model of marriage, it’s good to begin with, but after a period of time — 8 years, 10 years, 15, 20 years — it starts to go bad. With this model, what many couples try to do is try to get back to where they were in the beginning. Other couples think about getting a trade in. Others think about getting a new one. This model is clearly a wrong model for marriage.
What couples need to realize is that marriage is not good and perfect to begin with. At the start of marriage what they’re given is a box of broken parts. Marriage is broken to begin with. It is the union of two fallen beings – sinners (Romans 5:12; 3:10, 23). It doesn’t feel that way because there is this thing called romantic love which is a temporary form of insanity and it sort of muddles the picture. But in reality what couples have is a box of broken parts. What couples are called upon to do is to begin to assemble and make something beautiful out of that box of parts. As they begin to put things together you discover that the wheels are all different sizes, the front’s a Honda, the back’s a Toyota. The challenge becomes how to fit everything together.
We call it incompatibility but I would like to think of it as the differences couples bring into the relationship and how each couple has to begin to put it together and build something beautiful out of it. The wonderful thing about this model is that it means that even though things are not working right now you are in the process of building something beautiful out of it – a life-long process.
Many Sources of Incompatibility
There are many significant sources of incompatibility or differences. The more couples understand them, the better. The more couples accept them, and celebrate them, the better.
*Different sexes. The big, big difference between a man and a woman is already a major source of incompatibility.
*Different family backgrounds. Each party in a relationship is has a different way of understanding how a family operates. And for many, many years in the early stages of trying to put those broken parts together, a lot of the conflict that exists, is conflict over bringing in different backgrounds and trying to see how they fit together in this new thing being built.
*Different styles of communicating.
*Different personalities. My wife and I have exactly opposite personalities. She’s a type A personality and I’m a Type B. A Type A personality is someone always in a hurry. Always early for things. Type A personality has a low tolerance for frustration, does not like standing in line. Type A personalities finish your sentences for you. Type A personalities have a deep sense of justice. The opposite of the Type A person is the person who is very slow to anger, has a tremendous amount of patience, doesn’t feel like it’s his or her responsibility to keep the world in line, it’s everything that’s opposite from the Type A.
Our difference in personalities is a source of conflict for us. But, understanding our personalities and the other differences we have and how God has put us together has helped us work through the conflicts in our life.
How to Overcome Incompatibility
God cannot bless a marriage that does not have an intentional commitment to working out one’s differences. God blesses those who take this matter seriously.
1. Understand the differences you and your partner have.
Philippians 2: 3-4“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.”
After understanding the sources of incompatibility of your partner, you will need to…
2. Release your partner to be himself or herself. There are many reasons why we are different. We bring into the marriage relationship a lot of unfinished business – a lot of baggage. Marriage is a therapeutic process. It’s not only a relationship of deep spiritual significance, it has a therapeutic significance as well. God has designed marriage as a way of bringing healing to both partners in a marriage relationship.
Pretty soon, like I and my wife are slowly seeing, you will realize that God has truly put you together for a purpose. You will begin to see that your partner was given to you to perfect you and vice-versa. This is the acceptance part of the relationship.
3. Learn to forgive differences. Because of humanness and differences as well, couples develop certain attitudes toward each other. Sometimes because of too much familiarity, couples lose respect for each other. Familiarity breeds contempt. Scripture tells us to have mutual respect for each other.
Ephesians 4:29, 31-32 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Verses 29-31 can serve as a guide for couples in their relationship during conflict. The last verse, verse 32, is a command for us to forgive.
The fact is any person in a relationship will get hurt and hurt others as well. We will all see imperfections in each other. One of the main ingredients of a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. If couples can learn to forgive every day, you’re going to be set free.
Forgiveness is this, “Giving up my right to hurt you back.” We always want to hurt each other and say something back. But when we forgive, the one who is set free is the one who forgives.
4. Learn to give “love gifts”. A love gift is something you give to someone else when you don’t want to do it. Jennie is not much of an athlete but I love sports so much. The time when Jennie allowed me to play football and even watched me was a love gift from her to me. If you give a love gift — that’s something you do for your partner out of love even though you don’t want to do it yourself. It’s like a sacrificial favor.
Let me share some points about love gifts. First, you may not ask for a love gift. If you ask for a love gift you disqualify yourself from getting it.
Second, you may not complain when you’re doing it. You forfeit the right to complain about it.
Third, the one who gives the love gift is the one who gets the blessing. The joy is multiplied when we learn to give.
5. Develop common interests. Some of the things my wife and I did to create a bond between us was that some years ago we played badminton together. We would play a few games of badminton with another couple and this brought us closer.
Couples need to experiment and discover things together. We all need to be intentional and put effort into our marriage.
Marriage is hard work. But God works miracles. That’s why it is important for married couples to not only include God in their marriage, but to make Him a priority.
Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. “
6. Make Christ number one in your life. On your own, you do not have the power to do and choose the right thing. Most of the time, we will end up corrupted, making bad decisions. But if you open your heart to God and A) admit that you can not make life work on your own and ask forgiveness for your sinfulness – your great capability to make mistakes – and B) believe in your heart that Christ is the only acceptable payment and sacrifice for your sins because all others are unacceptable (religion, good works) and finally C) commit yourself to God by making Him the Boss and Manager of your life, God promises to make you a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17) and empower you to do the right thing, not only in your marriage, but in your whole life as well (Philippians 2:13). He will empower you to do the steps suggested herein.