Growing Intimacy Despite Our Differences - Intimacy, Part 3
My husband’s name is Ted. Yes, and my name is Teddi. We always joke that our marriage, between two people with the same names, is because God has a sense of humor.
Well, the humor doesn’t stop with the similar names.
What really must have got God chuckling in that deep Charlton Heston voice of His is that He found two people with the same name AND with wildly opposite personalities that He could put together and watch the sparks fly. (Okay, just kidding, I’m pretty sure God doesn’t sound like Charlton Heston, but you know what I mean!)
Over the years, our relationship has been through many phases. I can’t speak for what Ted was feeling or thinking, but things for me have included the following:
“I’m so in love with this man, we think so much alike!”
“How did I ever think this would work? We are so completely different!”
“It’s a good thing we’re both so patient and willing to overlook flaws. Otherwise…”
“What was I thinking? He’s stubborn, I’m stubborn, we both think we’re right. How will we ever agree on anything?”
“There are just some topics we can’t talk about, but that’s okay. We’re solid everywhere else.”
“He always turns out to be right. I’m an idiot.”
“He thinks he’s always right, but he’s obviously not. It’s so frustrating!”
The scariest moments for me are the ones where I wonder if we’ll ever be able to work through certain differences, or when it seems like there’s a topic we’ll never be able to talk about again and resolve. During these times, it feels like the distance between us will never be bridged, and those gaps will keep us from enjoying the sort of unified hearts that God intended for marriage.
(If you’re not in a marriage right now, don’t tune me out! This applies to friendships, too! Especially if you want to find, develop, or keep the sort of best friend that will stand by your side through all the thick and thin times of life.)
Obviously, my life is still a work in progress, but two things I’ve learned in the crucible of marriage have transformed my relationships significantly. First, I came to believe the truth about myself. Second, I came to believe the truth about the other person. And when I say “truth” what I mean is God’s perspective. He’s the Originator of life, the Creator of mankind and each of us individually. He calls the shots, and how He sees it is how it truly is.
Let’s take a moment to talk about how feelings are connected to our beliefs.
We walk by faith, not by sight (or hearing)
For we walk by faith, not by sight. - 2 Corinthians 5:7
Everything you do in life is based on what you believe. When you brush your teeth, it’s because you believe that if you do not then your teeth will eventually rot out of your head. When you sit in a chair, it’s because you believe it has the ability to hold you up. When you receive information, you decide whether or not you believe it. It affects how you feel, what you say, and what you choose to do.
You follow Christ because there was a moment when you heard the salvation message and you decided it was true. Hopefully, when you received salvation, it brought joy and a feeling of relief and hope and purpose. Which exact feelings you experienced is directly related to what you came to believe in that moment.
“My sins are forgiven, and I’m not going to hell.” (What a relief!)
“God really loves me, and wants a relationship with me personally!” (Amazement, gratitude, excitement.)
“I don’t need to feel ashamed anymore. I’ve been washed clean and born anew.” (Relief, comfort, joy, hope.)
Many of us were so overflowing with these feelings that we shared them with others, telling them what we experienced and what God did for us. Feelings like this don’t stay bottled up for long. And we weren’t only moved to speak about our newfound belief, we started acting on it. We started reading our Bibles so we could get to know God better, we started making choices that lined up with our new identity as followers of Jesus.
This same process applies to our relationships with other people. What we believe about ourselves and about them will affect our feelings. Our feelings will prompt us to speak and to act in accordance with what we believe.
Believing the truth about ourselves
When we open ourselves up to someone else, the risk is that they will judge us, misunderstand us, condemn us. Because we have a powerful inner drive to belong, to be accepted, to be loved and understood, how people respond to us can hit hard. We can easily get upset, defensive, or angry if someone disagrees with us, because it’s like a rejection of who we are and what we believe.
But no matter what someone else says, or how they respond to us, there is something WE can do to eliminate the fear of rejection and the sting of disagreement. We can stand firm in this: God’s opinion is the only one that matters. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. Maybe they reject me, maybe they don’t. What they think carries only as much weight as I allow it to, and I can avoid so many emotion-based conflicts by remembering that I am loved and understood by God, and that’s completely enough for me.
Think about it. When you’re defensive about something, it’s often because you feel the need to justify yourself.
“Taking on this project is a bad idea. You have a history of not following through.”
“No, I don’t!”
“Tell me one project that you’ve finished in the last year.”
“You just haven’t noticed. I finished plenty.”
“Stop it! You always attack me, and just because I can’t think of something in the heat of the moment, you think you’re right. You think I’m a failure. Go ahead, just say it…”
In the conversation above, maybe I realize they’re right, and I haven’t finished any projects. Maybe it’s true that I haven’t been any good at follow through. I defend myself and start accusing them because I’m afraid it might mean I’m a failure, I’m irresponsible, I’m going to be denied an opportunity because of past mistakes.
But when I remember that I’m a work in progress, and that God is my judge and my defender and my loving Father, and that His opinion is the only one that matters, and that He can help me overcome where I have failed in the past. . . then I can respond like this instead:
“You have a history of not following through.”
“It’s true. It’s still an area of weakness for me. But I haven’t given up on improving, and I’m hoping this time things will go better.”
It may take work to come to a place where this truth is so deeply ingrained that you don’t take offense and aren’t hurt no matter what someone else says or does. But it’s worth the effort.
Believing the truth about the other person
The second truth that is so important is this: the other person is also God’s child. They answer to God, not me. It’s not my job to correct them, to convince them, to fix them. They are a work in progress, just like I am, and if we don’t agree at this moment, that’s okay. Something I say to myself a lot when in difficult conversations:
“I trust God’s work in them.”
I may feel like I’ve hit a brick wall. I may feel like this disagreement is the end of the world. I may feel like the other person will never change. But regardless of the frustrations or emotions of the moment, it does no good to blame or judge them. I may walk away from this conversation having failed to accomplish whatever my goal was in talking with them, but I don’t have to walk away without hope. Faith sees things that aren’t there.
God called Abraham the father of many nations before he’d ever had a child. God called Gideon a mighty man of valor while he was hiding and afraid. The best thing we can do for our relationships with other people is to see them through God’s eyes. Whether they are a Christian or not, God is working with them (to draw them to Him) or in them (because they’re born again and have His Spirit), because that’s what He does. All I need to do is my part in the relationship, and it’s important to pray and ask God to show me where my part ends and His part begins.