Does your husband make you crazy because he's always late? Does your wife make you crazy because she insists on organizing your socks? Does your husband make you crazy because he's not spontaneous enough? Does your wife make you crazy because she's so scattered?
And do they make you crazy because no matter what you say, no matter how certain you are that your way is right, they don't change?
These and similar scenarios are being played out in marriages across the country on a daily basis. She expresses love with gifts. He expresses it with hugs. She wants to analyze a problem from all angles. He wants a quick decision. She agonizes over every purchase. He just grabs whatever fits. Etc. etc. etc.
The Talmud gives us an interesting insight into this phenomenon: "Just as no two faces are the same, likewise no two people think alike." (Brachot 5:9)
Carl Jung elaborated on this theme. Famous for his dream interpretation and arguments with Freud, perhaps his most relevant contribution was his delineation of different personality types.
Just as no two faces are the same, likewise no two people think alike.
As we all know from experience, different people approach life differently. Sometimes that's exciting. Sometimes that's maddening. But it is. We all have different personality preferences that shape our approach to life.
What we assume is stubbornness on the part of our spouse, or even worse, defiance (or worst of all, not listening to us), is usually a reflection of the fact that they are a different personality type. They don't look at the world the way we do.
And not only that. Frequently that's why we married them. (So stop gnashing your teeth). There is truth to the magnetic principle that opposites attract. If you were raised in a very chaotic home, you may be attracted to another's stability and reliability. If you were raised to be very responsible, you find the spontaneity of another refreshing. Some creative tension is good for a relationship.
This concept finds expression in the Torah, which describes the first marriage, between Adam and Eve, as "Ezer K'neg'do." This oxymoron literally means "a helper in opposition." Can a helper be in opposition?! But that is precisely the point. By serving as a counter-balance, each spouse fills the role as each other's "helper." The sense of completion comes not through the similarities, but through the differences.
In fact, the Hebrew word "shalom" comes from the root shalem, meaning complete and whole. The definition of peace is not where "everyone is the same," it is where all the parts are working respectfully toward mutual completion.
We are stimulated by and attracted to different ways of being. On a deep level we recognize that this forces us to grow personally and to expand our vision. On a superficial level the differences are just plain exciting. But they can also spell trouble.
How can we avoid this struggle? How can we use this information about our spouses to enhance rather than, God forbid, destroy our marriages?
First we need to understand each other. Two excellent books, "Appreciating People" by Miriam Adahan, and "Type Talk" by Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen, help us make sense of Jung's system.
A quick lesson could radically alter your marriage. (And your parenting, too. Stay tuned for another article.)
In its most simplified version (and with the provision that yes, there are exceptions to every rule!) Jung delineates eight personality traits (four pairs). Everyone has one of each pair of personality types.
The beauty of the system is that no one type is better than another.
The advantage of his method is that it leads to understanding. We value our partner's unique contribution to our marriage and we appreciate it more (or at least we find it less frustrating) when seen in the context of an overall personality. The beauty of the system is that no one type is better than another. Just learning lesson will guarantee a stronger marriage and healthier relationships overall.
Not only are there no "better" types, but a truly successful couple knows how to use their diversity as a strength, allowing their personalities -- and possibly opposing character traits -- to complement each other.
In a nutshell (with apologies to Jung and his disciples), here are the Big Eight:
1-2. Extrovert or Introvert: Perhaps you were attracted to your wife's independent streak. Now you're frustrated that she doesn't want to join the clubs you do, that she's not a team player, and that she prefers to go out alone with you and not with a group of friends.
As individuals, we are either energized by being with people, or by being alone. Perhaps you want guests, your wife doesn't. Maybe she's not lazy like you thought she was -- she's an introvert. She wants a romantic birthday dinner for two; he wants a loud party with 50 of his closest friends. He's not afraid of intimacy, nor is he diminishing the value of your company -- he's an extrovert.
3-4. Thinking or Feeling: Some people are more emotional (not always women). Some people are very logical and rational (not always men). She's not immature and childish; she's a feeling type. He's not hard-hearted and cold; he's the thinking type.
Don't be distracted by the category names. They're only tools and don't represent their common definition. Of course, thinking types have feelings, and people who are more emotional are capable of deep thought, too.
5-6. Sensing or Intuiting: Are you concrete and practical, relying on tangible reality, or do you like to soar to metaphysical heights, relying more on instinct and inspiration?
You didn't want socks and a tie for Chanukah? But you needed them. He writes beautiful poetry and composes exalted music -- but he didn't realize the mortgage payment was overdue. He's not looking to be homeless; he actually likes your house. And he's not even irresponsible. He just has different priorities and concerns.
Your spouse can lift you. If you both let go and appreciate each other.
You can keep him grounded. Or he can lift you. If you both can let go... and appreciate each other.
7-8. Judging or Perceiving: In this situation, judging ("J") refers to people who enjoy rules and order, and who make decisions easily. Perceiving ("P") people like to keep their options open. They like to evaluate all the information and weigh many opinions. They are always looking for new excitement and experiences.
Imagine you are very organized and orderly and were attracted to your husband's impulsiveness. Now you want to know why he won't follow the rules the way you do; why he's not so strict about the kids' bedtime, why he doesn't realize that trips need planning -- "You can't just pick up and go" (or can you?).
"J's" are more predictable and reliable. "P's" are more spontaneous and whimsical.
You want to fly to Hawaii tomorrow. He raises practical concerns -- the house, your job, the kids... You've found the perfect house. He wants to see a few more. And could he bring some friends by to take a look...
APPLYING THE THEORY
In each pair of personality types, everybody is inclined to one particular side. Sometimes it's a heavy inclination, and sometimes it's lighter. The various combinations produce interesting perspectives and characters. Everyone is different.
How do you analyze a personality type? That's too much for now. (That's why there are books).
The main thing is that you and your spouse can have fun figuring out your types. But it will be more than fun. You will gain insight into yourself and others. You will learn tolerance and acceptance for yourself and your partner. It will diminish many of those daily frustrations, and stop them from deepening into resentment. I hope it's not too late.
You begin by changing your expectations. The first step is to take a deep breath and accept that "it is what it is." Think of the old cliché about not putting a square peg in a round hole. Your partner is not going to eventually "come around" to your way of thinking, of looking at the world.
Your partner is not going to eventually come around to your way of looking at the world.
Beyond that are practical steps to take as well. In dividing up the tasks within the home, assign to the appropriate personality. Give the spouse with the strong "J" personality responsibility for bookkeeping and household bills. Make the more outgoing partner the party planner. Maybe the more adventurous spouse wants to plot a second honeymoon or your summer vacation.
Maybe one of you would enjoy reading with the children before bed, while the other would enjoy writing and performing a play with them. Maybe someone likes bath time (maybe no one likes bath time!) and someone else prefers quietly lying with your young ones as they fall asleep. If one spouse is a people person they will be in charge of inviting guests. If your mate is more introverted they have to let you know when they need quiet space.
Recognize your partner's strengths and plan accordingly. Appreciate the power of your mate's character traits and the broader opportunities they afford you.
I know that my husband and I started out at opposite ends of the spectrum, and now that we've both relaxed, we seem to meet somewhere in the middle. Although if he puts the books out of order or lets the kids stay up late... well, "appreciate" isn't the word I always use!!