Jan marries Jacob. He is calm, collected, poised, and precise. After graduating with his MA in business, he started his own. He concerned himself with “taking care” of her, making her feel very special and loved. Jacob’s attentiveness was refreshing, for a while. Jan feels a sense of security she never felt with her dad; no one seemed to care where she was or when she was coming home. Jan learned to be independent and look out for herself. Arthur wants her to spend time with him; just sit with him on the couch, just be present. She feels guilty when others go out of their way to do something for her since she took care of herself. Jan’s dad spent money they didn’t have, always looking for, “The Deal” that would put them into the dream he entertained for as long as she could remember, which of course never materialized. Now three years into their marriage, they have enough money to purchase a home, but Jacob can't seem to make a decision. They have looked at house after house, and agreed on one, but no movement. Furthermore, Jacob’s attentiveness is overwhelming now, and even intrusive at times. Jan feels almost smothered. Jacob is prompt and home on time. His lack of spontaneity and his need for everything to be in its place feels controlling and restrictive. Those very qualities of attentiveness which were so absent in her family of origin and that she thought were so attractive in Jacob, is the very thing that pushes her away from him now. Jacob wants to know where she is going, whom she is going with, and when she will return. If plans don’t work as outlined, she braces herself for a cross-examination, and why she wasn’t on time. Where is the freedom, ease and spontaneity in their relationship? It just seems so tight and so restrictive. The truth is: Jacob has what Jan needs; Jan has what Jacob needs, but they are so unaware that opposites attract.
David and Rebecca met through mutual friends. They were both unaware of what was happening. Rebecca liked order with all her ducks in a row. Rebecca realized David didn’t even know where his ducks were and she learned quickly that if the ducks were going to be put in a row, she would be the one to do it. Rebecca likes things put away, money in the bank, and she likes to know how things are going to work. Neither of their parents had much money growing up. Rebecca realized early in life, money was difficult to come by and saving and being frugal served her well. David likes to spend money, on himself and on her. Rebecca wanted to save and pay cash for everything since her parents always used credit cards and loans. David thought that was a great idea until he wanted something, but didn’t want to wait. David’s MO was spend, spend, spend; Rebecca’s was save, save, save. This was fueled from childhood when she would put cardboard in her only pair of penny loafers, until payday. A rainy day is sure to come, so be prepared. David wasn’t too worried about the future or a rainy day. Rebecca attempted to hold the reigns on David’s spending, which resulted in many an argument. David’s philosophy was completely different. “I didn’t have it then; I’m going to have it now!” And he purchased the very best. He states her attempting to control him, triggers memories of his parents attempting to control him. Rebecca states, “Well, if you would control your spending, I wouldn’t have to.” Rebecca thrives on rules; she feels very uncomfortable when there are no boundaries. David hates rules. In fact, his mantra is, “rules are to be broken.” They are in opposite end zones on disciplining the children. Both their parents were harsh and angry. David skipped school and his dad gave him an ultimatum, “Go to school or join the army.” He joined the army. Rebecca’s older sister was out of control, refused to obey, and caused difficulty for herself and everyone else. Taking note of the trouble her sister got into, Rebecca learned to avoid conflict. When David refused to discipline their children, Rebecca stepped in and over-functioned. David was full of mercy, too much actually, and Rebecca had none. They were so unaware what was driving this. David had what Rebecca needed, and Rebecca had what David needed, because opposites attract.
Opposites do attract, but that’s only supposed to be in science, right, or so we thought. Why does the introvert get attracted to the extrovert? Why does the messy, free spirited one get attracted to the neat orderly one? Why does the rule-follower get attracted to someone who thinks rules are to be broken? Why does the one who tries to discipline the kids and thinks rules and consequences are good for them, get hooked up with one who thinks it’s best to relax and be flexible. It’s a divine conspiracy, but it does set up scenarios for a firestorm.
These are all good questions, with difficult answers, particularly when you are in the middle of the firestorm that is singeing your toes and threatening to burn your house down. We are programmed in our family of origin to think, feel, and react to circumstances in a way that calms our fears and anxieties, and protects our fragile ego, false self. What is safe for one, causes anxiety for another. How do you handle conflict? Do you retreat into yourself, unwilling to disrupt your external world so you absorb the anxiety, and adapt by interrupting your internal world? Hating conflict, you stepped back, watched, then acquiesced, fearful of the consequences of speaking up, hoping it would go away or resolve itself, which it seldom did. If you take a more dominant stance, you are not willing to interrupt your internal world, so you disrupt your external world by pushing back. When reasoning doesn’t work, you step forward with accusations. You attempt to move the other person to your side of the playing field, with the determination of a bulldog. These relational styles you learned in your family of origin.
Here’s the deal: often, we are attracted to our very opposite because they have exactly what we need to grow up emotionally. No one is ever ready for marriage; marriage is a people growing machine. Unfortunately, too many people bail before they figure out what is really going on relationally and emotionally. Change is extremely difficult. The very thing you admired, that drew you to your spouse, is very often an area in your own life you have disowned, repressed, and thus is underdeveloped. Rebecca’s rule following, frugal, obedient behaviors, were over-developed. Being rigid and even controlling, she expected everyone to follow those same rules, and frugal turned into stingy. Rebecca needed to loosen up, and David needed to tighten up. They both needed to grow up in these respective areas, and they were attracted to the other because of the underdeveloped qualities in their personalities that needed strengthening. He had what she needed, and she had what he needed, and God had a plan to develop that in each of them.
Remember Jan and Jacob? Jan has a fun loving free, spontaneous, adventurous spirit, and she needs Jacob’s calm poised, orderly, precision in life. And Jacob’s underdeveloped adventurous side needs a shot in the arm from Jan. They were attracted to one another because this area in each of them is under-developed. Jacob did not recognize that his orderly, precise structured life needed Jan’s free adventurous spirit and vice-versa. Until they realize this and start focusing on managing themselves, (the only person they can change) and growing up emotionally, the conflict will continue to escalate. Our greatest strength become our greatest weakness. “As Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17.
Pay attention to the next argument you have. What is your default reaction? Do you walk away before anything is resolved, hoping to sweep it under the rug and never discuss it again, wondering why your spouse can’t “just get over it?” Perhaps you take all your frustration and anxiety and dump it onto a friend who will listen. You tell them of your reasonable, and justifiable anger and frustration as you elaborate on the other’s unholy behaviors. You feel better, but nothing is resolved.
There is more to this story. Check back for the continuation of this Divine Orchestration and what to do about it.
Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC, EMDR Certified