Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

Articles: Marriage

Opposites Attract - Or Distract?
by Jan Johnson

My children and I sat stiffly, trying not to wrinkle our Sunday clothes as we waited in the car. It was time to go to church and we were late again. This time my husband was sculpting his new haircut to camouflage what he considers "generous" ears.

On other days we've waited while he's tried on yet another tie or given his shoes a quick polish. Ten more minutes passed. The car got warmer and so did I. How did I, who hate to be late, get hooked up with a man who thinks he's early when he's only five minutes late?

Sure, he was late for several of our dates, but I overlooked it because he was such an easy-going guy. How could I fault someone who acted more like a Christian before he was a Christian than I did after I was a Christian?

I don't understand why the man who used to fascinate me now frustrates me. Then I saw only good and now I see only bad. Does it have to be as the old saying goes, "Love is blind, but marriage restores its sight"? Like most women -- and probably most men -- I yearn to clear away the wreckage to make room for romance.

I know we're not alone. Jack, who loves to scarf cheesecake, admired and married Cheryl, the health-conscious girl who could make Brussels sprouts taste delicious. Now he's hiding chocolate mousse recipes in her prayer notebook under the heading, "Requests".

Our friends, Tony and Barbara, so compatible before they were married, now cannot agree on how to pace their vacations. He is the marathon sightseer -- appalled that he might miss one famous tree or mud hole. She likes to relax in the shade and read. And if she's really having fun, she falls asleep.

Why is it so difficult to stay enchanted with one another's personalities? Other couples keep that attraction alive -- George and Gracie, Lucy and Ricky, Kermit and Miss Piggy. If those mismatched personalities accepted each other, why can't we?

A wise friend who's maintained a marriage of forty years says it's a "matter of perspective." So I developed three "self-talk" strategies to realign my perspective when I need it. Here's what I tell myself.

"I'm glad my spouse is not like me." Quite often the people who are most like us drive us crazy. Since they have our same faults, we zero in on their foibles. For example, my eight-year-old son, whom I enjoy because we think and act alike, knows how to push my buttons because he has the same ones. When I reminded him a few days ago to fold the clean clothes, he stared at me from under his furrowed eyebrows, wagged his finger in my face, and intoned through his missing front teeth, "Mom, you're getting me off schedule. You know I always watch 'Dennis the Menace' at 3:30."

With furrowed eyebrows, finger in his face, and gritted teeth, I told him that moms make schedules and kids follow them. Can you guess from whom he gets his let-me-tell-you attitude?

The child that soothes me, delights me, and confuses me is my daughter -- who's just like her father. I've tried to reform her easy-come, easy-go ways too and I can't do it. I don't understand Greg or her the way I understand my son, but I like being around them.

I even need Greg's differences. They serve as warning signs that I'm getting off-track. When his positive outlook on life seems pollyanna-ish or when his consistent Christian walk seems confining, I know I'm drifting into a cynical point of view. He gives me balance.

"My spouse has right motives." I've heard it said that our negative qualities are good ones blown out of proportion. I've interpreted this to mean that Greg's messiness and tardiness are signs of his overgrown flexibility.

That thought softens me. His adaptability makes him spontaneous and fun. Who else would have thought of using an eyebrow pencil to cover up the paint specks on my briefcase as I left for my big interview?

So as I unearth Greg's dirty socks behind the television set, I remind myself of his flexibility the other night when our long awaited plans were cancelled. Unruffled, he suggested we make popcorn and park by the airport runway to watch the airplanes land. Our kids loved it.

"I'm wrong too -- sometimes." The way I fold towels was not canonized by Heloise nor was my method of reconciling the checkbook first etched in hieroglyphics in King Tut's tomb. But they seem right to me.

Sometimes, my insistence on doing things my way is a pride issue. It's ironic that while I agonize over Christians who recite, "I've never done it that way before," I reflect the same rigidity.

Other times, "my way" is an overreaction to my past. In high school my bedroom was such a mess that we once used a metal detector to find my house key. In those days I draped wet towels over lamp shades; now, I put plastic covers on them. I've gone from teen-age slob to comupulsive neatnik.

And even when my way is better, what good is it to insist on it? Am I a "help meet" that fills in Greg's empty places or a billboard that points them out? Could this be the reason that Paul started his description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 with, "Love is patient"? Did he know that some of us would choke on the first sentence?

Sometimes, though, when we least expect it, we get what we deserve -- our spouses become more like us. We recreate our spouses with the enthusiasm of Dr. Frankenstein and have to live with the monster we fashioned.

That's how I felt yesterday when my husband and children waited in the car for me, dressed and ready for church. Could I help it if I couldn't get the sash on my dress just right?


This article first appeared in Virtue and was reprinted in
The Lookout, Signs of the Times and Sunday Digest


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