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By Patrick Fletchall

Our eldest son used to get frustrated with his Duplo set. His Duplo are comprised of many blocks, each of them distinct yet perfectly designed to fit each other. Most of the time he would patiently play, but on occasion he’d lose patience and angrily mash them together. The more he mashed, the less likely they were to click together. I’ll come back to that later.

My wife, Nicole, and I could not be more different people. After ten years, this is abundantly clear. She’s blunt and I’m circuitously wordy. She reads mommy blogs and I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer. She’s OCD and I’m slovenly. I could probably give 10 volumes of additional examples.

When we were first married these differences were exciting. During our first six months of marriage we lived in a 200 square foot room, and I discovered her the way that Louis and Clark explored a path to the West: exhilarating, breathtaking, and frequently dangerous.

At each step on the trail, I explored new territory and we learned more about ourselves along the way. Nicole revealed a different way of thinking, communicating, and looking at personal relationships. She viewed the world entirely different then I did.

For my part, I was thrilled to share my passions and interests with the woman I loved and admired. I was like a 6-year-old hosting his first sleepover. “Come look at all my toys!” It seemed like the perfect synergy: she taught me how to establish healthy boundaries within my relationships and I introduced her to the Die Hard movies. Either we fit each other like two puzzle pieces, or I had an extraordinarily munificent and patient wife.

I was like someone sipping a full cup of coffee while driving on a smooth road: I patted myself on the back for our steady marriage. But life, as we all know tends to throw a few bumps. Bump…recession. Bump…child #1. Bump…child #2. Lose job, downsize, sell car to buy groceries, global pandemic…bump-bump-bump-BUMP!

The circus of young children, careers, and school leaves very little luxury for reflective relationship-building. We all spin off each day and collide back together in sporadic bursts of energy. Nicole and I had less time to be able to have the deep conversations; our interactions became transactional. The cracks began to develop.

Over 10 years, our differences seemed less like doing a puzzle together and more like an unbridgeable gulf. The slightest interaction became the seed for bickering, and bickering became our new normal mode of communication. When you’re having five fights a day, saying “I’m sorry” or “I love you” ceases to become the first step in the process of reconciliation.

Through unemployment and pandemic, our lives became condensed into a 1000 square foot apartment. There are very few places to storm off to. We had started this thing living in 200 square feet and 10 years later we’ve gained only a little more space and two adorable, inconsiderate roommates.

When you’re quarantined and have nothing else to distract you, you start noticing more things. For example, you can tell a lot about a person based on how they extract toothpaste. There are numerous methods: flattening, squeezing, rolling, etc. Personally I’m a flattener: I press the tube from the bottom upwards using my palm on the counter. Sometimes, I use the edge of the counter to ensure maximum efficiency; but I sometimes worry about the 0.05 ounces of paste that squirt back to the bottom and go wasted. My wife, on the other hand, throttles the life out of the tube like she had an ex-boyfriend named Colgate.

We’ve always shared toothpaste. For a long time, I felt mildly protective of the poor toothpaste. However, recently I’ve been struck by how incredibly effective our conjoined methods of toothpaste extraction are. Each day, we alternatively choke and press the same tube, which results in the most efficient technique to get the last ounce of product. I was impressed by the fact that our efficiency was the result of not simply complimentary methodology, but a common goal.

I mentioned previously that our son would periodically get frustrated and slam his Duplos together. To date, I’ve never seen him swing two bricks together and have them match up perfectly. And if they had, I believe he would have been too upset to notice they had aligned before ripping them apart. My wife and I have been doing the same thing.

We were designed to fit together, but we collided with such velocity and frequency, how could we possibly come together and how would we know when we had? What would it take to shake us from our bad habits?

Like many, the last month has been extraordinarily challenging. But it has also made life uncharacteristically simple. Nicole and I are still learning to put the pieces together, but the monastic minimalism of our days has forced us to intentionally partner with purpose.

No matter how long it may take for the world to get back to any semblance of normality, our marriage (and many marriages out there I suspect) will never be the same. We’ve always unwittingly squeezed and pressed together, but now we realize that we were designed to meet this challenge.

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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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