How to Deal Constructively With Differences In Marriage

 photo ID-100146474_zps5qpzkgij.jpg Stuart Miles
Before I get into this post, I need to preface it by saying that, as a policy, out of respect for my husband and our marriage, I do not write personal things about Mike without his full go ahead and permission- I will always read posts to him, in full, before pressing publish, if it talks about him, and make sure he is 100% ok with those things being written about him. Just making sure you know.

Sometimes I get annoyed with my husband for being so different from me in some ways and for not being thrilled about me doing some things I'm gung ho about... And then often after the fact I realize how right he was, and I realize how right he is for me, and how much I need him as a counter balance and that the ways in which he's opposite from me keep me grounded when I am floating away on my ideas that may not be so smart.

Like for example.... I often don't know my own limits and take on more than I can chew leaving me a stressed out overwhelmed mess and the family, my house, and my sanity suffers.
I had planned on hosting this big party in my community this weekend. All self catered and made from scratch of course and I was so excited about it... And Mike was dreading it because he felt I had too much on my plate already so he'd end up feeling the brunt of the extra work. He didn't tell me to cancel it but I did a lot of thinking about it and decided to postpone it for a later date, but was very saddened by the decision.
Just a few hours later though, when I realized what it meant, I breathed the biggest sigh of relief when I realized what a stress was lifted from my shoulders, a stress that I hadn't even been aware of until it was gone. And then I realized how prefect Mike is for me, how much I need someone like him to be shooting down my untenable ideas of mine.

This week was very full as it is and on top of everything else I had an order for a gluten free birthday cake and sushi for my friend Holly's daughter's birthday, my mom is sleeping over for the weekend, I am organizing a book swap on Sunday and I'm teaching a class on wild edibles and medicine in another city on Monday. I barely managed to get everything I needed to get done this week (you'll notice I didn't even get around to posting as often as I've been trying to post lately) and Mike needed to pitch in a lot to keep the house from going crazy. I can't even begin to imagine how I would have self catered a party for over 100 this week.... So thanks Mike for being the voice of reason!

I believe that marriage is funny like that sometimes. Some people end up with each other because they are so similar, and on other cases opposites attract. (I remember when my dad first met Mike before we got engaged he said "Mike's a great and likable guy but you're so different from each other, I don't know how you'll manage as a couple.")

Many books talking about the psychology of relationships say that in couples where opposites attract, what makes you fall in love is often the very things that are different between you- because these things fill in what you are missing, or are what you wish you could be. However, after marriage, etc... these very same traits that made you fall in love often are those very same things that you end up fighting about the most.

I happen to know that this is true with my marriage as well. One of the reasons I fell in love with my husband, that attracted me to him most, was that he was such a sweet and easy going guy... and yet in the first few years of our marriage, one of the things I kept on getting upset about him the most was for "being a pushover" and "not standing up for himself enough"... which is the same exact trait that attracted me to him in the first place. So when I read what the books say about the very same traits that attract you are the ones you end up fighting about, it made so much sense.

I hear that many marriages today end because of "irreconcilable differences" and it makes me wonder- how many of these "irreconcilable differences" were the very differences that attracted them to their spouses in the first place, but ended up becoming sources of tension?

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and the fact that the same features that attract us to a spouse end up being the source of tension- also happens for a reason- a good reason. Because that is what is best for us and best for the marriage.

Couples work because two people together work better than each one alone. Because we all have traits that we are better with and all have traits that need to change. I kind of liken us to puzzle pieces- we have parts of us sticking out, that are good, that we can share with others... and that we have parts of us that are missing, that we need someone else to help us fill. When two people with coordinating "puzzle pieces" get together, we sometimes chafe a bit, because the fit isn't perfect, and its hard to deal with people that are so different from us sometimes.

But I believe that the reason we end up with people different from us is to help us become better, more complete people, to help us better ourselves and become more balanced individuals. I find that as time goes by, traits that my husband and I started off very differently from each other, end up meeting somewhere more in the middle. We each still have our strengths and differences, but our differences are far less pronounced; as we work to find a middle ground that we can both deal with, we end up changing and becoming better people.
But change is hard.
Because as much as we want to be a better person, we also like how we are, and bristle at the thought of change.
But change is good, and change is often necessary if you want to be the best you that you can be.

I'm far from perfect, and my marriage is not from perfect. Mike and I still sometimes get annoyed at each other and our differences, wondering why he/she can't be more like we are... but weeks like this help me realize and appreciate how nice it is to have someone different than ourselves.

And often these differences, hard as they are initially to come to terms with, end up making us happier and better people in the long run.

What do you think? Do you feel like differences in marriage help strengthen a relationship or weaken it? If you think you can strengthen a marriage and improve yourselves because of these differences, what do you think is the best way to do that?
Are you and your spouse more similar or more different?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Penny, I have a relationship question and if it's not too invasive, I would love yours and Mike's input. In your marriage, do you still feel butterflies when you see your spouse? Did you in the beginning of your relationship? The man I'm currently seeing (and have been seeing for more than 2 years) is wonderful and as you mentioned in your article, opposite from me in many good ways. I also tend to get flights of fancy whereas he is more grounded, The problem is, I feel like while there is a lot of love, mutual respect, and affection for one another, there has never been much passion even in the beginning. Is that normal??

    1. I don't mind responding to your question- but I would rather via email than in this post. Can you send an email to

    2. Hi Anonymous,

      I just want to add my two cents. I think I was in the same situation as you - as my husband and I were dating, I thought he was a wonderful guy and pretty sure he was the one for me and I loved him, but deep down I had to admit to myself that I wasn't "in love" with him. In other words, I didn't feel all the butterflies every time we talked. I could imagine my life without him. I found myself wondering, "Is this how it's supposed to be?"

      Well, fast forward 3.5 years and we are very happily married. :-) Of course we have our differences as Penny describes here, but I agree with her points that if you embrace them, they will make each party better. I think for us love has been like wine, it grows better and over time :-)

      And I just want to say that "passion" is not a factor for marriage for most cultures of the world, and I would even say for Americans back in the day, and many of those cultures have relatively high rates of happily married couples.

  2. You guys have so much wisdom for people so young. It's so important to realize that you're not always right, that your spouse isn't always right, and to be able to work out together where the answer is. And you're there.

    My husband and I are very different but we've grown together over the years. (Married at 19 and we're coming up on 30 years married, yoicks.) For us the big thing was to understand that -- not sure if I'll put this clearly but I'll try -- that our thoughts about something are just thoughts. They aren't set in stone. In some ways they have no basis in reality, it's all perception. Opinions. And opinions can change and grow. Our core selves are solid and linked, and that connection has gotten us through some pretty rough years.

    Okay, that's all a lot more woo-woo than I usually am. Sorry! Really, just wanted to say that you guys know what you're doing. :)

  3. Great post Penny. I think it's important for two people to be a bit different in a relationship. If we were exactly the same, there would be no need for the other. LOL

    I'm a total control freak (strong willed/minded person). And hubby and I get along marvelously. Been together since we were 16 (23 years together - married almost 19). And we are in love probably more today then when we first married. We have, by far, the best relationship of anyone that we know. But, as much of a control freak as I am, I do sometimes get annoyed at my hubby for not taking a little more control...and it's usually about going out somewhere. Sometimes I would like to take a break from all the decisions that I make and just want him to tell me, Ok today we're doing this and this...but he always wants me to decide (so that I'm happy with the decision). But sometimes I'm sick of making so many decisions and want a break. LOL

    No matter how perfect a relationship is, people are different and will not always agree on everything. If we did, life would be too boring!

  4. This article is so great! My husband and I are a blend of some opposites and some similarities, that compliment each other. I know you answered the above on email, but I would chime in and say that passion comes and goes during different seasons of your life, but love, mutual respect and affection are the cornerstones of a lasting relationship. Passion is certainly important, but it's not the basis for a lasting marriage. I would also add that because of my faith, we both entered marriage knowing that divorce is NEVER an option for us. When you have that belief, I think it forces you to work through those "irreconcilable differences". There have certainly been times where it would have been so easy to just throw in the towel and walk away, but we forced ourselves to work through things, knowing that our commitment is total and permanent. Our marriage is stronger for it - 5 kids and 20 years later!

  5. what makes you fall in love is often the very things that are different between you- because these things fill in what you are missing, or are what you wish you could be. However, after marriage, etc... these very same traits that made you fall in love often are those very same things that you end up fighting about the most.

    Very well said! The person who "balances" me by having traits I don't also can irritate me by doing things I wouldn't, by being good at things I'm bad at so that I feel inferior (which is all about my perception!), and by failing to understand why things that are easy for him are difficult for me.

    Have you read Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix? It's the best book about relationships I've ever read. The exercises help couples understand what each of you really needs and how your relationship is the same as and different from the families in which you each grew up.

    1. I haven't actually read it, but I've heard a lot about it, and his book one of the "psychology based marriage books" I was referencing above.

  6. Your husband must be a saint to go along with your extreme frugality lifestyle.

    1. Or he simply agrees with me that it's best with our financial situation to live extremely frugally.
      But he is a great guy.

    2. Interesting that this type of lifestyle is considered extreme frugality today. When this is how most humans lived throughout history. Making due with what we have and having your dollar stretch as much as possible. That was the norm. The way people live now is not the's what marketing companies have led most people to believe.

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