When asked to reveal their secret for 43 years of a happy marriage, a couple looked at each other and smiled. “We let our differences complement each other,” they said.
Yet it comes as a surprise to many that “to complement” another person does not mean “to be the same.” It means “to complete.” This couple had recognized their striking differences, faced them, and embraced them.
People claim to value individuality. Yet ironically, many yearn secretly for the security of uniformity. That’s one big reason differences can drive people apart. The key to success lies in how you view your differences with others. Will they be a source of competition … or will you let those differences complete you, as did the couple in our story?
When Do Differences Mean “Let’s Compete”?
Opposites attract. We’ve all seen the introvert who is attracted to an extrovert, for instance. But before long, those differences that first attracted you in a relationship may soon make you uneasy, frustrated, or even irritated. You may clearly see what is wrong with the other person or even deep down, you may be afraid you don’t fit in or don’t measure up. We are more comfortable when others are like us. Differences challenge our status quo.
Those challenges to our comfort zone can lead us to judge others’ differences, even questioning their value, as a means to validate ourselves. Competition sets in. Our way is the way to be! Tension rises further as we seek to change the other person to become like us.
The truth of the matter is that we are not all supposed to be the same. Romans 12:6 explains, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” Differences between people are God’s idea. They’re a gift, not a problem to be solved or a contest to be won.
“To Complement” means “To Complete”
The biblical way to view differences is to identify and value what each individual offers to the whole. Consider a track and field meet. Its diverse events require diverse skills. One athlete on a particular team excels at distance running; another is gifted in the shot put; yet another competes well in the long jump. A single team member cannot win every event in the entire meet on his own. Together, members’ skills complement one another and complete the team.
In the same way, individual strengths complement partnerships and complete them. A quiet husband opens up easily with his vivacious wife. Meanwhile, his constancy steadies her. A visionary but disorganized staff leader relies heavily on an orderly administrative assistant. Two managers thrive in a creative balance, one’s snap decisions tempered by the other’s methodical approach.
Take a relationship reality check: are you fighting differences for the security of uniformity?
When it comes to your spouse, a family member, or a team member, you can oppose their differences and compete to maintain the status quo. Or you can embrace the opportunity to value others’ strengths and let them complete you, bringing balance to your relationship.
Compete or complete. Which will you choose?