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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tate Cockrell

Opposites Attract . . . then Attack!!

I'm sure you've heard the saying before - "opposites attract." Most of the time we marry someone who is very different than we are. There's something really attractive about the "otherness" of people who aren't like us. I'll use Wendy and I as an example. She is incredibly put together. By that I mean she's really organized, on top of her game, never anything out of order. She has a real attention to detail and doesn't ever do anything halfway. She is also really outgoing. She never meets a stranger and can strike up a conversation with anyone. While we were celebrating our anniversary in the Bahamas a few weeks ago, she struck up a conversation with a random couple from Baltimore while we were swimming in the ocean. We learned about their neighborhood, what they did for a living, all about Baltimore and the fact that the husband was a teacher of the year for 2018. Despite her extroversion though, Wendy is terrified to speak in front of a group of people. And, by group, I mean 5 people or more. I mean she is TERRIFIED of public speaking. I remember on a mission trip about 10 years ago she was asked to lead the devotion for our team, and I thought she was going to have a full blown panic attack. There were a whopping 15 people on our team, all of whom she knew really well.

I, on the other hand, am super forgetful. I tend to think about the big picture and not all the little details it takes to get something done. I'm not organized and lose stuff all the time - truly an example of what you think of when you hear the term "absent-minded professor." I create lots of stacks of things that I am eventually going to get to one day, but then end up just throwing stuff away. But, Wendy has always been attracted to the fact that I am calm, steady, wise, and decisive. I don't get rattled in a crisis. I'm a fixer. I see problems before they are problems and see ways to avoid, prevent or fix whatever is wrong. And, I am an extreme introvert. Meeting new people is very difficult for me. I've learned to do it because I've been in ministry so long and it's a necessity. But, it's hard for me and makes me feel very uncomfortable. If I had been in that ocean without Wendy in the Bahamas, I wouldn't have learned that couple's name. Despite my introversion though, I am not at all afraid of public speaking. I love it! It doesn't matter how big the crowd. Five, fifty, five hundred, five thousand - it doesn't matter to me. If it's a chance for me to talk about something I'm passionate about - I'll do it.

The problem comes when the things that we once found attractive begin to cost us something. When my disorganization creates clutter around the house, when Wendy's attention to detail creates unrealistic expectations, when my introversion prevents us from venturing into new places, when Wendy's extroversion drags us into conversations that I think are unnecessary. When these things happen, if we are not careful, opposites no longer attract - they attack. Spouses get frustrated with these things and begin to try to change their partner to be more like them. Suddenly, I dislike Wendy's organization, attention to detail and extroversion. Suddenly she dislikes my decisiveness and fixer mentality. Her organization seems "overbearing." My wisdom suddenly seems like I'm a "know-it-all." What once were things that were attractive, endearing and drew us toward our spouse, now seem unattractive, irritating and pushes us apart. How do we manage these types of personality differences?

First, learn to celebrate your differences. Couples often get into a mindset where they are trying to either survive their differences, avoid their differences, or change their differences. Adopt a new mindset where you intentionally celebrate what's different between the two of you. Remember how those things were once an attraction. Celebrate the benefit that those differences bring to your marriage and to your life personally. My life and my ministry are enriched and made exponentially better because of Wendy's personality. And the same is true for her about me.

Second, recognize that both of your personalities are opportunities for sinfulness. Yes - God made us unique with different personalities. That's no excuse to use our personalities to sin. If my disorganization disrespects Wendy and her hard work, that's not a personality difference. It's a sin. If Wendy's organization sacrifices her personal relationships, that's not a personality difference. It's a sin. We tend to notice when personality results in sinfulness in our spouse, but we don't tend to notice it in ourselves. We are all universally broken and can use our personality as an opportunity to hurt other people.

Third, talk with each other about how you can learn from one another. You and your spouse are better together than you are apart. Your personalities compliment one another, and in marriage you can both be sanctified through learning to appreciate your differences. And, you can grow as you learn to benefit from what makes your spouse unique. I'm more organized today than I was 25 years ago because I've learned from Wendy. She's learned to be more laid back in some areas because of me. We help each other grow just by being around each other and being humble enough to accept the influence of the other person.

Fourth, remember who made your spouse. It's an often easily forgotten fact - God made your spouse. When you try to change your spouse to fit what you want, you're not just protesting your spouse. You're also protesting the God who made your spouse. And, remember this - if your spouse changes to accommodate you, you may be robbing others of benefitting from your spouse's personality and gifting. Here's a very recent example. This week SEBTS hosted over 100 doctoral students from all over the world. SEBTS asked Wendy to provide hospitality services to those students by setting up a snack room that they could take advantage of all week. Of course, she did a fantastic job. It was superb, over the top, excellent in every way possible. All week long students were commenting on how awesome the room was and how it helped them to feel at home. If I convinced Wendy to be like me, and to not go over the top with what she did, those 100 students would have had a very different experience. My selfishness in getting Wendy to be more like me would have had a negative impact upon the Kingdom and all of those 100 students would have suffered from my selfishness.

Opposites attract. It's a good thing. God doesn't call your spouse to be conformed to your image. He calls them to be conformed to His image. He calls them to fulfill their purpose by being who He created them to be for Him. Let's celebrate our differences and praise God that He loves us enough to gives us those differences for our benefit.

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