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Incompatibility in marriage

Jacob Ninan

Many married people are using 'incompatibility' as an easy excuse for divorce. But many times in reality the problem may not be insurmountable incompatibility but unwillingness on the part of one or both of the spouses to make the necessary changes in their own approach to accommodate the differences in the other. Which two people can claim that they are both totally compatible with each other? We all are so different in many ways--temperament, family upbringing, spiritual maturity, educational level, financial background, intelligence level, skills, likes, dislikes, etc., even when are from the same race, language group, culture, religious background, etc. On top of all that, when we get married, one of us is a man and the other a woman--two people who couldn't be further different from each other, not only physically, which is obvious, but in the way we think, talk, respond to people and situations, look at life and people, and also what we expect from marriage! One would wonder how two such incompatible people can ever live together happily! But still many people do, and enjoy it! This is because God has made this so-called incompatibility to be a source of complementarity, where the spouses support each other. Where one spouse is weak or lacking, the other provides the support, and vice versa. (This is another reason why same sex marriages cannot succeed, because they cannot receive from their partners what they lack.)

But there is a real incompatibility that can disrupt a marriage, isn't there?
Yes, there can be. There is no denying that. In some extreme cases that may lead to divorce too. In many other severe cases incompatibility can cause a lot of heartburn which virtually takes away all happiness from the relationship. When we get married we give a promise and make a vow to our spouse to remain with her/him till the end of life, no matter what may happen. This commitment to each other is what provides strength and stability to the marriage, and incentive to the couple to do their best to tide over the many challenges that will come up during their married life. In other words, even when we find certain areas of incompatibility in our spouse after we are married, it is our responsibility to work on our own approach to those areas and to our spouse in such a way as to find resolution or, in severe cases, a work-around solution. If we take things in a mature way, we can also encourage our spouse to tide over the discouragement or disappointment when he/she discovered aspects of incompatibility.

Careful in selection
What this shows us is how careful we ought to be in the choice of our life partner before we decide to get married rather than denying the possibility of problems coming up later. Many young people say that nothing will happen to their marriage because they are so much in love with each other, God has ordained their marriage, etc. But that is being naive and unrealistic. There are bound to be challenges in any marriage, because we must remember that even in God-ordained marriages we are still man and woman, two psychologically incompatible persons, and differences are going to cause problems.

Among Christian boys and girls, unfortunately there is a common notion that as long as they are both born again Christians, everything will be just fine, and they overlook all other areas where they may be incompatible. This is a serious mistake. Certainly for a believer in Christ to get married to an unbeliever is sheer folly. God warns us about that (2Cor.6:14,15). To ignore this warning and to go ahead and get married to such a person is to throw all caution to the winds, and many are those who have suffered lifelong as a result.

But even for two Christians to get married without considering the serious areas of possible incompatibility is to knowingly ask for trouble. This may sound to be archaic in this modern world where race, language, culture, and other differences are overlooked in the 'global village'. But such differences are real, and they do have a serious impact on a couple's mutual understanding and communication even if they are both Christian. It is true that there are no such differences among Christians in God's eyes (Gal.3:28). That is to say that He treats all of us alike. But that does not remove the effects of these differences when two people from such different backgrounds live together and try to communicate in their marriage. Surely their Christian understanding and strength will provide help for them to meet such challenges, but the challenges will still be there, won't they? The problem is if the couple didn't anticipate such challenges when they got married thinking that since they were both believers everything would just work out fine.

Wrong compulsions in marriage
There are many pressures from within and outside people that drive them towards marriage, and as a result we can be hasty in making our choice. For example it is generally true that girls and young women feel very insecure till they get married. In their great eagerness to get married, they may yield to the first one that comes along, without bothering to see if those men are suitable to be their husband and if they are going to be happy with them in the long run. In many cases, girls who have been growing up in a dysfunctional family are waiting for the first opportunity to get out, and fall for the first man who shows interest. Obviously they are taking a huge risk, and one wonders how they would cope with the challenges that might come up later in marriage from the incompatibilities they failed to take account of before marriage.

It is also well known that boys and young men fall for beauty and charm and make the decision, without bothering to find out the person within that beautiful exterior. The Bible warns us not to make this mistake (Prov.11:22). Young beauty and charm will disappear with age, and what is inside his wife--her character, behaviour, personality--is what the man is left with. Another problem is that there is an unconscious urge in boys to 'conquer' the affirmation of girls. Such boys may also agree for a marriage impulsively without thinking of the long term commitments. Here again the suitability of a girl is not examined seriously but only superficially.

Differences and their impact
Depending on where they come from, people bring in different ideas, values, concepts, behavioural patterns, characteristics, priorities, assumptions, beliefs, etc., into their marriage. These differences make it more difficult for the couple to understand each other, and communications can easily get misunderstood. Communications between the spouses are the lifeline of any marriage, and communications are what can be used to restore relationships once they get broken, bring explanations when there are misunderstandings, and help the couple to understand each other's longings, desires, frustrations, disappointments, etc. If these are clouded or distorted by major differences between the two spouses, even small problems between them can get a snowballing effect and result in a total breakdown. If the couple is not able to recognise what is going on and deal with it, or if they don't seek for help, things can easily get out of hand. Even in the case of a couple where both are from similar backgrounds, the male-female differences and the family upbringing themselves can be serious sources of conflict if they are not understood, anticipated and taken into consideration. Imagine when other serious areas get added on top of these.

It is not to say that marriages where such incompatibilities exist are doomed to fail. Certainly not. We do have many examples of even inter-racial marriages succeeding. But aren't such differences serious enough to be taken into consideration when thinking of marriage?

It would be foolish to ignore different areas of incompatibility when considering marriage. That would be like deliberately asking for trouble. At the same time we cannot say that two people should be from the same background in every respect if they should get married. But this is something to be addressed seriously and taken into consideration in the process of deciding who to get married to. This would need getting to know each other for some time and seeking to understand each other's viewpoints, outlook, worldview, etc.

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