Saturday, November 29, 2014

Understanding Each Other

Over the years, Alex and I have greatly benefited from learning about our own and each other's temperaments, love languages, personality styles, etc.  It has helped us to remember that just because I am a certain way, just because I see the world in a particular light, just because I have this or that preference, doesn't mean that everyone does.  With that understanding comes an ongoing attempt to try to cater to the other person, so that our relationship is a give-and-take.  These insights have been so enlightening for us, that we try to share what we have learned with anyone and everyone who will listen.

We've taken personality-type quizzes while in the Army, on spiritual retreats, and through job enrichment workshops. But our passion for understanding each other started when we attended a marriage enrichment retreat.  (However, this does not mean that these insights are somehow limited to only romantic relationships!)

While on our WorldWide Marriage Encounter weekend, we learned that I am a Thinker and Alex is a Catalyst.  (The other two personality styles described were that of Helper and Organizer.) It was eye-opening for me to understand that there is a reason why Alex tends to do or say things to annoy me - this only happens when he's bored and trying to get a reaction just to have some fun with it.  He doesn't mean for it to be disrespectful.  This is actually a useful skill when it comes to getting out of a rut of some kind, be that social or work-related.  Catalysts make things happen.  If nothing is going on, invite a Catalyst, and things will start to happen!  Ever since making this discovery, I no longer let it get to me when he tries to get on my nerves, because now I know that that isn't his intention at all.  In fact, whenever he starts to do something that causes an annoyed reaction in me, I'm now able to step back and call him on it: "you're being a Catalyst".  We have a good laugh about it and a potential argument is dissolved before it begins.  Alex, on the other hand, is able to understand that whatever he asks me, I need to think about it first.  Whatever he wants me to try to do, I'll need to think about it first.  He understands why I am not spontaneous - that would take all the fun out of thinking about it first!

Another thing we learned on our weekend that we had previously read about in a book: There are five love languages that we utilize when considering how we express our love for others, and how we interpret others' love for us.  Gifts, acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation, and physical touch are different ways we can show someone that we care about them.  If two people speak the same love language (so to speak), then their mutual expressions of love are pretty effortless.  Each knows what the other wants because it's what they want, too.  But when they speak different love languages, most people do not consider the fact that just because I like something, someone else may not.  My primary love language is words of affirmation.  I need to hear praise, compliments, encouragement.  I actually need to hear or read these sentiments in words. It is not enough to imply it for me.  I do not feel accepted, appreciated, or loved if these words don't come sincerely and frequently.

Alex, on the other hand, speaks Acts of Service.  He knows he is loved when someone does something for him.  And serving others is how he expresses his care as well.  He will go out of his way if need be to run an errand, do a chore, help in whatever way he can.  This action is how he shows he cares.  The words to him are unnecessary.  Whereas I like to voice my love for him, but never connected mundane tasks like doing the dishes with an expression of my love.  Thanks to this realization about the different love languages, I have started to make a point of doing things I don't like to do but need to be done, because they now carry a special meaning.  They're not just chores anymore, but expressions of my care for Alex.  This knowledge makes the task much more pleasant for me, and Alex gets a steady dose of affirmation that I care about him.  To a lesser degree, we enjoy quality time and physical touch as well, but luckily neither of us is big on gifts as an expression of love. (I say luckily because when one person speaks Gifts and the other does not, a lot of arguments about "wasted" money can ensue. When both or neither speaks Gifts, there isn't this problem.)

Our temperaments are another key to understanding each other.  We read about the four temperaments - Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, and Melancholic - in a book. It was after reading about these four temperaments that I realized I could apply this information to any relationship, not just my marriage.  It was no surprise to me that I am Melancholic - this would follow if I'm a Thinker according to the previous assessment.  Alex is a Sanguine - a friendly, happy-go-lucky life of the party.  Again, makes sense for a Catalyst to always be looking for a good time!  And then I read the section about Cholerics and saw my mother.  Suddenly, I began to understand why we often butted heads.  Apparently, the most difficult temperament for a Melancholic child to have in a parent is Choleric!  I'm overly sensitive - Cholerics are the least sensitive of the bunch.  Therefore, I take every little thing personally and dwell on it (remember, I'm a Thinker! That's what I do - I think, overthink, psychoanalyze every comment, gesture, action.)

One of the latest contributors to our wealth of knowledge about how different personalities can better get along comes from a parenting book: Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.  I ordered the book when Maya was about 4 months old, suspecting that she may be "spirited", a euphemism that basically means having more challenging behavior.  To my surprise, as I started reading the fascinating descriptions of what a spirited child is like, why, and what strategies can be helpful in working with - rather than against - a spirited child, I started to see myself in the role of spirited child!  No one ever talks about spirited adults, but it makes sense that spirited children grow up to be spirited adults!  So what can be expected of a spirited person? The aspects that apply to me include: a negative first reaction, slow to transition, intense reactions, sensitive, persistent, perceptive, serious and analytical mood.  Two other criteria are common among spirited folks: high energy and irregularity in bodily functions (sleep, hunger, bathroom breaks). Maya seems to fit the description of a spirited child after all.  For instance, we cannot get her on any sort of sleeping schedule. Her bedtime can vary by two or more hours, regardless how we try to finagle her naps. But she warrants her own post!

Let me flesh out how these attributes look in me.  A negative first reaction is pretty self-explanatory. Whenever I am asked to try something new, for instance, my immediate reaction is no.  I often come around to a yes, but for someone who doesn't know this about me they may give up after the first try. Similarly, I'm slow to transition to anything new.  It takes me longer than most people to feel comfortable in any new endeavor. I have strong (intense) reactions to my emotions, both positive and negative.  Some may say that I "overreact" because of this.  (Just ask Alex how I react to something I find very funny!) I'm also sensitive, so I experience my emotions more deeply than many others.  If I'm sad, I'm automatically very sad.  If I'm upset, I'm quite angry. I am persistent when I get fixated on wanting to do something.  This can be good in that it keeps me from quitting too easily.  Then again, it can be bad in that I may come across as stubborn and unyielding. I'm more perceptive than others, too.  I notice things others don't give a second thought to.  I have an eye for grammatical errors (don't call me on any typos here!), I notice sexist language.  I observe subtle facial expressions and intonation in people.  As a whole, I tend to stay serious and analytical, which makes sense if I'm always thinking about what I notice!

Another somewhat less recent addition to our repertoire has been the Called and Gifted workshop and small group discussions that followed.  Alex and I both went through the workshop at our previous church last year, before I was pregnant with Maya.  Then I went through it again this year, and followed up with 7 weeks of small group discussions.  The idea behind the Called and Gifted workshop is that God gives different people different gifts that He intends for us to use in order to share His grace with other.  These are different from talents, which are merely things we are good at. Charisms are skills we are meant to use for the benefit of others.  We can't help but share them, and they're bound to have positive results when used in the correct spirit.  There are many possibilities, some not even included in the inventory of the workshop.  My most likely charisms are writing, teaching, knowledge - all in line with the other assessments that indicate that I'm a melancholic thinker who is perceptive, intense, and sensitive.  Alex, on the other hand, suspects his charisms include service (which makes total sense since his love language is acts of service).

With this background information, in a future post, I will try to delve into some of my other relationships in light of the differences between us.