I first heard the phrase “Different Not Wrong” from a marriage group I attended. It was based on a book, “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. While I can’t endorse all of the material in the book, I like the idea of “Different Not Wrong.” One of Dr. Eggerichs’s central ideas is that men and women hear and interpret things differently, but that neither perspective is wrong, it’s just different.
In my first marriage, I thought that the most important predictor of happiness in marriage was how “alike” we were. That it was important that as a couple we “agreed” on everything, otherwise, somehow we weren’t compatible and therefore couldn’t be happy with each other.
Dr. John Gottman, the renowned relationship expert, shows in his research that 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. What we need to do as mature people is “manage conflict rather than avoid or attempt to eliminate it.”
Therefore: Conflict is unavoidable. It’s what we do with the conflict that makes or breaks our relationships.
In most unhealthy adult relationships, there is usually an imbalance: One person is dominant and the other passive. That means that one person tries to control the relationship and the other person acquiesces to that control. Many times, this is done by degrading someone else’s differences rather than celebrating them.
To have healthy relationships we must value the differences in other people. We must understand that our perspective is only the only perspective. Often when we approach people we expect them to conform to our way of doing life. We expect that they:
-Must agree with us theologically
-Must agree with us politically
-Must have the same type of work ethic/ambition that we do
-Must approach the tasks of life as we do; i.e. organized, free form or formal and rigid
-Must enjoy the same hobbies that we do; i.e. hiking, boating, sports whatever.
Now obviously when we are dating and considering a spouse it is of paramount importance that you agree on some things, i.e., faith, how to handle money, how to parent kids, etc. But even within the implied agreement, there are going to be different approaches and values.
You both may agree that faith is important, but one person values high church and the other a low church style.
Furthermore, anybody who has kids knows that we can’t and shouldn’t try and control what they think and believe. We can share our values with them, but as independent individuals, they must be allowed to interact with the world in a way that is consistent with their personalities. Our job is to raise them as best we can, not to conform them to our beliefs and behaviors. We are to celebrate their God-given identity even if it is different from our own.
Different personalities Process Life Differently.
The DiSC personality test is a wonderful model which helps to describe the four main behavioral styles of individuals. This test shows how different personalities interact with the world around them. The first task of learning “Different not Wrong,” is to identify our primary style, then we can begin to recognize the styles of those around us and hopefully interact with each other with more grace and understanding.
-D is for Dominant: A person primarily in this DiSC quadrant emphasizes accomplishing results and “seeing the big picture.” They are confident, sometimes blunt, outspoken, and demanding.
-I is for Influencer: A person in this DiSC quadrant emphasizes influencing or persuading others. They tend to be enthusiastic, optimistic, open, trusting, and energetic.
-S is for Steadiness: A person in this DiSC quadrant emphasizes cooperation, sincerity, loyalty, and dependability. They tend to have calm, deliberate dispositions and don’t like to be rushed.
-C is for Conscientiousness: A person in this DiSC quadrant emphasizes quality and accuracy, expertise, and competency. They enjoy their independence, demand the details, and often fear being wrong.
“Different not Wrong”, is usually most applicable to people with “D” personalities.
“D” personality people are confident that they know everything, and if people would just “fall in line” or “do things their way” life would be so much better. In the worst possible way, this shows the idolatry of self in our lives. We have a “god complex” that is hideously arrogant and prideful.
“C” personalities can also struggle with the concept of “Different not Wrong” because they are so precise and detail-oriented. It is hard for them to be tolerant of more “free-wheeling” personalities.
“Different not Wrong”, also helps explain the differences between men and women.
Here are some generalities about the difference between men and women.
-the core fear of men involves shame and inadequacy (respect)
-the core fear of women involves loss of relationships and value. (relational love)
Men operate from a dominant need for ego support. When their ego is challenged or degraded they are deeply wounded. They tend to hear messages through the earphones of “respect.”
Women operate from a dominant need for love and acceptance. They view the world in terms of the nature and quality of their intimate relationships. They tend to hear messages through the earphones of “love.”
It’s a good marriage that takes into account the unique differences in their spouse and offers understanding and support, not ridicule and judgment because the other person approaches life differently than them.
Our circumstances cause us to process life differently, i.e., “Different not Wrong.”
Beyond personality differences and gender differences, there are circumstances in life that can cause us to process our world differently than others. These can be how we were raised, what we experienced, and the wounds that we received. These are often called filters or triggers.
Many people’s wounds come from their families of origin. An overbearing mother or father can leave us with lasting filters that we might not even be aware of. This is often referred to as “the Father wound” or “the Mother wound.”
Bankruptcy, foreclosure, loss of a child, chronic illness, divorce, sexual abuse, or physical abuse, are significant traumas that can lead to debilitating coping mechanisms. Addictions, acting out, or other destructive behaviors can be adopted to cope with the pain of damaging life events.
Our relationships can be some of the most meaningful parts of our lives if we will learn to accept and celebrate the differences in those around us. Or, we can continue to experience disappointment in our closest relationships by continuing to expect those around us to act and feel just like we do. It’s our choice.