Happy Valentine’s Day! This isn’t going to be one of those sappy Valentine’s blogs. I just wanted to discuss some things about marriage and life from a 40 year old. Twenty years is a long time to stay with a person and I don’t take that lightly. Being quarantined during this last year, we have really turned towards each other in ways that are truly miraculous.
Several years ago, we were at a crossroads where we both wanted to walk away. We were both hurt, tired of fighting and lonely. I remember one particular fight, Sam saying, “We can’t even agree on a vacation to do together!” This seems petty to fight about but there is some raw history behind that statement. We had no idea why, but throughout our entire marriage, we never saw eye-to-eye on anything! We took a personality assessment during our pre-marriage counseling with our pastor and he looked at the results and said, “I’ve never seen results to be so opposite before.” We don’t usually agree on food, fun, hobbies, conflict management, communication, parenting and yes, even vacations. So after 15+ years of this disagreement, we had a choice to make. We could continue to fight to find common ground, continue to fight about our differences or walk away with the thought in mind that there has to be someone else that can fulfill this void of similarities.
Honestly, it felt like fitting a square peg in a round hole. Thousands of times in our marriage, we had tried to force our way on each other. “You should be more compassionate and understanding and any other response is just wrong!” “You should enforce what we talked about and do what you said your are going to do and any other way is just wrong!” Around and around we went on this never-ending carousel of miscommunication, one-sided thinking, and unforgiveness. I communicated with emotions of hurt and sadness and he retaliated with anger and passive aggression. I wanted peace and he wanted me to fight for my opinions.
Before the enneagram came into our lives, we had no idea why we couldn’t find any common ground. Today I can tell you that it doesn’t come from changing our desires and opinions. Common ground comes from understanding! Understanding who I am, who Sam is, and showing that understanding to each other. For almost two decades I was so threatened by everything that he did and stood for. He is a passionate fighter that can weld his sword at anyone and anything when threatened. And I end up in a puddle of tears before too long. But I used those tears in the same way that he used his anger, to try to change the other person’s point of view.
It’s unclear if Sam is a SEVEN or an EIGHT with a strong wing being the other number (7w8 or 8w7) so I will speak to how both are different than a TWO. SEVENS need lots of options and like to discuss any and all possibilities. Even after a thorough discussion, they can still choose a random and spontaneous choice to throw everyone off kilter. EIGHTS prefer direct conversation and someone who knows what they want, even at the disagreement of everyone else. They prefer a backbone to a push-over. TWOS, for the most part, can’t communicate their own needs and most of the time don’t even know what those needs and wants are. TWOS value relationship over the actual event that is chosen, although sometimes my ONE wing can’t handle his spontaneity. EIGHTS want you to do what you say you are going to do and TWOS can bend their will based on someone else’s disappointment or opinion of them.
One of the biggest arguments we had had in the first 7 years of marriage came over this exact issue. We had three kids at the time and were on a little trip with just the two of us. I had gone to college classes off and on over the past couple of years and had just told him that I think I was going to hold off going because it was just too hard to continue. All this came up on our romantic trip alone. He got so upset and ended up yelling about it and I was cry-yelling back at him. Looking back, I now know the underlying root of that argument. He believed in me and frankly I did not! He saw something in me that could continue pushing through school and I chose to concede to the opinion that others had of my situation. That is was too difficult to do classes AND raise a family. I was giving in to those opinions and he wanted me to fight! Of course there was a more efficient way for all this to come out, but what in the world did we know. We were only 26 with three kids and not many people around us to model healthy conflict management and self-discovery.
Fast-forward to now and we are finally starting to see how our differing points of view can be an asset that can bind this family together and not a liability that threatens to tear us apart. Instead of trying to push our different ways of doing, thinking and feeling onto each other and cramming that square peg in a round hole, there has been a widening of our perspectives. When we are walking in our strengths, we can hear what the other person is saying from their point of view. For example, we recently bought a house on the lake and everything from getting clean water, to driving down the driveway and installing WiFi has been a huge ordeal! At the moment we have a bathroom with a shower and a toilet but not a sink to wash hands or brush teeth. Last night, as I brushed my teeth and spit in the bathtub, I said something like, “It’s like camping.” In an almost defensive and angry tone, he said “This is way nicer than camping!” I could have chosen to get defensive back and escalate the war. Instead, I immediately thought from his perspective. Here he was working all day every weekend to renovate and provide a beautiful place on a beautiful lake for our family to relax and hang out together. And I was complaining about where I brushed my teeth. EIGHTS will quickly see that injustice and pickup their swords for a fight! Now I wasn’t really complaining about that, but I can see how it can be taken that way. So I chose to say, “You are right! This is so much nicer than camping! And thank you for all your hard work!” There was an instant softening in his demeanor.
Before you think that I am such a saint, just know that this is a very new shift in my heart. My heart and head have widened to see another perspective without my own being threatened. I can hold on to my opinions while seeing someone else’s. Just a reminder that the enneagram shows us how there are, at the very least, nine different and correct ways of seeing and experiencing everything. One isn’t more right or wrong over another. What we do with those perspectives can hurt and hinder or grow and strengthen. In that car in Colorado when we were yelling at each other over me continuing college, Sam could have given in and just said, “Yeah, you are right. You going to college is too hard on our family,” and I probably would have never gone back and gotten my bachelor’s degree. And last night, I could have dug my heels in and said, “I can’t believe we have had this house this long and we still don’t have a sink!” But do you know what each of own strengths are? Sam’s strength is to keep fighting for difficult things. That man can plow a road into the side of a mountain and make ways where there wasn’t a way before. And my strength is to help aid, support and encourage even when defenses are up and the sword is pointing at me. He can choose to call out my strengths and abilities and I can choose to stop my defensiveness and encourage him. There is a fighting and a surrendering that we are each demonstrating more effectively to each other.
Why did I bring up the vacation difference in the beginning? We had another little yet could be huge breakthrough last night. We were watching TikTok together last night, which is sometimes a way we can learn and laugh together. One video came on of these people bungee jumping off a gigantic mountain in Brazil. My mouth was wide open in unbelief and he was grinning ear-to-ear. “That’s what I want to do for my birthday! Can you plan that?” Honestly my first thought was, “There is no way in hell that you are going to get me on that mountain to do that!” But that isn’t what he was asking me to do. He wasn’t asking for me to jump. He knows what I am capable of and what I am not. He was asking me to plan it so that he could go do it. After a 5 second or so pause, I said enthusiastically, “Yes, I will plan that for you!” Then about five minutes later we see a video of a man pick up a sloth that was stuck in the grass. He picked it up and with the sloth’s body in the each same position the whole time of arms and legs spread out (it looks like the sloth was flying and smiling), the man put then sloth on a tree. The sloth slowly wrapped his arms around the tree and hugged it as the smile got larger on the face of the sloth and the man. I said, “That’s what I want to do on vacation! Take me where I can go help a sloth from the ground to a tree!”
Without skipping a beat he said, “DEAL!” I feel like this was a huge breakthrough. It seems insignificant, but in a way we are starting to see, like really see each other. I wasn’t threatened that he wanted to do something so incredibly “dangerous” and he wasn’t threatened that I wanted to do something so incredibly “boring” (words in quotations would be the opposite view from what the other actually thinks).
As difficult as it is, I vow to always hold on to my perspective while seeing, valuing, and respecting Sam’s perspective. That is my Valentine vow on this day of February 14, 2021. And I think we could all use a little more of this vow.