Differences

How to Overcome Personality Differences in Marriage

Lessons from 26 years of togetherness

By Jason Wong | 1 February, 2019

I attended two weddings at the beginning of the year. As I witnessed these two lovely couples (both of the bridegrooms were my mentees) entering into holy matrimony, I couldn't help but reflect on my own marriage and the years that my wife Donna and I had been married.

How did we survive those years?

How is it that I now love her more than when we first started?

Well, one thing is for sure. It is not enough to marry the one we love. We must love the one we marry. 26 years ago, I married the one I loved. Today, I am still loving the one I had married.

‘A lot of give and take’

When I was asked at the second wedding to say a few words to the married couple, I looked into their eyes and offered this advice: "You must learn how to give and take." I went on to say, "Kenny, you give and she takes." Almost everyone in the room burst into laughter.

I explained, "When it comes to wardrobe space, you give her 70%, and you make do with 30%. As for shoe rack space? She 80 and you 20."

I love books, so in our case, 80 to me, and 20 to my wife.

How did our marriage last 26 years? The answer: A lot of give and take.

We are so different, yet we managed to live under the same roof and sleep on the same bed, for all these years. Speaking about sleeping on the same bed, I didn't know that the number of blankets is also an issue for discussion between married couples.

A few days after the first couple got married, I met with them and 3 other friends for lunch. When I asked the newlyweds how married life was, my mentee asked, "Do you use 1 blanket or 2 blankets?"

One immediate response was, "Why would you want to use 1 blanket? Having a good sleep is more important."

We had a healthy discussion and managed to reach a conclusion before our food was served. The conclusion was this: As long as we sleep on the same bed, whether we use our own blanket or share a blanket is not so important.

All this while, I was listening with fascination. The reason is that my wife and I don't use blankets. We use the quilt. I shared with them that my problem is not with blankets or quilts, but with the air-con. My wife can't stand hot and I can't stand cold. So this is what happens on some nights – my wife will switch on the aircon. When it gets too cold (for me), I'd get up half asleep and switch off the aircon and go back to sleep. A while later, my wife will get up and look for the remote control to switch on the aircon again. An hour or so later, I will get up to switch it off. I am fine with this except on those occasions when I can't find the remote control in the dark!

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Donna and I are exact opposites in many aspects – she likes to throw things away, I like to keep stuff; her side of the table is neat and tidy, my side is usually messy; she is an extrovert, I an introvert; she can't stand the sun, I enjoy the outdoors; she manages money well, I can't even write a cheque.

Over the years, we have learned to work things out. For example, we have learnt to like what the other person likes. I didn't like raw food when we first met. Now, I love sashimi.

Importantly, we don't fuss over the small stuff.

Over the years, we have learned to work things out. Importantly, we don't fuss over the small stuff.

Appreciating differences

My wife is a go-getter and is very task-oriented. Now she is more patient and does not see the need to be in control all the time.

What happened? Well, as the saying goes – “the two shall become one”. For Donna, my calm demeanour has helped her to be less stressed. I reckon I am also a better man now as her constant reminders has helped me to be less laid back and relaxed.

As for cleanliness, I have become neater, as my wife is a very neat person. On the other hand, she has also learnt to tolerate a bit of messiness by sharing the same room, cupboard space, study table, and shelves with a "not so tidy" man.

For Donna, my calm demeanour has helped her to be less stressed. I reckon I am also a better man now as her constant reminders has helped me to be less laid back and relaxed.

Walking the middle ground in parenting

Our children, Sarah and Samuel, are now 23 and 18 years old. Right at the start, Donna and I agreed that we should give them these three things:

  1. Values to live right
  2. Music to worship
  3. Language to communicate with different cultures

We did the first two reasonably well. However, their Chinese is just as bad as ours. I guess the lesson here is that we do not just need common goals when raising children, we also need to be realistic. (We don't even speak Chinese at home so how can we expect them to do so?)

There will be disagreements when raising children, especially when it comes to academics, tuition, and time for studies vs other things in life.

My wife places a much heavier emphasis on academics than I do. Because of my background as a prison officer, I know that there are some very smart people locked up in the prisons too. So to me, good values are more important than excellent grades.

My wife is protective of our children, and does not like to see them experience failure. As for me, I believe in giving my children permission to fail, and to learn from failure as it builds resilience.

Over the years, we have come to a middle ground and my wife has learned to let go. I have also learned to provide the emotional support to enable her to do this.

Negotiating our differences and coming to a compromise isn’t an easy task. But it helps that we share our thoughts with each other in respectful ways, and give grace when we falter.

It is not enough to marry the one we love. We must love the one we marry.

I asked this question at the beginning. “How is it that I now love her more than when we first started?”

The answer to that is perhaps my biggest lesson of all: It is not enough to marry the one we love. We must love the one we marry.

Also, having two aircon controllers help.


© 2019 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

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