How to Accept the Things That Drive Us Crazy in a Marriage

art-0814-relWe spend most of our marriages trying to change our partners. Ironically, the most important change we can make is to accept more of the good but crazy-making things about each other…

In the spring of 1999, a film called Jerry Maguire left a permanent mark on pop culture, with three little phrases:

“Show me the money.”

“You had me at Hello.”

And, “You complete me.”

By the autumn of ’99, it had become my favorite movie, probably because I was broke and single. I wanted someone to show me the money. And I wanted someone to complete me. I met my wife that autumn. She was broke, too, but there was no question she completed me. Which is to say, she was the opposite of me in endless ways.

She gladly jumped out of planes; I deliberated about jumping out of the bathtub.

She loved to run; I loved to run to the couch.

She had one tattoo and plans for more; I avoided pain at all costs.

She was energized by a crowd; a party left me with an introvert hangover for days.

She was a feminist; I had once heard of feminism.

I panicked if I misplaced my car keys; she shrugged her shoulders when she misplaced her car.

You get the idea – she was a free spirit and my spirit had routines. She was the opposite of me in endless ways and, consequently, she was fascinating to me in endless ways. She drew me out of my shell, propelled me into a bigger world, and made me look at the stars instead of the ground.

The problem is, in most relationships, we begin by looking for someone to complete us, and we end up wishing we had someone who was identical to us.

When Opposites Don’t Attract

They say opposites attract. They’re right. We’re often attracted to the qualities in a lover that we don’t have in ourselves.

Opposites attract because, whether we know it or not, we are always seeking wholeness. 

And wholeness feels good at first. To feel completed is an intoxicating thing within the confines of a two-hour movie, and it’s an exhilarating experience within a budding courtship.

But wholeness through the seasons and in and out of years? That kind of wholeness isn’t romantic or intoxicating; that kind of wholeness is work. It requires compromise and sacrifice and the creation of something new, instead of the preservation of something old. Yet, over time, we prefer to preserve the old things within us.

We start to look at the new things they brought into our life as burdens and demands. We start to judge and criticize the ways they act and think and live differently than us. Instead of appreciating the differences, we start trying to eliminate them.

Over time, we’d prefer the ease of incompleteness to the toil of completion.

In the beginning, opposites attract; later, they repel.

When Opposites Complete Us

Several weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I walked out the door with my family. I was planning to drive my car to work, while my wife was going to take the kids to school in her car. We opened the garage door and stared at an empty spot. My wife had forgotten her car at work.

She shrugged her shoulders.

I didn’t shrug mine.

I loved that about her when we got married but, to be honest, for years, I was critical of it. I thought I was a better person because I was more organized.

We piled in my car and I drove us to her workplace. As we pulled into the parking lot, my son asked quizzically, “Momma, why did you leave your car windows down all weekend?” A good question. Especially because a major thunderstorm had rolled through on Sunday afternoon.

I used to get angry about such things. But these days, I try to remember. I try to remember I chose to spend my life with her because of such things.

To remember means “to recall to the mind by an act or effort.“ Perhaps the hard work of marriage is simply remembering. Remembering we chose this person because opposite things complete us.

You Had Me at Hello, But We’ll Have Us at Goodbye

Yes, marriage is about learning how to grow and adapt and become a new person while the old person dies. But the truth is, there are many things about us that will not change. And they shouldn’t. Because they are good things. I’m more cautious and organized. My wife is more carefree. Different, but good.

It’s in the mingling of those good things that completion happens.

My wife doesn’t complete me, and I don’t complete her. Together, we complete us.

Being completed isn’t about me; being completed is about we.

In marriage, we obsess about changing our partners. But the true challenge of marriage is to remember and, in doing so, to accept the good and beautiful differences that exist between lovers. Remembering gives birth to gratitude for the ways we are more powerful as two, stronger as a whole, and exponentially greater than the sum of our parts.

You had me at Hello.

But, if we can remember the Hello, at the final Goodbye, we will have us.  

Dr. Kelly Flanagan
About Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a licensed practicing clinical psychologist who writes regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again.

Comment Policy: All viewpoints are welcome, but comments should remain relevant. Personal attacks, profanity, and aggressive behavior are not allowed. No spam, advertising, or promoting of products/services. Please, only use your real name and limit the amount of links submitted in your comment.


Leave a Reply