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Stephanie Riley

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“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” – C.S. Lewis

What if, during this time of forced Sheltering-in-Place… for those of us beyond the stage of homeschooling our children—we homeschool ourselves in a study of our spouses?

Undoubtedly, our family unit will begin to get on each other’s nerves (it’s bound to happen with social confinement). For me, this will most likely occur with my husband.

When I first met my husband John, I was drawn like a moth-to-flame by his effervescent joy. He attracted people with his overflowing love for others. His nickname was Smiley Riley for a reason. And twenty-five years ago, before we’d even started dating—after I’d experienced a very painful breakup—I found myself praying just to be friends with John; I wanted his “brightness” in my life too. Fortunately, our friendship eventually shifted, and a little more than a year later we were married.

As a couple, we demonstrated that wonderful dichotomy Christians refer to as “Complementary Personalities.” We were so eager to see how God would use John’s and my strengths to make this perfect overlap happen in our marriage. How naive we were to think it would just happen as soon as we said, “I Do” – and without its own uncomfortable transformational journey.

What I initially admired in John, that extroverted “life of the party” personality, soon became an anchor tied to my own mental health. Especially, as I compared his strength to my perceived weakness—my own introverted nature…and found mine lacking in comparison.

Following his lead, either led to me participating in activities that depleted my social reserves within minutes, or I found myself getting internally defensive and attacking all the shortcomings of extroverts everywhere.

For John, the oh-so organized, always had a plan, deep thinking Stephanie that he was so initially attracted to (as his perfect complement), turned into someone that sought control far too much and was a stick-in-the-mud when it came to Friday nights out…or any other night for that matter.

At least we weren’t alone. Everywhere we turned, our fellow “couples friends” were also discovering similar differences in their relationships during those first few years of marriage.

For some, what drew them initially “in the hunt of dating” wasn’t even an accurate representation of who they truly were after they married. For others, the portrayals were realistic, but the differences created chasms that grew insidiously—until the divide became so wide, it could no longer be bridged.

And then there were others of us who initially gutted it out, but over time have invested in better understanding who we are as a couple, and as individuals.

I have spent a lot of time over the years inspired by the insight of those who study personalities. From “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”, to the study of the “Five Love Languages”—and snippets of understanding began to unfold for John and me.

In more recent years, studies of the Meyers-Briggs Personality Assessment highlighted the unique ways we are both hard-wired, while a study into the Enneagram, pointed to what motivates our personality traits.

According to the MBTI (Meyers Briggs Type Index) John is the “Entertainer”, while I am the “Defender”. In our cases, his Type 7 (Adventurer) and my Type 2 (Helper) Enneagrams closely match in descriptions. His “life of the party/make everyone smile persona” is at its best in large groups or with every stranger he comes into contact with–from the cashier at the drive through, to our waiter, or whoever is behind the counter in a store.

But, confine the guy to being alone at home and his physical and emotional health withers before my eyes. Right now, during this quarantine, he craves connection and attention, and giving attention to others.

For me, as a social introvert—I have been training all my life “for such a time as this”.  I have my close family members, folks I can deeply connect with easily through social media (a common misnomer – social introverts crave connection just as much, but we prefer small group interactions). The aspect of my “planning personality” is taking a huge hit right now, as the upcoming months in my Day-Timer have been completely erased. My not being able to plan into the future, due to the unpredictability of the pandemic, draws me even more inward.

Can you see the potential clash here, ready to blow, in our small shelter of confinement?

My propensity to draw inward makes John want to play tug-o-war and pull me out of my shelter even more. In contrast, his need for attention just makes me want to ignore him to stop the behavior. It doesn’t necessarily help that our “third roommate,” our 18-year-old daughter, has a very similar personality type to mine. So, I’ll often feel vindicated because I’m not alone in my irritable responses.

However, I’m painfully aware, just because we are in the majority—it does not mean we are right.

So, while in forced confinement with my spouse—I’ve decided that rather than spend the time irritated by behaviors that happen because of how uniquely and perfectly God created him—I’ve decided to spend some time studying him and better understanding “why he is who he is.”

I’m opting to spend some time exploring his values instead of just mine, and trying to understand what makes him feel the most content? And while I’m at it, perhaps spend a little bit of time recognizing my own shortcomings—the ones that are a result of my own unhealthy coping mechanisms through life…and start working on healing.

It seems like everyone is “having to homeschool” these days, so I might as well join in. You’d think after twenty-five years of studying a subject, I’d have a Ph.D. or at least have graduated—but, as I’ve discovered time and time again, my marriage is always going to be a subject requiring continuing education.

If you’d like to try the free assessments of the personality tests mentioned in this article, the links are provided below:

Enneagram:
https://assessment.yourenneagramcoach.com/

Meyers-Briggs Personality Test:
https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

*I Do Part Two does not have a affiliate marketing relationship with Enneagram or Meyers-Briggs Personality Test

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The magic of Christmas. Children looking out the window in excitement
Christmas Day by Norman Rockwell
“I make no apologies for the fact that my love and heightened anticipation for the holidays is a little off the charts.”
–Stephanie Riley

4 Minute Read

You remember that spark, right? That magical energy…when the child within your soul completely believed in the magic of Christmas.

I’ve felt that thrill since childhood. My twin sister and I were the only children to our parents who were both only children-so we were lavished with love and attention from not only our parents, but all sets of grandparents. 

Early in our courtship, my husband, John, shared that Christmas was a big deal in his home too.

So when I unveiled my plans for the holidays, he gave me the green light to aspire to make our family the living representation of the nostalgic Norman Rockwell paintings you see depicting the joy of Christmas.

I’m not just being “P.C.” here, using the word “holidays.” I’m simply pointing out that from September/Harvest time on…through Halloween and Thanksgiving; it’s all just the Opening Act leading to the crescendo of Christmas. 

As soon as our children were old enough to understand, a “24-day Countdown Calendar” filled with all the activities one could think of was hung in our home.

Each day a different adventure: ice skating 90-miles away in a mall adorned with Christmas décor, baking cookies, and cutting down our own tree in the snowy foothills to name a few.

For years, I tried to capture these “perfect Norman Rockwell moments” in photographs, and quite often, even hit the mark. I have an enormous collection of treasured memories, capturing genuinely beautiful moments in our family’s life.

But, what you see in these Instagram-worthy photos are just snapshots of moments –there are literally thousands of pictures that didn’t even make the cut.

It’s been a work-in-progress over the years to accept that life doesn’t always fit into my expectations and carefully designed plans-as our holiday season very rarely resembles Norman Rockwell’s idyllic artwork.

Sometimes it’s not a white Christmas. (It’s only been one perhaps three times in my 47 years of life…)

Sometimes we get sick on Christmas.

Sometimes we suffer loss on Christmas.

Sometimes we fight on Christmas.

Sometimes we just don’t get what we want on Christmas.

And, all of those losses and disappointments mean I haven’t gotten what I’ve really wanted on Christmas – many, many times over.

But, still I hope…and over the years I’ve have tried to model to my children that just because one thing doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean “everything’s ruined”. 

My children are now 20 and almost 18. And while my son once insisted he’d NEVER want to give up on all the adventures the Countdown Calendar has taken us on over the years, this will be the year we drastically scale back.

My daughter is excited to share the magic with our best friend’s young daughter, and we’ll save some of my kid’s favorites for when our twenty-yearold comes home to stay with us for a few weeks in December.  

Years ago, I thought I’d be shedding tears at this conclusion; but it’s simply a beginning of a new chapter. I find myself excited to see my daughter sprinkling some magic of her own for our young friend. 

I’m finding the time and energy to be present and enjoy the moments as they come…instead of totally preoccupied with planning the next event.

As I embark on this new season, I’ve found myself conducting an inventory. A review of all the other “traditions” I’ve not only instituted, but expanded on each year. It’s had me asking:

Does this activity bring me personal joy – either in the act itself or the joy it would bring to others?

Is this activity causing more stress than good?  

Is this planned adventure adding value to our family, or… is it just one more thing keeping my husband and kids from experiencing the wonder of unexpected joy this season?

This last one is especially important as my husband lives for spontaneous fun, but the reality is that over the years- my capacity for anything spontaneous run completely empty.  

Whether it was from lack of energy, physical or social energy (I’m a natural introvert, so my reserves need to be overflowing to engage in anything spontaneous), all of the gallant efforts I make the last four months of the year deplete me from showing up for my husband in the way he’d appreciate most.  

Even more than no time for last minute fun, this packed schedule and hectic pace often brings irritability, rigidness and defensiveness…all of my “go-to behaviors” when I have no margin to pause and unwind. 

As I write this, I’m sure it hasn’t escaped notice, that striving for “magic” during a holiday that only exists because of a God-given MIRACLE, might be the problem in and of itself.  

This “magic” I ascribe to, has been fostered only to further the celebration of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  

Truly, to us, it is not a “one or the other” but an expansion of the fullness of the joy of the season.  

Which leads me to the biggest reason to be Reinventing the Magic…to recognize what fills my family the fullest is to be living vessels of that miraculous joy.

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