Would you like to put unnecessary and discouraging conflicts to rest for good?*
It’s pretty normal to find marriage frustrating.
Men and women are wired differently to begin with. On top of that, we’ve got temperaments, love languages, talents, needs, unresolved pain, fears, and all sorts of mysterious variations on what it means to be human.
Even healthy and devout Catholic marriages can unintentionally fall into stressful, repetitive patterns of conflict, which become so ingrained that the couple may seriously wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake.
Maybe, they wonder privately, I simply chose the wrong person.
The reason is that the dynamics of our day-to-day interactions are all-to-often based on misunderstandings of natural areas of talent and need.
Each person is wired by God in unique and purposed ways, but the clues to those underlying talents are often mis-read because we aren’t wired the same way. We don’t see the world the way they do, so we often fail to see what they see. And they fail to see what we see. And before you know it, we both feel very alone and possibly even tempted to find someone who does see.
This inability to see the world through each other’s eyes leads to damaging assumptions about each other, which lead to false conclusions and even accusations, tremendous pain, and we find ourselves battling despair, instead of experiencing the healing God intends.
The following complaints may be familiar to you:
- He’s not really interested in me.
- She doesn’t want to see what’s completely obvious.
- He’s just lazy.
- She’s always criticizing.
- He’s stuck in the past.
- She’s too needy.
Yet, studies show that we are actually attracted to the mate who is most likely to heal us! But all to often, we get into the weeds of a thousand misunderstandings because we aren’t really taught how to harness that healing power.
To do so requires a common language, a serious commitment to look for the best in each other, and an appreciation for how profoundly different we each can be: in the ways we think, feel, and act, but also in the important underlying needs God has woven into each “unique and unrepeatable soul.” (CCC 2275)
The Empathy® Story
In the Introduction to the book, Strengths-Based Marriage: Build a Stronger Relationship by Understanding Each Other’s Gifts, Alan Kelsey shares an experience that moves me every time I read it.
In a nutshell, a client of Kelsey’s named “John” has a life-changing epiphany in a session of strengths coaching.
Looking comparatively at his own and his wife’s CliftonStrengths® reports, he realizes that he’s been completely unaware of his wife’s deep need for emotional intimacy. He sees for the first time that their marriage has been a ten-year emotional desert for her because, by not seeing her need, he implicitly sent her the message, “I don’t see you.”
Overcome with regret, he breaks down, then calls his wife for an emergency meeting that transforms their rocky marriage into a beautiful one full of joy.
Kelsey wraps up the story with these words:
“Years later I asked John how his relationship with Susan was going and he said: ‘Alan, that single spring day did more to deepen and advance our marriage, more to heal our relationship, and more to strengthen our communication than anything else we have encountered. I could not be more grateful. It has established a language for our relationship that is present to this day, and I can’t imagine where we would be without it.’” (p. xvii)
And it all started with the recognition that one of his wife’s most dominant talents—Empathy®—was one of his least. So, it wasn’t natural for him to be able to perceive or interpret her emotional needs, while she was powerfully wired to notice the needs of others and meet them.
So, in spite of the fact that they were both “good” people who wanted to be happy together, without the help of the assessment, there would have been no common language for interpreting each other’s gifts. Understanding natural talent reveals a blueprint for an individual’s primary motivations and intentions, persistent needs, unique ways of perceiving, communicating, and experiencing life.
So, by cracking the code of each other’s natural talents, they were able to quickly understand each other, step into a fresh way of being, and embrace each other’s God-given design.
The beginning of the end of useless conflicts
Once we move into this new awareness, most of our prior conflicts become opportunities for greater intimacy and understanding, as we gain confidence in navigating this remarkable territory and experience new heights of appreciation for each other’s natural strengths.
This 2:43-minute coaching session with Alan Kelsey and a young couple is a fantastic example of how simple it is to use this information.
Notice that the husband and wife have suffered in their marriage because they misunderstood each other’s perspectives.
He is oriented toward the future, while she is oriented toward the past. They had been chronically stressed out, questioning each other’s motives and intentions at key moments when they most needed understanding. The strengths coaching got them moving toward a cooperative and mutually-appreciative place in their relationship, through a few simple insights.
And, in a situation like this, once things start to click and they feel they “get” each other, they will quickly rebuild trust and have a lot more joy in their life together.
In fact, they can both get a lot stronger in their own talents—and each other’s!
Later in Strengths-Based Marriage, Alan Kelsey talks about something called, “Spousal Transference.” This phenomenon is a way we can actually draw from each other’s strengths to operate at a higher level whenever we’re together. It’s fascinating and very simple.
For example, Alan Kelsey is both a CliftonStrenths® expert and a protestant minister, yet he confesses to being an insecure leader. Even though he’s got Achiever® very high, his quick mental processing gifts, known as “strategic thinking” talents, can flood his mind with too many options and undermine his confidence. He describes times when he draws on his wife Stephanie’s Belief® talent:
“So if I display insecure leadership, she leans in and lends me her unwavering faith. In those seasons I practice with her power, all the while getting stronger myself. I am a better leader because my wife has helped me get there. I can choose to let her uniqueness heal me, and it’s beautiful.” (p. 77) (emphasis added)
Do you see what’s happening?
He values her rock-solid faith, recognizing it as a God-given gift. So he draws from it, allowing her to support him in an area where he tends to struggle. And she can do the same with him, drawing from his strategic thinking gifts when creative solutions are needed, or when she’s faced with a problem and running out of options.
So, instead of being in conflict, they leverage each other’s gifts to become stronger as individuals and as a couple.
They don’t fault each other for needing support.
They take delight in completing each other’s strengths.
And whereas the young couple in the video were used to being in constant a tug of war between drawing wisdom from the past and seeking solutions in the future, they’re now able to appreciate each other’s perspectives to create more balanced approaches to their family’s life together!
Next week, I’ll be talking even more about how to affirm and leverage each other’s capabilities, for a stronger, happier marriage.
Leave me a comment or question in the chat!
NOTE: If you haven’t taken the CliftonStrengths® assessment, it’s a fast-track way to identify yours and each other’s talents, so your observations will automatically arise from a clear framework and shared vocabulary!
Also: I get nothing at all for recommending the CliftonStrengths® assessment or offering my professional discount, but if you’re interested in giving it a try, just email me: [email protected]
* Remember: If your marriage is suffering from serious issues, such as the wounds of abuse, addiction, mental illness, or infidelity, you should immediately seek the help of a licensed therapist who supports your values, to get all of the help you need and deserve.
- Maximize Your Catholic Marriage (part 6): Plan the best romantic dates ever! - February 14, 2022
- Maximize Your Catholic Marriage (part 5 of 6): How to affirm and leverage each other’s capabilities, for a stronger, happier marriage - February 7, 2022
- Maximize Your Catholic Marriage (part 4): Conflicts as Signposts to Connection and Healing - February 1, 2022