Thursday, June 28, 2012

Marriage: the Little Things

It was 2:30 in the morning and I had just returned from a week-long trip. The last stop I made before home was a hole-in-the-wall Lousianna rest stop where I ate the best gumbo of my life. Once home, I went to the bathroom, haphazardly brushed my teeth, and crawled into bed with my husband whom I had been anxious to see. We talked for a bit, cuddled, and I told him about the things I had been reflecting on during my time away. I had been thinking about the importance of marriage, how much I appreciated my husband, and how I didn't want to get so uptight over the little things in our relationship. It was one of those movie moments, where I turned around to kiss him....and then almost knocked him out. You see, the gumbo was still lingering. Turns out a little dead seafood in the teeth can smell a long way, and whatever "magical moment" was about to happen....didn't.

You've heard "don't sweat the small stuff" and other similar cliches. But in a lot of marriages, the little things are important. The "little things" can create big differences, big dissentions and become big obstacles. There are people in many marriages that have the "big" things right, but continually stay frustrated at the little things. If those little things fester for long enough, disaster awaits.

When my husband and I prepared to get married over 12 years ago, we took a compatibility test administered by our college pastor. We scored high in every way, and our minister said that he had never seen anyone on the same page spiritually as we were. I naively thought that because we were so in love with Jesus, and so similar spiritually, we would not have many problems, and that marriage would be easy for us. In some aspects, that is true. But for the most part, my husband Chris and I are in total agreement about the BIG issues of life, and completely opposite on the little things or how we naturally apply those big issues. Here are a few examples:

BIGGER ISSUE #1: We both like to be efficient.
For Chris, this means a schedule, to-do list, a plan for the day, and picking up clutter as we go along.
For me, efficiency means never making my bed because we'll mess it up in 16 hours. It means not taking cups of water off the dining room table because we'll be back in a few hours to drink again. It means not closing cabinet doors as I make my way around the kitchen, b/c I'm busy talking to someone and I'll be putting the item back sometime within the next hour. In my way of thinking, why waste extra seconds opening and closing a door twice?

BIGGER ISSUE #2: We like things clean and orderly.
For Chris, this comes out in routine and internal organization. Once when I was away on a trip, he rearranged the contents of the kitchen cabinets to "help" me out. I couldn't find a thing.
For me, cleanliness means having dirt out of the house and laundry done. I love a newly vacuumed floor, and could care less if toys are scattered through the living room.  I order things in the cabinet based on whatever spot I find at the time to place a dish in.  It's random to other people, but it's MY order.

BIGGER ISSUE #3: We think exercise is important, and want to be good stewards of our bodies.
When Chris exercises, he goes from point A to point B in the fastest time possible. He sets a goal at either a mile marker or a stop sign.
When I exercise, I run with the dog. We stop to meet other dogs and their owners. I might jog behind a kid's bicycle, stop at the store for some bread, chat with the neighbors on the way home. It's possible that I will have no idea how far I went, how long it took me, or what the time is, but I'm really happy about all that I accomplished on my run.

BIGGER ISSUE #4: We both want to be good stewards financially.
For Chris, this means weekly and monthly meetings. It involves spreadsheets and budgets and soooo much talking.
For me, it means only buying what I need. I see budgets as unncessary as long as one spends less than they make. The rest of the time I just want to have fun, and talking about budgets does not fit that description.

BIGGER ISSUE #5: We both appreciate beauty.
Chris finds beauty in asthetics. For example, when we drive in the car, he notices things. Actually, he notices EVERY...thing. From the giant hawk on the fence post to a gleaming sunset, or a mountain landscape to an amazing old building, a ride with him is a constant sightseeing trip filled with "Wow, did you see that!?" Flowers on the table? For Chris they are beautiful and alluring.
I find beauty in function. On one of our sightseeing trips, err, I mean rides somewhere, I just want to get there. I don't really notice that much because I'm daydreaming. At least he does most of the driving because now that I'm thinking about it, my driving habits could be pretty bad. And when it comes to flowers on the table? For me they block the view and are annoying. I'm pretty sure a kid is going to knock the vase over and create more work for me.

BIGGER ISSUE #6: We both like to be engaged at church, seminars, classes, etc.
For Chris, "engaged" means arriving early and sitting in the middle of the crowd. He is not just listening to the speaker--he is listening AT him. Chris is thinking critically, matching every word, phrase, expression with specific passages of Scripture, making sure the point of the text was communicated.
For me, I want to arrive 2-5 minutes late, survey the crowd, and sit in the back. I like to find people who are sitting by themselves. I am not a back-row Baptist, but I want to be in the back so I can see who is there and while the speaker is talking, I casually look around and get a sense of how the crowd is reacting. I wonder if the message is resonating. Did the speaker communicate the text in a way that applies to people of all situations?

BIGGER ISSUE #7: We enjoy clean comedy and laughing at movies or television.
For Chris, humor manifests itself by wit, plays-on-words, and cultural sarcasm.
For me, amusement comes through physical humor and facial expressions.  Usually while one of us is doubled over laughing, the other is trying to figure out why he or she is laughing at something so stupid.

BIGGER ISSUE #8: We like to take walks or strolls together.
Chris walks along the sidewalks, like a good citizen.
I walk anywhere, because I think grass and dirt are God's created and preferred material for human feet. Once when I walked across a seminary yard, Chris was appaulled that I was walking across the institution's beautiful, bought grass. I was stunned at his assumption that grass was placed there to look pretty and not be walked on.

I can chuckle at these little things now, but when these differences are displayed in the mundane moments of life, the environment is ripe for an argument or misunderstanding. Sometimes our way of thinking or doing things is completely foreign to the other. My husband walks into the kitchen that I am working in and closes the microwave door that I am walking towards and about to use. We have trouble exercising together or getting on the same page financially. We appreciate in differing ways the beauty and hard work of another person, and struggle picking a place to sit at church, choosing a movie, or deciding where to walk.

Are any of these struggles similar to your marriage? I've described the problem, but do you sometimes finding yourself wondering what the solution is? In the next post, I will look at a little story in Scripture that makes a big difference in the way we view and carry out our marriages.