Every marriage is different, but one universally true aspect of marriage is that you’ll have to navigate one of life’s constant tensions: The desire for consistency verses the desire for change. Both change and consistency are important aspects of life even though, in their extreme forms, they are at odds with each other. On some level, we all crave predictability in our routines, and yet, we also crave adventure and newness to break up the monotony and predictability of life.
In many marriages, the tension between consistency and change can be one of the most complicated disagreements to navigate. It should be a balance, but it often turns into a battle instead. Every person is wired differently, and our own unique experiences and personalities can determine if we have a bias for more change or more consistency. Our family of origin and the family dynamics in which we were raised have a huge impact on how we come to crave either more consistency or more change.
Watching my parents navigate their extreme differences in this area has taught me a lot about marriage through the years. My parents have an incredible marriage, but it’s not because of compatibility. It’s because of their commitment to love each other and learn from each other despite their differences.
My parents’ upbringings were about as opposite as you can imagine. Their personalities are also very different. My mom came into the marriage with an extreme preference for consistency while my dad brought an extreme preference for change. Some of these differences were hardwired into their personalities, but many of these preferences were conditioned into to them based on their vastly different upbringings.
My Mom lived a simple and idyllic childhood. Every part of her life was structured and consistent. She grew up in the house her dad had built from a Sears “build your own home kit” (yes, that used to be a real thing). Her family never moved. She had the same neighbors for her entire childhood. They never moved either. Dinner was at the same time every night. She went to school with all the same people, and she thrived both in and out of school. Her extended family lived nearby. She found security in the structure, and she assumed life would always have this same level of consistency.
My Dad had an opposite experience. His family was constantly on the move. He started elementary school a year early so his parents could get him out of the house, and he ended up attending seven different elementary schools over the next six years. That’s an average of more than one move per year. It takes at least a year to start feeling a real sense of community in a new place, so he never had to ever feel at home anywhere. He learned to be a survivor. He adapted to the constant changes and eventually craved more of it. He would become restless if he was ever in the same place or same routine for too long.
Mom and Dad’s vastly different upbringings, preferences and personalities collided early in their marriage. I was born a couple weeks before their first anniversary and they made their first cross-country move when I was still a newborn. It was the first move of Mom’s life. A year later, my younger brother was born in Oklahoma. A few years after that, my youngest brother was born in Kansas City. Dad was going wherever he could find work to provide for his growing family, and Mom was working hard too while also trying to create structure and consistency in the midst of all the changes.
When I was in third grade, Dad took another out-of-state job in Kentucky and the family moved again. The move to Kentucky launched one of the most difficult seasons our family had ever experienced and one of the most strained seasons in my parents’ marriage. Loneliness, stress, financial pressure, culture shock and a myriad of other factors were causing more tension in my parents’ relationship than they’d ever experienced before.
There are many stories and many lessons I could recount from that era, but what stands out the most is that Mom and Dad firmly resolved together that they were going to stay united through the difficult season. They also decided that they were going to commit to a long season of consistency for the sake of the family. For years, they had followed Dad’s preference toward change, but now was a time for consistency. Dad finally deferred to Mom’s preference, and he wisely recognized it wasn’t just the best thing for her; it was the best thing for the whole family.
They put down roots and built a house thirty-three years ago. They still live in that same house today. Even though my own personality is bent more toward change than consistency, there’s such comfort in returning to their home where our family has so much history. I’m thankful for those decisions they made to put down roots all those years ago.
Mom and Dad invested in consistency for the sake of the family (and their marriage), but they also left room open for change and new adventures. Once my brothers and I were grown, Dad left the consistent job he’d held for more than a decade and started his own traveling consulting business. Mom wholeheartedly supported him in this endeavor even though the pay would now be inconsistent compared to a set and steady salary. He actually ended up making much more money working for himself than he ever did as a “company man,” but there have still been some faith-stretching, lean seasons along the way.
His travels have taken he and my mom all over the world, but they always come home to Kentucky. They’ve cultivated a perfect balance between consistency and change. Instead of being threatened by each other’s differences, they’ve learned to celebrate each other’s unique perspectives, and they’ve both grown a lot through the journey. Dad has grown to love the consistency they have at home. Mom has grown to love their new assignments and international travel even though she had barely traveled outside her hometown until she was an adult.
In our own marriage, like in all marriages, Ashley and I have had to navigate this same tension between consistency and change. Her upbringing mirrored my mom’s childhood in terms of the consistency she experienced, but she also had some unique adventures sprinkled in which included a two-year stint where she and her mom stayed in New York City so Ashley could pursue a career as a child actor on Broadway and in national commercials. It’s true, I married a celebrity!
Ashley and I both value consistency, but we also share a natural leaning toward change. We both tested as Sevens on the Enneagram which essentially means we’re always up for a new adventure! That desire for new adventures as well as a hunger to pursue the new opportunities for ministry God has provided over the years has created a lot of moves in the twenty years of our marriage. Some of those moves have been across town to renovate a house and some have been across the country to pursue a new work opportunity.
A few years ago, while living in Texas where XO Marriage is based, we sensed that our kids weren’t thriving and weren’t feeling connected or rooted in the community. They missed Georgia where they’d primarily grown up. Our first son was born in Kentucky where we’d both grown up, but our other three sons were all born in Augusta, Georgia. After a lot of conversations, prayers and meetings with our team, we decided to move the family back to Georgia. We wanted to give our kids the same gift our parents had given us which is the gift of a consistent hometown. For the sake of our family, we knew we needed to prioritize consistency.
We still have plenty of change and adventure in our calendar. We travel regularly for work and for pleasure too. When we have to travel away from our kids, we’ve worked to give them consistency by using the same babysitter almost every time we are away. We’ve also worked to have the flexibility to be present at home as much as possible. Even as I’m working now to write these words, I’m taking frequent breaks to play with the kids or get them a snack.
Through the years, we’ve learned that change is good because it creates growth and resilience, but consistency is also good because it creates stability and community. We need both and each couple must navigate what having both looks like in their own marriage. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. It should be a balance, not a battle. At times your differences could lead to disagreements or even prolonged seasons of mutual frustration, but if you’ll work together to find a balance, you’ll both become stronger and more unified as a result.