The List – Let Your Personality Override Your Responsibility

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records and marriage failures.

Has there ever been a time when your spouse was wanting you to change in some way and you thought, “This is just the way I am. You knew this when you married me.”?

The question is…does your inherent personality relieve you of a responsibility to change?


There is no doubt that spouses can have different personalities. Personality differences between spouses are common…

  • One spouse can be an introvert, while the other’s an extrovert.
  • One spouse can pay attention to details, while the other ignores the details.
  • One spouse can be a saver, while the other is a spender.
  • One spouse can be very cautious, while the other is full-steam-ahead.
  • One spouse can be quiet and reserved, while the other is boisterous and fun-loving.

It’s all a part of marriage.


Now, there’s nothing wrong with such personality differences. In fact, personality differences serve three purposes in a relationship:

  1. They draw us together. – Many couples feel they were attracted to one another because they were so much alike. But actually, it’s our differences, more than our similarities, that attract us to one another. When we’re dating, those differences feel refreshing and add spice to the relationship.
  2. They round us out. – Because our spouse is different than us, they help to provide what is lacking in our personality. Introverts need extroverts to get them out of their cave, while extroverts need introverts to help them learn how to be still and content with themselves. Spenders need savers. The cautious need the bold. Detail people need broad brush stroke people. You get the picture. Our personality differences help to round out the relationship.
  3. They grow us up. – Our spouse’s differences force us to approach things differently. An organized spouse can help a disorganized spouse learn to better organize their life. A spender can help a penny-pincher learn they can loosen their grip on money without being irresponsible. Our spouse’s personality serves as a tool to grow us in ways we might be deficient.


But it’s this last reason that can aggravate us. Typically, we don’t want to change. It’s too much effort. Besides, we think we’re fine the way we are. So we say something like: “This is just the way I am. You knew this when you married me.” But, there are two problems with these statements…

Just because you were this way when you were dating doesn’t mean you were showing it.

When we’re dating, we tend to show our best selves. We try hard to be what we think the other will like and want. Consequently, we reign in the parts of ourselves we feel might be undesirable.

But after we’re married, we stop trying so hard. We relax, and more of our true self begins to leak out. Consequently, as our spouse starts to see this, they try to get us to go back to the way we use to be. When that doesn’t happen, our spouse feels like they’ve experienced a bait-and-switch in the relationship and they get frustrated with us.

Just because this is the way you are doesn’t mean you should stay that way.

The statement, “This is just the way I am” confuses a right to be who you are with a responsibility to change for your spouse.

If our children were being unkind or unhelpful we would not let them get away with it because “it’s just the way they are.” We would fully expect them to tweak and change who they are and grow into something better. The same should be true for us as spouses.


It’s true that we all have a personality that is God-given, genetically based, and family influenced. And at its core, that personality will be fairly fixed. But, that doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to that personality. Just because you have a certain personality bent doesn’t mean that personality can’t be bent in a different direction. Everyone can make changes in who they are and how they act. It’s failing to do so that increases the odds of losing your marriage.

So the question is…how can you keep your personality from overriding your responsibility to love your spouse…and still be you?

Elevate their needs.

If you want to keep your personality from overriding your responsibility to love your spouse, elevate their needs ahead of yours. Note: I didn’t say in place of your needs. Your needs are important also. Just treat theirs as a little more important.

Some are afraid that if they do this, their spouse will take advantage of them. That is a possibility. But more often than not, your spouse will feel so special by you putting them first, they will want to make sure your needs are met also.

Subjugate your rights.

We each have rights in marriage. But too often, we spend more time fighting for our rights than we do fighting for our spouse’s rights. It is only when we sacrificially subjugate our rights for the sake of our spouse’s rights that we understand and demonstrate true and deep love.

But…I’m not suggesting you need to be a doormat. Nor am I suggesting that you have no rights in the marriage and your spouse can treat you however they want to. A marriage that is abusive, dismissive, and demeaning should never be tolerated.

Redefine a win.

In times of conflicting wants and needs, spouses tend to act like they’re on opposing teams and they easily fall into a win/lose mindset, where either their spouse wins and they lose or they win and their spouse loses.

Don’t forget that you and your spouse are on the same team. If you can facilitate a win for your spouse, you win also. The team wins! Is this always possible? No. But it’s more possible than you think. So help your spouse win and you will win in the process.


All of this is summarized in the words of the New Testament from Philippians chapter 2, verses 3-4…

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 ESV)

Did you hear it? “Look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It’s a “both/and” approach. This is extremely important because if you let your personality override your responsibility to love your spouse, you stand a chance of losing your marriage. It’s one of the things “on the list.”

Are You a Doer or a Waiter?

When your car needs serviced, do you take initiative to get it serviced, or do you wait, hoping your spouse will do it? Or, when there are dirty dishes in the sink, do you take initiative to put them in the dishwasher, or do you wait to see if your spouse will do it? If you and your spouse haven’t had sex in a while, do you take the initiative to make something happen, or do you wait for your spouse to initiate?


There are typically two types of people in marriage: doers and waiters.


Doers take initiative to get things moving and to make things better. Sometimes their intentions are good. They want to be helpful, they want to serve their spouse, or they simply want to make things better.

But sometimes a doer’s intentions are not good. They want to control the situation or make sure things are the way they want them, or they just don’t trust the other person to take care of something.


Waiters do exactly that…they wait for things to move and become better. Sometimes their intentions are good. They don’t want to overstep their bounds, they don’t want to leave someone out of a decision, or they don’t want to come across as controlling.

But sometimes a waiter’s intentions are not good. They wait because they are afraid of making a mistake, or they’re avoiding taking responsibility, or they don’t want to humble themselves to be the first one to move.


Every marriage has some combination of doers and waiters:

Combination #1 – Both are waiters.

There are some situations when it’s good for both spouses to be waiters. For example…

  • When money is tight, it’s good for both of you to be waiters when it comes to expensive purchases.
  • When you both have reservations about a major decision, it can be good for both of you to be waiters.
  • When life is trying to teach one of your kids a major lesson, it can be good for the two of you to be waiters and not rush in to bail them out.

But usually, having two waiters in a marriage can be a problem, because nothing gets done and each spouse blames the other for not acting.

Combination #2 – There’s one doer and one waiter.

This is the typical situation. And it’s not all bad.

Doing can be good when the doer has strengths in an area the other doesn’t. Or when the doer steps in to give the other a break. And waiting can be good when the waiter holds back out of honor and respect for the other. Or when the waiter pulls back so as to not enable the other’s lethargy.

The problem comes when one spouse does most of the doing and the other does most of the waiting. When this happens, the doer can either become controlling, or they can become resentful that they have to always take the initiative. And the waiter can become resentful because they feel controlled, or they learn not to take initiative and responsibility.

Combination #3 – Both are doers.

This final combination can be great if both spouses are looking out for the needs and the interests of the other. This can provide for a caring, well-kept relationship.

But when both spouses are doers because they like things their way, or they don’t trust the other, then the marriage turns into a competition and a battle for control.


No matter whether you’re a doer or a waiter, learn to stretch yourself and grow in your marriage.

If you’re predominantly a doer, then teach yourself to wait more, allowing your spouse more involvement and collaboration. You’ll probably need to wait longer than feels comfortable, and you’ll need to invite your spouse into the process. But don’t fall for the old “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done” routine. Not everything hinges on you.

And if you’re predominantly a waiter, force yourself to take more initiative. Don’t take a lot of time to think about it. Move more quickly than you usually do. Your spouse may not be used to you taking the initiative. It may even feel like an imposition to them at times. But they will get used to sharing the initiative.

A good marriage requires spouses to smoothly shift back and forth from doing and waiting. But, whether you’re a doer or a waiter, both of you should strive to be a doer for the other. Marriage is at its best when both spouses are trying to out serve the other.

So, doers and waiters…unite!

Marriage Is Like A Dented Fender

A few weeks ago, I had a fender bender coming home from work. It was a very minor fender bender. No one was hurt. There was only a small amount of damage to my car and no damage to the other car. We didn’t even have to call the police.

I was glad that the damage was so minor, but my car had been in pristine condition up until this point. Now there was this dent in the front of my car for everyone to see.

I became a little OCD about it. Every time I walked to my car, I would stop and look at the dent. When I went into the garage to get something, I would look at it. I was beginning to fixate on the dent.

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