How Differences with Your Spouse Can Make Your Marriage Stronger

I hear it all the time. “My husband [or wife] doesn’t understand me. We are so different. We don’t really have anything in common.”

Apples and Oranges - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bluestocking, Image #3501504

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bluestocking

When I first met Gail, I was attracted to her precisely because she was different. Sadly, after a few years, these same differences started to annoy me. In fact, I began to think that my approach to live was right and hers wrong.

I then did what any loving husband would do. I tried to fix her—to make her more like me. And she did the same. Not surprisingly, this led to several years of conflict.

What we forgot was that there’s a reason opposites attract–because it’s good for us.

Think about it. If you married someone just like you, then

  • You wouldn’t have to grow.
  • You wouldn’t have to get out of your comfort zone.
  • You wouldn’t have to enter into someone else’s world.

Instead, differences are precisely what you need to become the person God created you to be. As Solomon noted, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17, NLT).

Differences can add richness, depth, and texture to your marriage. If you embrace them.

Your differences can be your biggest asset as a couple—if you learn how to use them. Here are three steps for doing so.

  1. Identify your differences. You know you are different than your spouse, but that is not enough. I am talking about more specificity. In what ways are you different?

    For example, Gail and I are the exact opposite on each of the Myers-Briggs types. I am an INFJ. She is an ESTP. This means:

    • We approach the world differently. I prefer introversion; she prefers extraversion (note: this is the way the word is spelled in the Myers-Briggs literature).
    • We gather information differently. I prefer intuition; she prefers sensing.
    • We make decisions differently. I prefer feeling; she prefers thinking.
    • We approach structure differently. I prefer judging; she prefers perceiving.

    According to StrengthsFinder test, we have completely different strengths. Mine are:

    • Achiever
    • Intellection
    • Strategic
    • Futuristic
    • Relator

    Gail’s are:

    • Positivity
    • Woo
    • Developer
    • Connectedness
    • Adaptability

    From these tests—and 33 years of observing her—I know the specific ways that we are different.

  2. Acknowledge your differences. It’s not enough to identify your differences and then file away what you’ve observed. No, you must acknowledge these—and celebrate them—in real time.

    Let me give you a practical example. As an extravert (again, the Myers-Briggs spelling), Gail draws her energy from being with people. As an introvert, people wear me out. I prefer being alone.

    But because we love one another, we make sure that help the other person get what they need. Tonight we are going to a dinner party. I would prefer to stay home and read, but I know Gail needs to connect with others to remain emotionally healthy. (I need it too; I just don’t always recognize the need.)

    On the other hand, she knows I can’t be with people every night or I will burnout. So, because she loves me, she sometimes chooses to stay home so I can re-charge. (She also needs this; she just doesn’t always recognize it.)

  3. Leverage your differences. Differences are not something to be resented. They are something to celebrate and use.

    Think of it this way: If Gail and I were exactly the same on the Myers-Briggs results, we would only have four tools at our disposal. But since we are completely opposite, we have eight. It’s as if we have more colors on our palette with which to paint the canvas of our lives!

    The real test of this is in making decisions. As a “J,” I like an orderly, structured world. I want to make decisions quickly and get them behind me.

    Gail is just the opposite. She doesn’t have the same need for structure. She wants to explore all the options. She prefers to have her decisions in front of her.

    Let to myself, I can be impulsive, making decisions I later regret. Let to herself, Gail can procrastinate, missing opportunities she later regrets. Together, we ensure that we explore all our options but then make a decision.

King Solomon once observed,

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10, NKJV).

We usually think of this in terms of friendship, but it applies equally to marriage.

You weren’t attracted to your spouse by accident. What if God led you to him or her because He knew precisely what you needed to realize your full potential.

Question: What do your differences make possible for your marriage? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.FaithfulChoices.com/ Paula

    Thanks for sharing your insight Michael.  I love learning from other marriages in the hopes that your marital iron will sharpen ours.  How long have you two been married?

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    The more I read through these comments, the more I’m convinced of the power of our words when it comes to our differences. Speaking positively of these differences — out loud and with each other — lessens their sting.

    • Jim Martin

      Michele, that is a great observation that I had not noticed.  So true.  Speaking positively of these differences seems to be very important.

  • http://graceandpoise.wordpress.com/ Clare

    Fantastic post.  Great reminders. Thank you. 

  • Kari Scare

    Great post! I just read some of the same scripture you referenced in your post this morning in my devotion time. God must be making a point with me. To answer your question, my husband and I are certainly opposites, and this has increasingly helped us navigate life much more successfully (after almost 20 years of marriage and 25 years of being together). The best example of how our differences have helpd us recently is in the adoption of a 9-year-old boy (he’s now 11). Our differences helped us through that very difficult first year, and there is no way we could have the progress we have with him had we not used both of our strengths.

  • http://www.nginaotiende.blogspot.com Ngina Otiende

    Awesome insight Michael.

    Gotta say just because you know your differences will make you a better team doesn’t necessarily mean you will enjoy the ride all the time!

    Sometimes I find that thinking about the end-result (unity in marriage, success at projects e.t.c) keeps me focused, even when I want to bail out (of the process, not marriage) like yesterday! 

    And of course, the more I consciously work at it, the more some differences cease to matter. 

  • Gina Holmes

    I read that only about 1% of people are INFJ’s. I’m one too. :-) Great post as always.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I’ve heard that as well. But I am an INFJ and have heard of several others … Makes me wonder.

  • http://www.livesimplylove.com/ Merritt

    My husband is super practical and logical. If it makes sense to him, he does it. I’m more of an emotional decision-maker. We both came into marriage with quite a bit of debt, but thanks to his practical, disciplined nature we were able to pay off all our credit cards in less than two years. It did involve some tears and a lot of sacrifice, but I feel like I know a new way to live thanks to submitting to his strengths in this area. Lots of other examples, but this was an easy one to see how God used our differences to our benefit. Thanks for this great post Michael!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Merritt, congratulations on acknowledging and acting on what needed to be done to control money in your marriage!  Life tends to be much sweeter after working through the hard stuff like that.  

  • http://www.strategic-concepts.us/ Eric Langley

    Michael,

    Spot on.  Like you my wife (of 28 years) and I are 180 degree opposites. For us she is the introvert and I am the extrovert.  It is good thing that we are different. She keeps me grounded and I keep her from going into a shell.

    Last year we took the DISC behavioral style (similar to MBTI) and values assessments for the first time. They changed my life. I found out things about myself and how I was perceived (that I did not like) and about my wife (that I did not know but liked) because it was clearly written out. We review our style reports regularly, especially during conflict. 

    Now our marriage is much stronger since I understand her better and, more importantly, because I understand myself better and our differences. It gives me the opportunity to modify my behavior for improved communication. 

    I believe in the assessments so strongly that I give them away for free at http://www.abeo.us and us them extensively for mentoring and corporate development. Anyone is welcome to use these for any purpose. 

    For instance, for a young couple planning on marrying I had them take the assessments. They were both dominant extroverts with no stop button! Definitely something to be aware of and account for in the relationship…

    ~eric

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Eric, what a great way to pay it forward by giving away assessments! 

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      Thanks for sharing the link.  Always good to have another assessment tool for understanding ourselves and others.

      When you talk about an introvert going “into her shell,” I think of how well my wife socializes. She’s thoughtful but private (which often helps me think before I speak–always a good policy, often difficult for extroverts to adhere to). Many who know Ellen would be surprised to discover she’s an introvert. She gets out of her shell and her comfort zone often.

      I think some people believe introvert means antisocial thus the surprised reactions when they find out Ellen’s an introvert.

      • http://www.strategic-concepts.us/ Eric Langley

        (which often helps me think before I speak–always a good policy, often difficult for extroverts to adhere to)
        Lord hear my prayer…

  • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

    Michael,
    As a young married man (7 years) I am quickly learning what you learned not to do.  That is trying to fix my wife.  Thank you for the post. Very encouraging.  

  • Sherrie Simmonds

    Loved this! My husband and I recently celebrated our 25th anniversary. We, too, are exact opposites (he: INTP and me: ESFJ). This is a terrific reminder of why our differences help us both be better people and how we can love each other because of our differences, not just in spite of them.

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      Sherrie … your marriage sounds a lot like mine, but reverse the roles! I’m the extrovert, my wife is the introvert. We wouldn’t go out of the house if it wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t slow down if it wasn’t for her!

      Great reminder. Thanks!

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      Certainly a lot of opposites-attract stories among the readership today. In our house, she: ISTJ, me: ENFP. Time together has proven the value of our differences. I agree with your statement, Sherrie, “… we love each other because of our differences, not just in spite of them.” Good words.

  • CraftyMama

    Awesome.

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      VERY!

  • http://twitter.com/SethTowerHurd Seth tower&amp

    Always enjoy your blog. From today…do you think there’s one
    Meyers-Briggs type that rises in leadership faster?

    • http://tonychung.ca tonychung

      I don’t think MBTI can predict leadership ascension. However, when a person knows how they function and can manage their strengths and weaknesses through building teams of complementary members, then leadership quality can be measured. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable about a leader who hit the top too quickly. Usually this means the leader’s foundation lacks character and experience.

      Even though a young boy named David was told he would make a great king (and eventually proved to be Israel’s greatest), he had to work through several years of building character before the time had come to pass.
      Every so

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        Good observation, Tony. Paul’s description of leadership within the church leans heavily toward tested character and mature faith.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ANGYBHEJMX54FQTEMWPDRIKQNA Joy

    My husband and I (newlyweds) were just talking about this. I am a spontaneous person, whereas he likes to observe then act. This has allowed us to divide up different tasks to each other. Before I used to hold tight to certain tasks because I was afraid he wouldn’t do it right, and vice versa. Now we are learning that we are a TEAM, and that means we must trust each other, knowing that makes us different will make us stronger. 

    • Jim Martin

      Joy, wish you the best in your new marriage.  Sounds like you are already working to embrace your differences.

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  • Phubbard7

    Jesus said that if anyone wanted to follow Him, then they had to deny themselves first, before even taking up the cross and following.  The differences with my gorgeous wife take me there all the time.  It is a divine calling to love someone so much.  But, in order to do this effectively and give Father all the glory, I must first deny myself.  This gives me the freedom to serve her. The same denial gave Jesus the freedom to die for His friends and secure their freedom.  Thank You, Father, for such a privilege.

  • http://www.ontargetcoach.com/ Brent Pittman

    Differences leave room for growth. My wife and I have our personality cheat sheets on the fridge for quick reference. 

    • http://theordainedbarista.com Barry Hill

      Brent,
      I love that idea. what exactly do you have hanging on your fridge? Myers Briggs? Strengths Finder?

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        Ditto for me. I’m curious about your cheat sheet (although after almost 29 years of marriage, I’d ignore it anyway). So is this the Myers-Briggs Cliff Notes?

      • http://www.ontargetcoach.com/ Brent Pittman

        Barry, 
        Yes sir, MB and Strength Finder. I’d like to add others as we take them…hopefully I’ll get to take the Birkman ( http://www.birkman.com/ ) someday, but it is pricy. 

        • http://theordainedbarista.com Barry Hill

          Brent,
          I checked out the Birkman link and it sounds really interesting. But, like you mentioned, $475 is way out of my league. do you know what separates Birkman from other tests?

          • http://www.ontargetcoach.com/ Brent Pittman

            Not sure, I’ve heard that it’s very detailed and one of the best. Perhaps @InsideBirkman will give me a free assessment so I can blog about it. 

          • http://theordainedbarista.com Barry Hill

            Brent,
            Please do, and I will be sure to pass your post on.

  • Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.

    Nice post Michael. Here’s one for you. It’s called ‘Why We Marry Who We Do’. Wrote it back in 2010: http://drferraioli.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/why-we-marry-who-we-do-reprint/

  • http://necessarymiscellany.wordpress.com/ John Herndon

    My wife and I have been married 2.5 years and during these first years we’ve had some major light bulb moments when it comes to discovering our differences! 

    The biggest ones dealt with how we achieve productivity (She starts and doesn’t stop ’til done, I have to divide things into bite-sized tasks and take breaks) and spend our free time and money.

    It has been great “discovering” this fantastically different person bounce ideas off of, ask for advice and figure things out with.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com Barry Hill

      John,
      Boy do I echo that one! My wife is big into finishing a job completely before moving on, and I am way more into sections of work.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      My wife is much more decisive and works briskly. I plod and allow things to pile up. When we need to clean out a closet, desk, or garage, it’s best if I don’t look in the trash bin.

  • http://tonychung.ca tonychung

    Of course you use the scripture that has been our guiding principle for our marriage. It is so common, yet I was amazed at how few people knew it.

    My wife and I are polar opposites of each other, as evaluated by MBTI, DISC, True Colors, and even The Flag Page. I find myself asking, “Why can’t she be more like…me?” Then I wake up and realize it’s because she’s different that I have the freedom to be me. If she were like me, we’d both be competing for those spaces. Instead, she found her niche and supports mine, as I do hers.

    I love the image, “like comparing apples and oranges!”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      By the way, I love the Flag page. What a great, positive test. Thanks!

      • http://tonychung.ca/ Tony Chung

        There is a version of the Flag Page for kids, which is played as a card game. We found our younger son took it emotionally really hard when he couldn’t decide on enough cards that matched what he really likes. We had to give him a week to calm down, and try the game again. It turns out he matched the Control – Perfect character type, which explains why he felt that he had to “get his card choices right”.

  • http://tonychung.ca tonychung

    I don’t think MBTI can predict leadership ascension. However, when a person knows how they function and can manage their strengths and weaknesses through building teams of complementary members, then leadership quality can be measured. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable about a leader who hit the top too quickly. Usually this means the leader’s foundation lacks character and experience.

    Even though a young boy named David was told he would make a great king (and eventually proved to be Israel’s greatest), he had to work through several years of building character before the time had come to pass.
    Every so

  • Casey Toda

    great post! there are 3 steps but you said there were 5, what are the other 2? thanks

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Apparently, I can’t count! I have changed it to three. Thanks for letting me know.

  • http://twitter.com/GavinKnight Gavin Knight

    my understanding of Myers Briggs is they spell intraversion/extraversion with an ‘a’ as the distinction they are making from what most people understand as introversion/extroversion is that for Myers Briggs they are talking about how you re-energise (what you receive from social situations, hence the ‘a’ in the spelling – for intraversion you like to be alone to re-energise, whereas for extraversion being with others re-energises you), whereas the common understanding is more about how outgoing you are (what you give to social situations, hence the ‘o’ in the commonly understood spelling) 

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      Gavin, at first I didn’t see the difference, but then I thought about intramural sports (within a college or university) and intercollegiate sports (competition among colleges or universities). Intra/extra–how your soul recharges (internal). Intro/extro–how you relate to others (external). You offer an interesting distinction.

  • http://krisolsson.com/ Kris Olsson

    Nice post. I could be reminded of this every day and it wouldn’t be too much.

    Only one question:  Are there supposed to be 5 steps or just the 3… or am I just missing something?

    Well, one more thing… I haven’t written to you before, but I’ve been enjoying your work here for a little while now. You are a great resource. I feel like I’ve stumbled upon a goldmine. Thank you.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Kris. Yes, that was a typo. It should be three. I have now fixed it.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    You and Gail are similar to Ellen and me. We’re opposite in every Myers-Briggs category. Because of our different points of view, I have greater confidence when we do come to agreement. I like your analogy of more colors on the palette. When we come to a decision, you might say it ends up being a colorful one.

  • http://tonychung.ca/ Tony Chung

    I hate to conjure up a biz buzz word, but the proper term is “synergize”, not “compromise”. Synergy is when the whole becomes greater than the mere sum of the parts. Compromise is when parties trade what they want for each other.

    Compromise keeps score. Synergy recognizes the value of the option they hadn’t yet discovered.

  • http://tonychung.ca/ Tony Chung

    Thanks T. It’s nice to know that others share the same trains of thought!

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    I’m not married yet but I still feel the need to comment on this because I still want to work my way to getting a free book at the end of the month!! ;)

  • Lisa Colon DeLay

    This point of view can really call into question the “goodness” or validity of services like eHarmony…do you think so? They pair people not on differences but a whole series of similarities. Friends are often picked this way, I think. Being compatible may only but good to a certain extent? What’s your take?

    In my marriage I married the same Myers Briggs profile as me, with a distinct exception, Introvert/Extrovert. I’ve learned a lot, and I think I’ve seen the value from being exposed to that difference. It’s changed me, positively.

  • Johnm

    Great article. My wife and I are opposite in nearly the same way you describe you and your wife, based on the Myers Briggs and the StrengthFinders. We haven’t been married for 33 years, but we’re close behind at 30. Thanks for the encouragment. I will use that to encourage others.

  • Deborah Glenister

    great article, I think our differences can compliment each other and balance each other out. Thanks for posting.

  • Tim Blankenship

    My wife takes her role as a help mate very seriously and knows the areas where we are different are the areas I need the most “help” in and vice versa. I believe this is the backbone of community. Without recognizing and celebrating these differences we cannot experience community for what it is meant to be.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      True. Philip Yancey in his book What Good is God said, “It requires no grace to get along with someone who looks like you and wholly agrees with you. Grace meets its test in the context of difference.” Community (marriage) without grace is not community at all.

  • Al Fonce

    Differences are great if you and your wife can talk those differences out and work out the core that will maximise your happiness –there is no way my wife will accept this conversation, though, however often I try –I’ve been married for close to ten years now.

    My wife is impulsive, has bad anger management, is procrastinating (bordering on plainly lazy) and can’t keep a routine (annoying with two young children). She’s often completely inconsistent and gets extremely aggravated when I enquire about the rationale for her actions. I am not judgemental though: I just want to understand and thus minimise our family’s exposure to what I basically view as erratic, excessive behaviour.

    Just like most people, I am happy and feel secure when everything goes smoothly in a reasonably regular way. To me, a modicum of planning and routine is the best way to free up time to interact with each other whilst doing all the necessary chores. My wife is the opposite: if things go smoothly, she will find a way to introduce unneeded variability and make the whole situation spin out of control, only to get angered by the ensuing mayhem and leave the whole mess for me to fix. Of course, she can’t understand why I then get upset.

    Same with our children whom my wife can’t engage positively so as to get their cooperation. Instead, the children live in a constant threat/reward interaction. My wife gets extremely aggravated when I try to moderate her in the matter. I am indeed deliberately providing unwanted advice for the children’s sake as I don’t want them to believe that such interaction is normal.

    I do more than my share of house chores and take up quite a
    bit of the motherly role in addition to the fatherly one so the constant malfunction that is forced on me wears me
    out. My wife is happy sitting at home in pyjamas all day, browsing the Internet.

    My wife’s behaviour is hurting me to such an extent that I’m losing sleep. Arguments are very frequent and intense: my wife feels harassed when all I want to do is understand why the heck she does what she does. She complains that I ‘train’ her. I would not if her actions made her happy or were not detrimental to the family, but such is not the case. I would not if I did not have to work double to fix the mess she invariably leave behind, but I always have to. So I just go about with stress-induced symptoms and a very nasty family situation.

    Oh and guess what? She’s the victim and I am the oppressor. I have proposed that we attend marital counseling. She won’t have it. She won’t even get counseling on her own. And of course, she won’t get cured for depression since it’s all about me, her third husband (yes, third!)

    I have no recourse as my wife absolutely insisted I broke up with all friends and family and stop all leisurely activities, so I am completely on my own –my children are all I have left.

    I’ll just go on like this until my children are on their feet and then I’ll just die completely worn out. Honestly, if I’d known what I would get into getting married, I would have opted instead to carry on with the leisurely life I’ve had until 40: lots of sailing, flying and fun relationships. The only thing I get out of my marriage is my two wonderful children, whom I am afraid will be completely messed up.

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  • http://twitter.com/dawnhild Dawn Hild

    Loved this piece.  My husband Craig and I are so different, it’s almost ridiculous to those looking in on our marriage.  But, as you wrote… it those differences that make us the perfect pair.  It works well for us, since we are now approaching our 32nd wedding anniversary!

    • http://www.heartyourchurch.com/ Jason Stambaugh

      Congratulations! 

  • Lovemore

    Awesome!

  • Tabreena17

    The differences in my marriage makes it possible for me to be more spontaneous and not so stuck in “the plan”. I am a doer and sometimes, well most of the time, I find it difficult to take a break. This is a characteristic I inherited from my dad. As a pastor, himself, he rarely takes a break withoutfeeling guilty or lazy. Early on in my marriage, I had an eye opening experience when I found my husband taking too many breaks, in my opinion. I associated that with laziness. Now, !8 years later, I have learned to value my husbands approach to life and I have incorporated more boundaries and rest into my life.

  • Mark

    Brent – as a coach who might use The Birkman Method in your practice we’ll be glad to give you a complimentary assessment and let you personally see the difference. Send me your contact information (mark@birkman.com) and let’s connect - @InsideBirkman:twitter 

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  • Hamza Khurshid

    what if both are Introvert ? and I have a question…are S people caring? I mean do they EXPRESS their care and love freely and creatively as N do? Will be waiting for the reply

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      With regard to introverts, ask a different question … what are the benefits of us both being introverts? How does this make our marriage unique? With regard to S, I’m not sure you can generalize. Some are, some aren’t. Thanks.

  • Chaitra

    Thanks… this really helped….

  • Cookie

    yeah my wife farts so much.

  • SpeakingTheTruth

    for many of the men and women that were Very Blessed by God to have met one another and have a family, be Very Thankful that you have one another to share your life with. for many of us that are not so lucky, it certainly hurts very much for us. being alone is no fun at all, since many of us straight men can’t seem to meet the right woman to share our life with to have a family that we would had wanted as well. today there are so many very nasty women that have a very serious Attitude Problem and will Curse at us men when we will try to start a Conversation with the one that we would really like to meet, and i will never understand why women are like this today. either these women must have been very badly abused by their men at one time, or their parents must had abused them while they were growing up. i really never expected to get Cursed at by a woman that i really wanted to meet, and i know other men that had this happened to them as well. loneliness is certainly no fun at all like i had just mentioned, and who would want to be alone anyway? it is very bad enough to go to work, and then to come home to an empty apartment with no one to talk too when so many men and women have a life to share with one another and have their family to enjoy. well you can see how upset that makes me, and i am sure that many of you will agree with me too. now with so many Gay Women that are out there nowadays, and certainly adds to the problem. Doesn’t It? i would really say so.

  • Ben

    A big advice to take. I believe every one is like that or near to that . AM sure once embraced relationships will only grow stronger.

  • 11hearts

    Differences are to be celebrated and what led to attraction, but….. How do you help the other partner understand that perspective? How do you help them see the good and not only their perception is the correct and only one? Advise appreciated.