It was past midnight and I couldn’t sleep, mostly because I was feeling bad about the argument my husband David and I had earlier that night. I wanted to do something other than lay in bed listening to David snore, so I tiptoed into our home office to look for something to read. (Our kids are terribly light sleepers—let’s just say they don’t get that from David.) In the darkness I stepped on a toy train and tripped over my desk chair before I managed to switch on the lamp. When I did, a rainbow colored packet sitting on David’s desk caught my eye. “PRIMARY COLORS PERSONALITY TOOL” it read.
My curiosity was peaked, because my husband is not the kind of guy who enjoys taking personality tests, and I wasn’t even sure where he’d picked up this particular worksheet. I picked up the packet and noticed that it was filled out—and that there was an extra copy that was still blank.
I had the vague notion that maybe if I filled out the blank copy, and then looked at David’s answers I’d have some kind of resolution about our argument that night. So I sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of milk and some animal crackers (snacks in our house tend to be of the children’s variety) and started answering questions.
Ten minutes later I was done and had discovered that I am predominately a “blue” personality, meaning that I have a strong need for order. One of the “relationship pitfalls” listed for the blue personality was that I have “a tendency to be a perfectionist.” This wasn’t news to me—I’ve known this since I was in the fourth grade and would spend way more time on homework than everyone else because I stressed out about each assignment being absolutely perfect. (I’ve become more relaxed since then, but it’s still a tendency of mine.)
What was news to me is how these tendencies affect my marriage. “This can make you and all those around you very unhappy,” the personality tool noted. Ouch. That was basically our argument earlier that night—me stressing out because I felt like our life wasn’t orderly enough, that life with two little ones and work on top of that is just too chaotic, that by the time the dishes were clean the sink was full again. Another weakness, the personality tool pointed out, is that I have a hard time relaxing when I feel like there are things that need to be done.
David on the other hand has the wisdom to recognize that there are and will always be things to do, so you might as well take a break when you need one and return to work later. But sometimes this makes me mad.
I dipped an animal cracker in my mug of milk and pulled out David’s personality tool, curious to see what I’d discover. David is predominantly a “yellow” personality, meaning that his primary need is for harmony. He likes order, too, but he can be content with a messy house as long as all the people in the house are happy. I think his peace-loving ways have a lot to do with his Amish-upbringing.
That’s when it hit me: David and I were in a bad cycle in which neither of us was giving the other person what he/she needed most. I needed order, but David’s laid-back nature meant that he didn’t always provide it. He needed harmony, but my perfectionistic nature meant that I was more likely to criticize and nitpick and point out all the ways that we needed to improve instead of giving David a smile, a kiss, or a compliment. In stressful situations I was more likely to bog us down with a pity-party, when I should have built us up with an attitude of thankfulness for the good things we do share.
With that realization I felt relaxed enough to sleep and crawled into bed next to David, still snoring. We’re a work-in-progress, but we get closer to understanding each other every day.