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When Opposites Attract in Marriage

How to deal with the differences that can rob a relationship of its peaceful, accepting love.
By Barbara Rainey

According to legend, Emperor Huang Ti of China is reported to have said to his wife, Xi Ling Shi, "I have a problem. I notice that our mulberry trees are being damaged. I'd like for you to go and find out what's wrong with them."

So the empress discovered that a small, drab-colored moth was laying eggs on the leaves. The tiny eggs would hatch into little worms, which after a few days would spin cocoons and damage the leaves.

Wondering if she could destroy the little cocoons, she dropped one of them into a pot of boiling water. To her surprise, the cocoon began to slowly unwind. Soon she saw, glittering in the water, a silvery thread. Upon further inspection, the thread proved to be a half-mile long!

Thus, through the process of solving a problem, Xi Ling Shi discovered something beautiful: silk.

Likewise, when Dennis and I began to deal with some difficulties in our relationship early in our marriage, we discovered the beauty of acceptance. A couple of things—our differences and our personal insecurities—were eating away at the joy of our relationship, much like those little worms had eaten away at the mulberry leaves.

Discovering our differences

The old adage that "opposites attract" was really true for us. We were very different in many, many ways. For instance, Dennis was impulsive. He'd get an idea and, man, he'd be gone. I, on the other hand, tend to be very disciplined. I like to think things through and evaluate what we're going to do before we act. Often, during our first year of marriage, I found myself being left in Dennis's dust.

We also discovered other differences. Dennis was expressive; I tended to be quiet and cautious about what I said. Dennis wanted to spend money on fishing; I wanted to spend money on furniture.

In addition, both of us lacked self-confidence in certain settings. I was not good at meeting people at large social gatherings and tended to cling to Dennis. And he had some weaknesses that his boss pointed out to us one day during lunch. When I heard that, I remember thinking, Now what am I going to do with this information about my husband?

Like Huang Ti, we began to realize that we had a problem, and we knew we needed to find a solution if we wanted our marriage to be secure and happy.


We are not alone. Like flies at a summer picnic, differences buzz in the ears of many couples, threatening to rob their relationship of its peaceful, accepting love. As humorist Sam Levenson once said, "Love at first sight is easy to understand; it's when two people have been looking at each other for a lifetime that it becomes a miracle!" Someone else said, "Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener." As you move past the honeymoon stage, all those differences—those little "eye-openers"—begin to affect your marriage.

When the honeymoon fades and reality sets in, those unique things that once attracted you to your mate are often viewed as aggravating weaknesses. As a result, you may be faced with several decisions. 

First, you must ask yourself, Will I continue to accept my spouse in this particular area of difference, or will I withdraw a portion of my acceptance, thereby driving a sliver of rejection between us? Ignoring the question doesn't work because differences don't go away. If you can't accept that annoying quality, you are actually rejecting your spouse (either silently or verbally), and his self-image will suffer. Your only two options are to accept him or to reject him.

If you choose to pursue acceptance, then another question arises: How do I live with this difference?  Here are some suggestions:

1. Pray for yourself. Ask God to make you content with your spouse as he is. Pray, too, that God will show you the positive sides of your spouse's differences.

As I mentioned earlier, Dennis and I are extreme opposites on the impulsive/disciplined scale. When we were first married, his impulsiveness tended to drive my disciplined nature crazy. I felt that we had no order, no schedule, no budget, and no regular devotions.

I remember praying diligently for God to change all the things in Dennis I didn't like. Then I realized what really needed to be changed was my attitude. God did change my perspective, and in time I began to see how much I needed Dennis's spontaneity to balance my more rigid control.

Ask God to examine your attitudes and your motives and to give you a greater capacity to understand, accept, and even appreciate your spouse's differences.  

2. Talk about it with your spouse. Ask for the privilege of being heard. Tell her you are not rejecting her and that you remain committed. Assure her that she is loved, no matter what. 

One thing we have learned in our marriage is that we are teachable at some moments but not at others. If you find that your spouse is not emotionally prepared to discuss a touchy issue, leave the subject alone. Don't try to force a confrontation.

You also may discover that the territory you are about to encroach upon is marked: NO TRESPASSING. It may be off limits at this point in her life. If so, be satisfied with exploring small bits of turf at a time. Do not expect (or try) to cover the whole country in one evening. Go slowly.

If your spouse is willing to talk about a difference that is bothering you, share your feelings without accusing her and pointing the finger of blame. Don't be critical. Let her know you realize that you're not perfect and that you understand her, or want to understand her, in this area. Realize, too, that we all have weaknesses or tendencies we will never completely conquer. Because of our fallen nature, we'll never achieve perfection until we reach heaven.

If your spouse considers a difference to be a weakness, ask if you can help. Then, at the end of your discussion, remind your spouse again of your commitment and acceptance. We call this the "bookend principle." Just as bookends are used to prop up books that contain truth, so your reminders of love and complete acceptance at both ends of the discussion will support the truth of what you have said. And it makes the truth a whole lot easier to hear!

3. Tutor your spouse (with his permission). As a couple, we continue to assist one another in many areas, such as punctuality, patience, planning, feelings of discouragement, anger, and worry. We have discovered that the many opposites that attracted us to each other when we were dating are the very things that have provided balance in our marriage. Our differences have made us more effective as a couple than we ever could have been individually.

If your spouse grants you permission to help, ask God for wisdom in how to help. Offer your assistance in such a way that your spouse experiences your acceptance and in no way senses rejection.

4. Ignore certain differences. Some of the annoying differences in your spouse may not be weaknesses. Commit those differences to the Lord in prayer, asking Him to give you peace and contentment to live with them, even if your spouse never changes. It is important to accept him as he is, without pressuring him to change. Choose to ignore the differences that are off-limits and seemingly beyond change, and rejoice over the many benefits you enjoy because of your spouse’s strengths.

Unconditional commitment, unconditional love

Our spouses need to hear words of commitment and acceptance from us, not just once but many, many times. Tell your spouse often how much you love him. Then tell him that you accept him just as he is.

Each time a difficulty arises in your relationship—a misunderstanding, a difference, or a clash of wills—remind your spouse (even in the heat of battle, if necessary) that you intend to remain loyal to her. Assure her that your commitment will not change because of this particular situation. Those infusions of truth will become the reinforcements you both need to work through difficulties in your marriage. Total acceptance will motivate you to persevere.

Also, tell your spouse occasionally that you'd choose to marry him again. This declaration will give him value and approval and build his self-esteem. It will remind him of the truth—that he is accepted.

Reprinted by permission. Adapted excerpt from Building Your Mate’s Self-Esteem, Copyright © 1995 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author: Barbara Rainey

Barbara Rainey is a wife, mother of six adult children (plus three sons-in-law and two daughters-in-law), and "Mimi" to nineteen grandchildren.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ in 1971. She and her husband, Dennis, whom she married in 1972, are co-founders of FamilyLife, a ministry of Cru that is headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Barbara has published articles on family-related topics and is the author of Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember and When Christmas Came.  She speaks at FamilyLife's Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences and is a frequent guest on FamilyLife Today®, a nationally syndicated, daily radio program.  She and Dennis are the coauthors of several books, including Growing a Spiritually Strong Family, Starting Your Marriage Right, Moments Together for Couples, The New Building Your Mate's Self-Esteem, Parenting Today's Adolescent, Rekindling the Romance, and Moments with You. She co-authored A Mother's Legacy with her daughter, Ashley Rainey Escue and joined Dennis and their children Rebecca and Samuel on the book So You're About To Be A Teenager. Barbara has also co-authored Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest, with close friend Susan Yates, and A Symphony in the Dark, written with her daughter, Rebecca Rainey Mutz. And Barbara has written a series focusing on character traits for families, including the titles Growing Together in Gratitude, Growing Together in Courage, Growing Together in Forgiveness, and Growing Together in Truth.

Having faithfully served alongside Dennis for more than 30 years, both in ministry and at home, Barbara has recently launched a new endeavor called Ever Thine Home™.  This new line of products, including Christ centered ornaments for Christmas, teaching tools for Lent and Easter, and beautiful additions for your home for thanksgiving and year round makes it easy to express faith at home in a way that is both biblical and beautiful.  Her heart for Ever Thine Home is based on the familiar Old Testament instruction:

"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:9, ESV)

You can read more about Barbara's work at

Find Barbara online on:
Twitter @BarbaraRainey and Facebook



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