[This is the third and final installment of a mini-series on family and friends and how they relate to and spur on personal growth and self-understanding. Two weeks ago, I began by detailing the ways those closest to me have helped me discern what it is that I do best. Last week, I took it a step further and tried to explain the “why” that most motivates me to do those things in the first place — the “why” that bookends the “what,” so to speak. Today, before entering into our third section — On Work and Workmanship — I want to discuss the final piece that ties it all together.]
Years ago, Levi wrote a public letter to his wife and published it on their fifth wedding anniversary. Though well-intended, he should have thought it through a bit more. His wife is quieter and more concerned with their privacy than he is, and — given his profession as a memoir-style writer — she already felt as though her entire life had been on public display since she said: “I do.” His gift, as you might imagine, didn’t exactly go over the way he had hoped.
That’s part of what this is about.
The other part of what it’s about, though, is that Levi described his marriage back then in such a way that seems to resonate with the lessons every marriage (and, I think every friendship) must endure, as summarized in this question:
How can your thing and my thing become our thing?
I will say that, after twenty years of both marriage to and business partnership with my wife, the answer is not an easy thing to come by. The ego is a thick skin, and it’s no easy task to uncover what lies beneath. I’ve heard it said many a time that there’s nothing quite like marriage to teach a person just how selfish he is, and it’s not just some pithy saying. Cliches always exist for a reason.
I wrote a letter to Jeanette ( December 6, 2018) as I began to understand more about myself. Much (if not most) of that self-discovery is thanks to her. Here, at the risk of getting myself into the same trouble as Levi, is a part of that note:
These — good or bad — are all my things, and I’m not going to detail Jeanette’s, but I will stop to focus on that last line in light of what I know my wife excels at (which you might remember from a few weeks past): willpower and discipline.
The woman has to have willpower to put up with me, I suppose, and when I let down my pride, I know that she champions discipline and orderliness above and beyond anything that I’m capable of submitting for comparison, as well.
Her strengths compliment my weaknesses.
And, of course, vice versa.
We’ve worked harder than ever to understand one another better over the past two years, and that work has resulted in some of the most significant breakthroughs — yielded, if you will, the ripest harvest — as has anything in the two, married decades we’ve spent together.
Our time invested into the Enneagram, Strengths Finder, and How We Love — including the supplementary counseling and deep work we’ve pursued — has shown me just how vital a complementary view of our relationship is.
Where I tend to be a risk-taking, quick-starting and frenzied mess, Jeanette is my balancing opposite. Where I’m always throwing variables into the mix, she’s still trying to bring order to an ever-changing environment.
While I want to feel valuable, she wants to feel competent, and we have an opportunity to either provide that encouragement for or strip it from one another.
I’ve not always paid enough attention to fostering Jeanette’s strengths. To be honest, especially when it comes to our work together, I’ve too often and quite merely: given her the shit that I don’t want to do. The point is: dumping our “unwanted” tasks into the other’s lap is a far cry from figuring out what we’re best at — and might actually enjoy-and building a working and/or home environment that reflects our mutual respect for one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
At one point, in a season where I remember feeling particularly overwhelmed, I told Jeanette to manage my email inbox, and about the only good it did was to pay my overload forward. I shouldn’t have just given her all of my clutter to sort through — all of my work to try to figure out. Instead, I should have sought to recognize how we could work together so that she — who genuinely wants to help — might do so by using her strengths to make sense of it all.
These days, then, she’s in charge of the calendar. Doctors. Appointments. Maintenance. Shopping. Checkbooks. All-things-organization.
She shouldn’t be checking my inbox, she should be checking my schedule — telling me where to put things, how to move them around, when enough is enough and how to scale back from way too much.
I feel a constant, uncarriable weight to create opportunities for the family, for our marriage, for our livelihood. But I’m not good at plotting them out.
Every day, I spend hours thinking and talking to God about each member of our family. Wedding plans. Vacation plans. The life I want us to have. I think and pray at the spa, or late at night when everyone else is sleeping. My best “work” happens then — alone, and with the Lord. No interruptions. No phone or computer.
It’s a time protected.
And I’ve begun to realize that I need to protect more than just my time.
My days need to be protected.
My work needs to be protected.
I need to take a break from the constant, self-inflicted pressure to be everything to everyone. I need to allow other people’s strengths to shine through.
I’m great at formulating ideas, but Jeanette is excellent at implementation. If my thing and her thing are ever to become our thing, we need to work as a team and lean into one another’s strengths.
Jeanette and my family know me best, and my friends are a close second. I think this kind of complementary approach is necessary for any and every relationship worth investing the time to figure out what that give-and-take looks like.
Here we return to the same question I’ve been asking for the past three weeks: do we trust one another enough to listen and learn from the people closest to us?
Much of that process is having the humility to acknowledge the need, which isn’t particularly comfortable in a world where self-sufficiency is so greatly praised. But we must. The goal of marriage and relationship is not to conform the other into our image and likeness but to combine our everything into one.
My Thing + Your Thing = Our Thing
In Levi’s letter to his wife, he talks about how he couldn’t have possibly married a woman more different than he is and how — for years — he equated unity with uniformity. I believe he wrote something similar about our relationship in the forward to this book. Here’s an excerpt from his letter:
Jeanette and I have, historically, wished that we would just become more like one another. That is — as Levi said above — a massive law to live up to, especially when neither of us was created to be that way, at all. Recently, though, we’re starting to see how we might complement one another in a way that has brought more wholeness — more life and joy and intimacy — to our marriage than ever before.
A pioneer and a builder can be an incredible team. Much better than two pioneers who can’t implement their daydreams or two builders who don’t know what they’re building.
That said, to end this mini-series and our On Friends & Family section, I wonder — whether it is in your marriage or in your family of origin or in your friendships — how you might be able to see one another’s differences as a positive?
So often (and thus, unfortunately), “the other” is a threat. It doesn’t have to be that way, but the log has got to come out of your eye, first. We need to check our blind spots and respect one another.
How can you better listen to and learn from your friends and family? How can you better teach them what you know? How does the gold you’re able to share with one another, there, get paid forward in ways that benefit the world beyond the borders of those relationships?
What is your one thing?
Why is your one thing?
How can your thing and my thing become our thing?
P.S. If, at any point throughout the past three weeks in this section, you have found it challenging to nail down the answers to the questions that I’ve been asking, let me recommend two additional helpful resource, personally, and for others in this “inner circle” I’ve attempted to shine a light on:
As you can likely by now, I’m a fan of personality tests. This one, in contrast to most, will reveal not how you might better see yourself, but how you might better understand the way that others see you. Think of this as a foundation that supports “Your One Thing.” I’m willing to bet that it stands to supplement the answers you receive about what, exactly, it is that you do best, and — perhaps — even helps confirm why you’d care to do more of it, in the first place.
The second one is called Human Design. You can head over to https://www.jovianarchive.com/get_your_chart
This is what the Human Design System has to offer. Simply put, if you want to:
You have the innate ability to make choices that are in alignment with your authentic nature, and based in your personal Authority; this knowledge will empower you to live a fulfilling life in your unique way.
Human Design offers a map of your unique genetic design, with detailed information on both conscious and unconscious aspects of yourself. Using simple tools, it guides you in discovering your own truth. If you suffer from a lack of self-love or clarity about your purpose and the direction of your life, this system can help.