Half Full or Half Empty?

Author Gary D. Chapman From Things I wish I’d known before we got married 5 years ago 7645

The pessimist and the optimist are often attracted to each other and this pair is often a kind of personality difference before marriage. The optimist sees the glass as half full; the pessimist sees it as half empty. The optimist sees the possibilities while the pessimist sees the problems. Each of us has a basic leaning in one direction or the other, but we are often unaware of this aspect of our personality.


In the dating stage of the relationship, we each assume that the other person views the world as we view it. Because we are each enamored with the other and seeking to accommodate each other, this personality difference may not be apparent. For example, the optimist tends to be a risk taker because he is convinced in his own mind that everything will turn out fine. Thus, he may suggest that the two of them go bungee jumping. The pessimist by nature does not want to take risks because she assumes that the worst could happen. Therefore, she would never have entertained the thought of bungee jumping, but because she admires and trusts her lover, she is willing to do something she would never have done on her own. The optimist is thrilled to be dating someone who is willing to be adventuresome, while never realizing that she has gone far beyond her emotional comfort zone.


Two years after marriage when he suggests that the two of them go rock climbing, she strongly resists the idea. Not only is she unwilling, she also resists the idea of him going alone or with friends. She can envision herself being a widow and cannot understand why he would be willing to take such a risk. On the other hand, he is totally blown away by her response. He wonders what happened to her spirit of adventure. Why is she being such a killjoy?


Because they failed to discover and discuss this personality difference before marriage, they find themselves embroiled in a conflict that neither of them understands. In reality, they are both simply being who they are, an optimist and a pessimist. The problem is neither of them knew who the other person was before they got married. The euphoria of the dating experience blinded them to this personality difference. Had they discussed this difference before marriage, he would have realized that she would never be a rock climber, nor would she ever go skydiving with him. He would also have realized that if he chose to do such things, he would do so in the face of great resistance from his wife.


This personality difference is likely to create conflicts in the area of money management. The optimist will tend to be an adventurous investor, willing to take huge levels of risk with the hope of positive results. On the other hand, the pessimist will want to invest in more stable and secure markets. They will spend sleepless nights if the spouse pulls them into a high-risk investment. And if the investment goes south, the pessimist will blame the optimist for taking undue risks with their money. The optimist is likely to see the pessimist as being non-supportive of their ideas and thus, blame the spouse for “holding them back" from success.


The answer to this personality difference lies in understanding and accepting the differences, and not condemning each other for being who they are. They must then negotiate a method of honoring each other's personality. One such plan may be to agree on a dollar amount that the couple would have in secure investments before the optimist would engage in high-risk investments. Once this minimum level of investments is in place, they could agree on a dollar amount that he could invest in a higher-risk investment with the understanding that if he lost it all, she would not condemn him. On the other hand, if the investment is successful, she commends him for his investment skills and together they celebrate their financial success.


If a dating couple is willing to negotiate these kinds of arrangements before they get married, they will save themselves many unnecessary arguments over how they will handle the finances. The same principle is true in scores of other areas in which the pessimist and the optimist are likely to have very different views about the action that should be taken. Understanding, accepting, and negotiating personality differences are essential in building a foundation for a healthy marriage.


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