Do you know how to help your spouse rest, recharge and find the energy they need to live well tomorrow? Or, on the contrary, are you rather the kind of partner who tends to draw from their spouse the last fragments of vigour that remains in them?  

My wife and I will often have a certain type of conversation, late at night, which inevitably ends in a conflict. "Of course!” some of you will say, exasperated. And with good reason, I grant it. Starting a discussion around 10 p.m. is for many a direct way to disaster. After a long day with the children, my wife has difficulty keeping her eyes open. And I follow her closely. But we still share the desire to talk for a few minutes before the day ends. And rare are the days when we find time before this late hour.

It is then that I commit, in my moments of inadvertence or egocentrism, the fatal error: I share my reflections of the day. This may seem quite innocent, but if it does, you are surely a person like me. I am ready to start a deep discussion at any time of the day. My wife is not. My wife, you see, is extremely introverted. This means that she needs time alone to recharge her batteries before answering my questions, dreaming about the future or thinking about new ideas. Since she currently spends most of her time with our three wonderful boys of 0, 2 and 4, you can imagine the state of her physical, emotional and spiritual batteries at the end of the day. Looking for a deep interaction with her at these times is like hoping to hear a concerto from a Casio piano with exhausted batteries.

I realize now, that to love my wife begins, and is completed, by sacrifice. As long as it is done without effort, it remains mainly love of self. To find out about the personality of your partner and their specific emotional needs is to take an intentional step of love that will bring back returns that you will benefit from for the rest of your lives. Let us first examine the distinctions between introverted and extroverted persons, and then the ways of loving your spouse's specific personality.

Time alone / Time with others

The first big difference between introverts and extroverts is found in how they find mental and emotional rest. The introvert needs time alone. If she does not have the opportunity to be alone, during important moments she will not be able to fully engage and enjoy the time with others. The extroverts, in contrast, have almost no need for these periods of solitude. In fact, it is the constant stimulation of social interactions that fills them with energy.

Internal / External

The second contrast is in how information is managed. Extroverts like to analyze information in groups and aloud: "I just had an idea! Why not get started right away in a brainstorming session?” Why not? Because your colleague, friend or spouse may feel drowned under what will be a deluge of information for him! When confronted by a new idea, decision or problem to be solved, the introvert needs time to process the information and formulate an opinion on his own, before returning to his spouse to deliver his thought.

Alone / Group

The third distinction is related to the social interactions themselves. Seeing groups of people, attending parties and participating in major events recharges the batteries of the extrovert. This is exactly the opposite for the introvert. It is therefore necessary that the introverted person has been able to prepare and charge his batteries before taking part in these things.

On the other hand, it should not be assumed that introverts do not like people, or even that these people do not have good social skills. Anyone who knows my wife knows she is infinitely better than me on this side! This is actually often a problem for several introverts, especially those who like to please others. Since they seem so happy to see people and are so welcoming, you may not realize what they can live inside. For the less intimate relationships, this illusion is generally maintained. But not in a marriage! When the last guest has left the house following a sudden invitation, woe to the poor husband who has invited them without notifying his wife beforehand!

Reject false perceptions

For many couples, the first step towards greater harmony in their relationship is to sort out the truth from the lies about their own identity and perception of the other. My friend Mark recently told me that it was only a good fifteen years after his marriage that he realized the great personality differences that existed between him and his wife, Lanette. Up to this point he had maintained the false perception that they were not the "opposites" fascinated by each other as it often happens in couples. This, despite the fact that they react to most situations completely differently!

Whether you are newlyweds or just about to celebrate your golden wedding, it may well be that you still have illusions about yourself and your spouse. Being yourself is the work of one life, as much as learning to know another person without assigning on him/her our projections. But the more we put aside the unfounded thoughts about ourselves and our half, the more we will be able to come together to find a life strategy that allows everyone to recharge his batteries in the way that suits him best. 

Put your spouse’s needs before your own

For my wife, Selene, and I, as we began to realize our differences and the needs that accompany our respective personalities, we sought together ways to match them. This is not the easiest thing to do, since on many levels it quickly became obvious that it would be impossible to find a win-win solution. Someone would have to deprive themselves so that the other person could benefit. The most sensitive example for me is at the level of my persistent desire to want to speak immediately about everything that comes through my head. For me, any subject can easily turn into existential reflection.

But now I realize that if I approach any subject without warning, I will place my wife under a yoke of pressure and guilt: the pressure to respond without the time for reflection she needs and the guilt not to be able to interact with me as I wish. It is cruel and selfish. And I did it often.

What I am trying to do now is to embody the spirit of love and humility manifested by Jesus and reported by the apostle Paul in the epistle to the Philippians: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) 

With this attitude in mind, I can stop and consider Selene's needs before mine, although I sometimes have difficulty understanding these needs and this forces me to postpone the satisfaction of my own need. On the other hand, when this principle of love and mutual preference is practiced reciprocally by both partners, it allows not only the existence of equity within the couple, but also the growth of sacrificial love by example of Jesus.

Celebrate your differences

Unity is an enviable situation within every relationship, especially marriage, because no other relationship unites the mind, soul and body in a similar way. But although unity is strength, it must be remembered that this force does not depend on agreement at all points or similarity of opinion between the two parties. In fact, like two magnets, or two pieces of Velcro, it is the different qualities of the two parties that give them what they need to create a strong and lasting bond.

It is the same thing that happens when a man and woman, very different from each other, unite for life and choose to sacrifice their preferences in order to see each other grow and flourish according to the specific needs of his personality. They use their respective traits and forces to help the other in places where it is weak. They help the other when she feels vulnerable. And instead of distancing themselves from each other when a trial or frustration arises, their reaction is rather to say, "What can I do to help you overcome this challenge? And the bond that unites them is strengthened.

Loving one's spouse requires sacrifice, perseverance and confidence that our investment will bear satisfying, long-term results. But not all returns will come only in the years to come. To invest in understanding the needs of one's spouse can save us from conflicts this very evening. And we all have much better things to do at 10 p.m. than to quarrel.

Jeremy Favreau is a writer and creative lead at Power to Change - Students. Passionate about big questions, he is always ready to talk about the gospel, the culture and their countless meeting points. He and his wife Selene live in Montreal and are the parents of three boys. 

© 2016 Focus Famille. All rights reserved. 

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