Over the last few days I’ve witnessed the same marital phenomena on four occasions. In each situation the wife and the husband had very different personalities. Of course, there's nothing unusual about that in it of itself. While roughly 80% of people in the USA marry someone who is similar to them in ethnicity, age (within 5 years), physical attractiveness, socio-economic status, and values, a large number of people marry someone dissimilar to themselves in personality or temperament. Theoretically, by marrying someone of similar background we accomplish a degree of familiarity that gives us comfort, but by marrying someone different in personality we “balance” ourselves in some ways.

So, it’s not unusual to see that mates are very different while being very much alike. In my business I try to notice both similarities and differences, but I especially pay attention to the differences. The simplest method for evaluating differences (there are many, as you might imagine) is by evaluating two aspects of behavior:  

1. Does the person tend to process before acting or act before processing?

2. Does the person seem reserved and a little more difficult to get to know or does s/he seem open, affable, and easy to get to know?

This methodology has existed from roughly 300 B.C. so it’s nothing new or novel. It does, however, work rather well in most cases. With those four criteria we can derive four basic temperaments. I call them: Commander, Communicator, Completer, and Calculator.

It would take many more pages than I have here to describe these temperaments and interactions. But let me address one small but important matter. It has to do with a common marital pairing: The Commander and the Completer.

The Commander tends to be a competitive person who is bottom-line-driven with a direct, let’s-fix-it-now approach to life and a strong ego. 

The Completer tends to be a laid-back person who likes to think things through before acting, avoid conflict when possible and can be described as family-oriented, traditional, and loyal. You likely already see that these two temperaments paired together can lead to some unhappy situations.

Commanders will take risks. Completers hate risk and want security. Commanders want to fix things now, directly and bluntly. Completers want to leave it alone for a while and, if forced into conflict they aren’t ready for, will often resort to passive/aggressive behavior.

This pairing can bring about many problems when the husband is the Commander and the wife is the Completer. But, in all four situations I witnessed recently, the problems were exacerbated because the wife was the Commander and the husband was the Completer. She wanted to address things immediately, communicate her thoughts bluntly, and force her husband to solve everything right now which in her estimation could be done if he would just do what she asked. He, on the other hand, wanted to stay very calm, think things through for a while and in some cases ignore the problem long enough for it to take care of itself.

In these situations the Commander gets frustrated and perhaps even feels vulnerable because her Completer won’t stand up in face-to-face combat to resolve matters. In turn, the Completer feels disrespected, badly treated, and walked on. Usually, the Commander gets more forceful and strident as a problem remains unresolved while the Completer gets quieter and more reserved as he starts building a wall to protect himself from the Commander’s intensity. Sound familiar?

Why is this interaction between husband and wife particularly problematic when the husband is the Completer and the wife the Commander? I’m not familiar with all the cultures in the world, but I’ve lived long enough in this country to understand ours. Americans tend to react negatively to strong, intense women because our culture expects the man to be the leader and the woman to be the follower. Yes, that is changing but it’s still true in many situations. And Biblically-speaking, husbands are indeed called to be the spiritual heads of the family.

So, as much as it hurts for either partner to be forceful toward the one who doesn’t share the same forceful temperament, it seems to be much more painful if it is the husband experiencing force from his wife. Culturally, even religiously, he sees himself as the leader and feels somewhat emasculated if he perceives she is usurping his responsibility. 

In each situation, I experienced great difficulty counseling the wife to stop degrading her husband through verbal attacks, countenance, and tone of voice. It appeared that at least in these four cases, each wife had lost respect for her husband because he wouldn’t stand up to her strong personality and deal bluntly and directly with their problems. When I tried to explain that this forceful approach didn’t fit his temperament, she replied that it should.

Does this mean that these Commander wives are insensitive? Well, it depends. Commanders can be insensitive to the effect their words have on others but extremely sensitive to anything said in reply and are prone to anger.

Does this sound like woman bashing? I hope not because that’s not my goal. It usually takes two to create marital discord. And I’ve seen some of the very same problems with Commander husbands and Completer wives. It just seems that when the roles are reversed, the problems often intensify.

So what does a couple in this situation do to become happy? While no one can fix marital discord in one, brief article here are some basic truths that apply to all couples when dealing with their differences:

1. Understand your own temperament and the temperament of your spouse.

2. Understand what not to do when communicating with your spouse.  

3. Understand what to do when communicating with your spouse.

4. Learn and use a system of compromise that leads each of you to receive what makes you happy.

5. Follow through on this new understanding and methodology for the rest of your life.  

If these truths are properly understood and applied, couples typically won’t end up in therapy or counseling. Often, all it takes is some careful study of your spouse to figure out what works best. And those who do find themselves in counseling can rectify their problems through an educational process. I know. I’ve seen it work repeatedly over the last decade.  

The bottom line: It’s important to realize why your spouse reacts the way s/he does in certain situations. Is she feeling attacked? Is he? Is he feeling disrespected? Is she feeling unheard? Is one feeling overwhelmed with details and just wants the bottom line?

When we put ourselves in the place of the other in an attempt to understand, we often will find the best way to interact and negotiate so that feelings aren’t hurt and misunderstandings don't take place. So strive to know why your spouse reacts in certain ways to what you say so that you can communicate in new ways that show respect, love and kindness.

Not only is it a more effective way to communicate, it is a more Christ-like way to communicate.

"...live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Ephesians 5: 2


Read about more about the four temperemants in Joe's new book Your LovePath (to be released in Jan. '09).

Joe Beam is a best selling author and an internationally known marriage expert. He founded LovePath International, an organization that works to save marriage relationships from separation, divorce and relationship problems. If your marriage needs help, please visit http://www.lovepathinternational.com.