How your strengths (and weaknesses) affect your marriage

John came to me because he was having trouble being understood at work and wanted to know how to communicate his perspective and ideas better. Additionally, he said that while his marriage was good, lately he and his wife had felt distant and weren’t connecting quite the way they used to. They had been married five years.

His wife, Susan, had taken Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder® assessment and was encouraging him to do so, but he didn’t understand why she was making such a big deal about it. Susan spoke frequently about her results and wanted to see him through the strengths lens so she could understand him better. She told him that it would help him at work to know his strengths, so John finally agreed. He took the assessment, then came to see me with his results.

John and I worked on a great plan using his strengths for work, and near the end of our time together, we looked over the strengths appearing lower on his list. As it turns out, the strength of Empathy® was number thirty-three out of thirty-four. Ordinarily I would have told him that since this was among his bottom-five strengths, he should be aware of it and work to ensure that this result wouldn’t hinder his interactions with others. But this was no ordinary situation: I knew Susan had Empathy in her top five. That changed everything.

As we talked about his low Empathy score, he told me how he never intended to lack for Empathy. He said, “It just doesn’t come to me. I’m not trying to avoid it; it’s just not on my radar. I understand Empathy, and I try to live with it in my life. When someone tells me something sad, I like to respond  empathetically, but it comes from a processed decision, not a natural ‘I can’t help myself’ kind of place.” Then we turned our conversation to Susan. She had Empathy among her top-five strengths, meaning it is a very strong part of her everyday life. She cannot function without demonstrating Empathy; it’s just who she is. John told me this trait was one of the things that attracted him to her in the first place.

I quickly helped John see that just by doing life his normal way, he was giving off an unspoken yet subtle message to everyone around him that said, “Empathy doesn’t factor in my world and has no place in my life.” For Susan, on the other hand, an empathetic approach to life isn’t a choice to make—it’s who she is.

When you put those two factors together, you can see that John was sending a message that said, “I don’t see Empathy,” which Susan interpreted as, “I don’t see you.”

John was devastated. He was unaware that his bottom-five strengths were having such a crushing effect on his wife’s heart. He began to cry. He told me how much he loved her, and that he was so sad to have been hurting her all this time without even knowing it. We talked awhile longer, and after a little time he told me he had a plan to fix this problem.

The next day at 10:00 a.m., John took the rest of the day off and called Susan at work. He asked her to request emergency time off for the rest of the day and to meet him at the local outdoor mall.

It was a beautiful spring day, and they met at the fountain in the middle of the mall. Susan was very anxious. This kind of activity was not normal for John. John took her hands and led her to a park bench. As they sat in the warm spring sunshine, this is what John said.

“I want you to know that I am so sorry I have been inadvertently sending a message every day that, to you, probably sounds like: ‘I don’t see you, how you feel doesn’t matter to me, and I don’t care.’ Darling, I want you to know, I am so sorry.”

Susan started to cry. John had more to say, but it didn’t matter. After she composed herself, she looked him straight in the eyes and said: “For the first time in our marriage, since the day we said I do, I feel seen by you.”

Years later I asked John how his relationship with Susan was going, and he said: “Allan, that single spring day did more to deepen and advance our marriage, more to heal our relationship, and more to strengthen our communication than anything else we have encountered. I could not be more grateful. It has established a language for our relationship that is present to this day, and I can’t imagine where we would be without it.”

My heartfelt prayer is that you, too, will find revelatory insight throughout this book, and that your marriage and other relationships will take on a new dimension of empowerment.

 

Pastor Allan Kelsey is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach.

Adapted from Pastor Allan Kelsey and Pastor Jimmy Evans’ new book, Strengths Based Marriage, available at Amazon and at the Gateway Bookstore.