Most strong-willed women handle marriage the way we do almost everything else — we have the capacity to bring out both great passion and great friction. We're rarely indifferent, and we don't usually suffer silently. There are exceptions, but in general our husbands receive clear opinions and reactions from us most of the time, whether they like it or not. Since we bring strength and purpose to other areas of our lives, it makes sense that God can use strength and purpose in our marriage as well.
How can being a strong-willed woman strengthen your marriage?
When I ask women what their husband likes best about their strong-willed nature, they share similar answers. The most popular answers have to do with how fiercely loyal we are when it comes to commitment and dedication, and how we don't quit just because things get difficult or inconvenient.
We're committed, loyal and we'll fight for our marriage. Those are good strengths to possess. However, as we know too well, the desire for a great marriage that honors God doesn't always translate easily into day-to-day reality.
How much conflict is normal?
"Do you think everyone has as much conflict as we do?"
My husband's question caught me by surprise. "We don't have that much conflict," I protested.
He nodded vigorously. "Yes. We do. See? We're even arguing about not having conflict."
"This isn't arguing," I objected. "It's discussion, normal conversational discourse."
He shook his head. "Normal for you, maybe, but not for me."
Jack likes things to go smoothly and predictably. He has boxes and categories and expectations. He analyzes, processes and moves at his own pace. But I have no boxes; I'm more spontaneous and intuitive, and I definitely want everyone else to move at my pace. This isn't just a gender issue — some men are more like me, and many women are more like Jack. But the point is, when two people who are so different from each other get married, there's bound to be conflict — that's a normal part of living together. But when you factor in the trait of being a strong-willed woman, the definition of normal shifts significantly. Many of us learn best when we argue, preferring to wrestle with issues by way of verbal fencing — "iron sharpening iron" (Proverbs 27:17).
A lot of us marry a man who's drastically different from us because at first his perspective seems refreshing. We're drawn to opposites because we sense the need for complementary strengths, and because we admire a man who has the abilities we lack. But on a day-to-day basis, no matter how much we love him, it turns out not to be that refreshing. After all, we're living proof that our way works — and it's often hard to convince a strong-willed woman that she shouldn't use her way!
It's like the design of our body. God designed us to have a right hand and a left hand. We wouldn't get much done if we used two right hands or two left hands — we need one of each, with a very different perspective and approach. Suppose the right hand did convince the left hand to be the same as the right? Very quickly we'd discover that we can't accomplish much at all. We're unique for a reason, but we need each other's strengths to be a good team.
Conflict in marriage is normal. But if you sense that your marriage has an abundance of conflict, it may be time to evaluate how much your strong will might have to do with it. To help you have less conflict and more cooperation, consider the following suggestions.
Keep your sense of humor
One of the best ways to keep your sense of humor when your husband is driving you crazy is to remember the he doesn't usually annoy you on purpose. It might seem like that sometimes, but the two of you see the world from very different perspectives, and you're typically doing things the way that makes sense to you. We can't always remember this in the heat of the moment, but with practice, we can reduce the number of times we jump straight into an argument before we stop to consider that he may just be doing what comes naturally.
Ask more questions and issue fewer statements
Early in our marriage I told Jack, "If you can ask me a question instead of telling me what to do, it almost always improves my cooperation level." Then I gave him some examples, such as instead of saying, "I can't believe you just did that," try, "Is that what you meant to do?" Or instead of saying, "Don't miss that left turn," try, "Do you want to turn left here?"
I know — as you read this you may think, I can see right through that approach — I know he's saying things that way just to get me to cooperate with him. Well, what's wrong with that? When Jack uses questions this way, it's true that I quickly recognize what he's doing, but I'm happy that he's making the effort. It means he's going out of his way to say something in a way that helps me understand and accept it. But it isn't just how my husband needs to respond — it's how I need to respond, too. Instead of throwing out a demand at him, he cooperates better with me when I offer him that same respect.
What makes it worth the effort?
One of the most encouraging sentences Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott offer in their book The Good Fight is this one: "Couples who stay happily married disagree just as much as couples who get divorced, but they have learned how to use those disagreements to deepen their connection."
It may take some time, some trial and error, and maybe even some counseling, but strong-willed women are well equipped to stay committed to marriage for the long run. We don't just quit.
The best part of all? We serve the Overcomer, and when we stay close to Christ, He fills in the gaps of our wisdom with grace and understanding. You just can't get better than that!
Cynthia Ulrich Tobias is a popular presenter at workshops, classes and seminars, and she's a best-selling author of nine books including You Can't Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded).