Loving Past Irreconcilable Differences

I once heard someone define maturity as “being able to live in the tension.”

That concept has stuck with me.

Part of you wants something, but you have the self-control to hold back. Part of you feels uncomfortable with the unknowns in your life, but you are able to trust God. You disagree about something with someone you love, but you are still able to be friends with them. You have insecurities about a new role you’ve been given, but you step up and do it in spite of them.

It’s applicable to so many different situations!

But this week I realized that, in relationships at least, there is something even better than just “living” in the tension. It’s a little something called love.

There have been moments in my life when someone I am supposed to love (a friend, a teammate, or relative) has hurt me to the point that I just can’t take it anymore.

I don’t even know what the loving way to handle the situation is. I’m not sure what love means anymore. Love seems impossible. They have been some of the most gut-wrenching moments in my life. Because to me, love is the highest aim–it’s the ultimate goal.

So if I can’t love, I must be a failure.

I think that’s why I get worried about marriage sometimes. I worry that at some point in the decades of my marriage, I will find myself unable to love to my husband fully––to fully respect him or be on his side or just be sincerely kind––and then I would have failed, not only as a wife, but as a person. So then I get scared of marriage, because I don’t want to fail.

(Just to clarify, I don’t actually get to decide whether I’m a failure or not, God does. And He says His grace is always sufficient for me.)

But this week, my roommate of 2 months and I had a talk.

I learned some important things about love. It was one of those moments when you can actually feel yourself maturing before your very eyes.

At the beginning of the talk, I admit that I felt a bit hopeless.

I felt like I understood how married couples feel when they run into “irreconcilable differences.” You find yourself having the same argument/discussion again, and you think, “This is never going to change. We are never going to understand each other. We are never going to get along the way we should. This thing about me that I can’t change is always going to annoy you. And this way that you are that you can’t change is always going to bother me.”

(Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about marriage in that moment.)

But the craziest, most unexpected thing happened. Over the course of our 4-hour (!) conversation, something––or, more accurately, several things––did change.

By the end, we were not only laughing and sharing recent epiphanies and affirming things we liked about each other (that’s why the conversation was 4 hours), we had both found newfound hope and insight about communication and relationships.

It’s a mistake to assume a situation is hopeless, that talking won’t change anything, that a relationship can’t possibly “work.” You don’t know that. You actually don’t.

At the beginning of our conversation, I didn’t think talking would help. I didn’t even know how I felt, much less how to express how I felt. It seemed a little overambitious to try to clear up things between us when my own mind was a mess. But by the end of the conversation, I not only saw myself more clearly and understood my roommate more fully, I also understood love on a deeper level.

Me and my roommate are quite different.

Our personalities are opposite in many ways. And on top of that, we are from different cultures and grew up in different countries, not to mention that we are used to different family routines/household habits.

At the beginning of the conversation, I confess I thought to myself, “I think I just can’t be friends with people who have this personality.” (My instinct is always to run away from conflict.) But somewhere in the middle of the conversation, I began to see how powerful it is that we are so different. Not only can we learn from each other, but when we do make the effort to leap over our differences and figure out how to communicate love to each other, our unity is even more powerful, because it isn’t just based on convenience, it isn’t just something we naturally fell into, it’s a unity and love we fought for and gained.

Something my roommate emphasized during our conversation was that she loved me. As we were talking, we kept affirming that and coming back to that. And I realized that was the key.

In the past, I had conceded certain things in order to preserve the peace in our household.

But this time, while conceding those very same things, I saw those concessions as acts of love. I realized that by doing certain simple things (like taking out the recycling before it was overflowing) I could make my roommate happy. And I realized I wanted to make her happy.

It seems so obvious now, but it was a drastic shift in my thinking. Instead of pacifying someone or meeting certain standards in order to avoid being resented, I saw opportunities to make someone I cared about feel loved.

Now I understand why my old coworker said communication was the most important thing in a marriage.

At first, when you don’t know each other as well, you have to explain to each other what you are thinking and how certain things made you feel. It can be hard work having to talk through all that. But the work is all worth it.

Yesterday, my roommate randomly cleaned the bathroom, which is supposed to be my job. I was flabbergasted. Why? There has never been any confusion about that being my responsibility! If we hadn’t just had that 4-hour conversation, I might have assumed she was motivated by unhappiness with my handling of the responsibility (either trying to passive aggressively communicate that to me or out of  frustration, simply taking over). But she told me she just suddenly felt like doing it out of gratefulness and appreciation. I felt so loved!

Today, I separated and took out all the recycling (a responsibility we share) with that same heart. And I realized how much more fun it is to do chores when you are doing them as acts of love.

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After living in South Korea for over 7 years, Elizabeth is back in the States finding a new normal. Currently in seminary, she is enjoying unpacking questions of faith in a new context. Amidst the tension of brokenness and conviction, she continues to find grace. And above all else, she continues to pursue the God who inspires childlike wonder.

4 thoughts on “Loving Past Irreconcilable Differences

  1. Elizabeth, I know I say this every time but your blog is so encouraging. The Lord has used it numerous times to speak truth and transformation into my life! Thank you for sharing so honestly! Love you sister!!

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