Clyde and his dad were bonding over a ‘Spot the Difference’ puzzle book.
Some twenty minutes had passed, and the two had managed to spy only three different things.
“Hey guys, wuzzup!!!?” His mother suddenly came out of the kitchen.
“We’re trying to finish at least two sets this evening,” her husband greeted her with a kiss as she sat down to check on their progress.
“Whoa! No wonder. You’re both doing the EXPERT section!” She said.
She took a look at the puzzle, wrinkling her brow as she concentrated.
“Look, that cloud is longer. And this tree branch! The signpost is bigger. The boy’s hair is shorter. The goodies in the picnic basket are not the same.”
“Got to prepare dinner!” She started to leave.
“Mom! How’d you do that?” Clyde said amazed.
“Women are smarter,” his dad conceded defeat.
“Nope, we’re just different! And besides, someone’s got to prepare dinner.”
* * *
Differences between people, and especially between husband and wife, can often be misread with a competitive note. St. John Paul II, however, in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, writes that the family, “sinks its roots in the natural complementarity that exists between man and woman, and is nurtured through the personal willingness of the spouses to share their entire life-project, what they have and what they are: for this reason such communion is the fruit and the sign of a profoundly human need. (no. 19)”
In other words, the differences between spouses are designed for a fruitful complementary fulfillment of a mission in and through marriage: “that every day they may progress towards an ever richer union with each other on all levels – of the body, of the character, of the heart, of the intelligence and will, of the soul – revealing in this way to the Church and to the world the new communion of love, given by the grace of Christ. (no. 19)”
Given this wonderful God-given project of love that spouses have, they ought to train and consolidate their marriage towards what unites instead of what could divide them. In short, they should spot not differences but commonalities, talents, and virtues. This positive spotting virtue would further forge their love for each other and their children.
But sometimes it is unavoidable, as we are only human, to spot the other’s negative differences. Rather than allow this spot to stain one’s marriage, he should take advantage of them. If what he spots is objectively something the spouse can and ought to improve on, then he points it out to him/her charitably and honestly.
On the other hand, when the differences spotted are truly baseless or emotional, they must not pay too much attention to them. They must instead pray about them and try their best not to give way to their imagination and sentiments, which are the seedbed for judgmental, critical, and angry thoughts. Once sown, the differences are bloated out of proportion and spousal love is harmed.
In the end, couples immersed in self-love, will only have eyes for negative differences breeding divisions and defensive mechanisms. While couples moved by love will always spot positive differences that support and enrich family life and sacrifice. These become spotting sessions that will be, using Pope Francis’ example, occasions to forge love in small words like ‘Please’, ‘I’m sorry’, and ‘Thank you.’