Liz was furious. She found herself throwing things into her pocketbook and slamming drawers. “What’s his problem?” she fumed. “The rent is late again, and all he says is, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.’ I can’t take it anymore! Whether the baby runs a high fever or the electric company wants to turn off the electricity because the bill was misplaced and never paid, all he can say is, ‘Don’t worry. It’ll be fine. Calm down.’ When I got married, I thought I would have someone to share my burdens with, not ignore them. Doesn’t he CARE?!”
Barry was getting frustrated. “Why does every little thing I say set Michelle off crying?” he wondered. “I was just making a joke. Even my sisters never got insulted the way she does. Why does she have to be so sensitive? Almost every discussion we have about anything serious ends up with her crying, and I’m getting sick and tired of always feeling like the bad guy. This is not what I envisioned when we got married. I’ve had enough of this!”
Both Liz and Barry seem to have legitimate complaints. Liz’s husband, Mike, just shrugs everything off, and Barry’s wife Michelle overreacts to every little comment he makes. When it goes on and on, day after day, both Liz and Barry begin to feel frustrated in their marriages. And although they haven’t said so – even to themselves – deep down, they are both wondering if they really married the right person.
But before letting matters go any further, both Barry and Liz would be well-advised to turn the clock back to the time when they were still single and searching. Let’s do it for them, and see what we find:
Liz was always a somewhat nervous type. Throughout school, she would suffer from headaches whenever she had an exam. When her friends began to receive replies from colleges before she did, she began to call the admissions office twice a day because she was so nervous that something had happened. Liz knew that she was way too anxious about everything, but couldn’t seem to control this aspect of her personality.
When Liz met Mike, she was struck by how immediately relaxed she felt in his presence. His calm, easygoing, stress-free personality set her at ease, and she found herself enjoying his company more and more. When they got engaged, she knew that with Mike at her side she would always feel secure that things would work out.
Although Barry loved his parents dearly, he knew that he wanted his home to be somewhat different than the one in which he grew up. For some reason, it always seemed that his mother was not quite in tune with his father. As Barry matured, he realized that while his mother was talented in many areas, she lacked sensitivity. As Barry started to think about marriage, he knew that this quality was high up in his list of priorities. When he met Michelle, the first quality that he noticed was her incredible sensitivity. She seemed to know just what to say to everybody at just the right time. The more Barry got to know Michelle, the more he admired that quality of hers. And when they got engaged, he knew that in Michelle he had found someone who would truly be his partner, with whom he could always share his feelings with and know that she would understand.
So what went wrong?
Yes, nothing. Both Liz and Barry got exactly what they wanted. But there was one small rule that no one told them about. It’s a rule that could change their lives, and maybe yours, too:
When you look at a person you have to realize that both what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy are two sides of the same coin.
That bears repeating:
What you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy are two sides of the same coin.
It’s a cliche but it’s true: No one is perfect. Everybody has faults, and more often than not, their faults are nothing more than the flip side of their positive characteristics. That means that some people who tend to be relaxed, calm and stress-free might not be overly concerned about issues that are truly serious and demand attention. And that people who are extremely sensitive to others might be very sensitive themselves, and need to be treated accordingly.
In every relationship – but especially in marriage – it is crucial to learn how to appreciate the whole person, and to accept the fact that those qualities that you admire most in your spouse might have other aspects to them that may not be to your liking, and may require some adjustments. The best adjustment you can make is to refocus your viewing lens.
For Liz, that means focusing on Mike’s amazing ability to calm her down and keep her balanced, rather than on those situations in which his easygoing nature seems to be a drawback. For Barry, it means concentrating on Michelle’s incredible sensitivity to his feelings while accepting the fact that her own feelings may be fragile and to weigh his words carefully. Mike and Michelle are not off the hook either. If Liz gets upset, Mike can remind himself of that thanks to her they have electricity; Michelle should tell herself that Barry is used to joking, and that if he hurts her feelings it is more than likely unintentional. If each spouse shows the other how much they appreciate him or her as a whole person, they will have imbued their marriages with a staying power that is second to none.