Years ago I worked with a couple who very different from each other. She was vivacious, outgoing and people friendly. She so wanted her husband to join her at parties and outings and entertaining at home. He was much happier curled up in a corner with a book. As you can imagine, this caused a lot of friction between them. She felt rejected and unloved and he felt bullied. He wanted to join her because he knew it was important to her but he just didn’t have it in him–anymore than she could sit in a corner and read.
In one of our coaching sessions I remembered my early experiences with fire. I spent a lot of time with fire as a kid. I lived in the mountains 8 miles from any kind of town and wild places were my home, womb, and canvas. I had many opportunities with fire. One of the things about fires is that they need both little wood and big wood to work. It is virtually impossible to get large logs to burn without supporting them with smaller wood. Small wood burns hot and fast and also burns out very quickly. It needs big wood to sustain it.
Husband, who liked to sit quietly and read is like the big logs. Wife, who is vivacious and outgoing is like the smaller wood that get the fire started. Without her husband she would burn out quickly. Without wife he would never come out of the corner. They needed both of these energies in their marriage. Once they saw that everything changed for them.
This morning, on this 29° day, I built a fire in my woodstove. I used both kindling and larger logs, leaving the door open a little to let in a good draft of air to really get it going. But it wasn’t until I closed the door that the fire was contained enough that it could heat the stove itself and begin to emit heat into the room. Marriage is like that, too.
It looks and feels like a fire, all be ingredients are there, but there is little sustainable heat. The fire doesn’t heat the stove or the room. When it’s out it’s out, heat gone. It isn’t until the door is closed and you stand face-to-face with each other that sustainable heat can build–both the heat of conflict and the heat of love. There is a symbiotic relationship between conflict and love, also.
These two are very happy together these days having learned to embrace their differences as needed and necessary.