Enduring Love – A Happy Tale of Opposites
Stories from Dr Kirton, retold by Nicola Kirton
When my father worked at Hertfordshire University, he got a reputation as being a good person to go to with a problem.
It didn’t seem to matter what the problem was, however personal, or whether relevant to my father’s line of work.
One day, another professor from a different department, but whom my father knew well, unexpectedly knocked on his door. He wanted a bit of ‘personal advice’.
The professor concerned, Jamie McDonald, was an eccentric, charismatic and idiosyncratic man, renowned for his off-the-wall thinking, who happened to adore his wife, Kirsty. But things weren’t great at home and this was deeply worrying him.
All the usual problems which cause the break-up of a marriage were absent – no money worries, no children worries, no sexual issues (quite the opposite in fact). Yet, they seem to be arguing a lot and neither of them liked this.
My father asked what attracted the two of them in the first place – had that chemistry been lost perhaps? Jamie said he was attracted to Kirsty for lots of different reasons, but what he really valued was that she was stable, reliable, kind, organised and predictable – all the things which had been missing in his early life. However, the opposite was true for Kirsty – she found Jamie exciting, a bit risky, full of flare and a bit glamorous – very different from her more conventional, traditional upbringing.
On further discussion, it appeared that Kirsty was finding Jamie’s erratic behaviour very difficult to manage. She liked to run a tight ship at home, everything in its place, dinner on the table at 6.30pm (with the children) and with a good, sensible routine. However, it appeared that Jamie regularly forgot the time, missing dinner and the children’s bedtime story (which he loved to tell). Kirsty had had a long day by then and didn’t appreciate the lack of respect for her time, cooking and his negligence as a dad.
On the other hand, Jamie found it so frustrating to go into his home office and find that all of his reading had been ‘tidied up’ and thoroughly cleaned.
It may look like chaos in his work-den, but actually, there was a kind of Jamie-order to the piles of papers, books and articles. Also, although she didn’t think he should have a toothbrush on his desk, he found it very useful (for cleaning out the inside of his computer).
None of these things individually amounted to much. However, the cumulative effect over many years had left both of them being irritated by the very things which originally attracted them to each other. Kirsty didn’t want to be spontaneous about anything – and was certainly risk-adverse (which is what made her so stable and reliable); but Jamie loved to be able to drop everything and just do something out of the blue for fun (to hell with the washing up!!). Jamie also didn’t like being fussed over, tidied up after or instructed on how to behave – even though he clearly needed a bit of this.
My father considered the situation carefully. He felt that their individual, underlying problem-solving styles were at opposite ends of the spectrum and that after years of meeting in the middle, they were both finding it a bit tough to sustain. Although this wouldn’t be the only factor, he felt it was a significant one.
He noted that they still loved each other, they both wanted to continue to be married, they loved their children, but they just found their routine, daily living-together a wearing. But they were both willing to compromise and learn new things, so that they could save their marriage. Here was the solution my father proposed:
Some learning first:
- Jamie is a high Innovator by preference, and he needed to learn what it was like to be more Adaptive
- Kirsty is a high Adaptor by preference, and she needed to have insight of what it is like to be more Innovative
My father explained that these preferences are innate – you are born with them – and they don’t change. So, they both needed to accept the other person for who they were. As a result, they agreed to:
- Be more respectful of the other’s needs and preferences
- Remember and reaffirm what they valued in the other
Some practical steps second:
- Kirsty wasn’t allowed to enter Jamie’s den, nor his shed
- Jamie was to be tidy everywhere else – this is Kirsty’s domain
- Jamie had to be home for dinner on time and read the children’s bedtime story – except on a Friday, when he could take everyone out for a surprise
- Kirsty was to accept (occasional) surprise invitations out when presented with them
- Kirsty wouldn’t decide what Jamie was going to wear
I believe Jamie and Kirsty went on to have a diamond wedding anniversary.
If you are married to someone who has a very different problem-solving style from you, it will be noticeable (even if it was part of the original attraction). But as the years go on, it may become difficult to sustain and work around.
Insight into one’s own style, respect for the other’s style and humility to know you aren’t perfect, helps oil the wheels of a good relationship.
If you’re much more Innovative than your spouse, accept that they will tell you to be ready 15 minutes earlier than you actually need to be, because you are likely to be late and that they will want you to conform to the evening’s dress code.
If you’re much more Adaptive than your partner, accept that they will forget to call you when running late, and that they will do unexpected things and occasionally take risks which you find unacceptable.