How We Had to Fight to Overcome Personality Differences

by | Mar 4, 2020 | Resolving Conflict, Uncategorized | 33 comments

How to Overcome Personality Differences in Marriage
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We’re all different. But do we understand the emotional toll of not dealing with personality differences in marriage?

Adrienne Koziol, from The Zoo I Call Home, a wife, a writer, and a homeschool mom to 9 kids sent me this article, which I thought was great, and which I’m proud to share with you today!

Here’s Adrienne:

Personality Differences in Marriage: How to overcome them

 

It was years ago when I first took a Meyers Briggs personality test. After multiple retakes and researching my “type” (INTP) I was hooked. I had my husband (ESTJ), brothers, and older kids take it and compared results. It was all very accurate! We had fun digging into how each type handles situations, talked about the accuracy, and learned quite a bit about each other in the process. It gave us a lot to think about.

Our Personality Differences Begin to Clash

Fast forward five or so years. I felt myself closing up, withdrawing, mostly from my husband. I saw him being critical and harsh, getting worse over the years. To protect myself from what I saw as a barrage of negativity and hurt, I shut down all emotion (there isn’t much to begin with- I am far from emotional!). Accepting the unfair treatment and falling into my own world inside my mind, my days became robotic.
I spent large amounts of time researching, almost obsessed with “figuring it out” (what is the cause? What action should I take? Am I being too extreme?).

Opening Pandora’s Box on Our Issues

And then, one day, it all started to unravel. My husband, sensing my distance and bitterness, left work early and took me to a lake. There we sat in the car, openly talking about issues and taking an honest look at our future, and if we even wanted one.

The problem was, as open as we were being, it was not open enough. It was still barely scratching the surface, but we didn’t know it. We had no idea what kind of infectious crud lay below, itching to burst.

We both knew we wanted it to work, or at the very least, wanted to want it to work. The vows we had made before God were in the forefront of our minds, and trusted that His strength would carry us through. We both acknowledged the need to work on communication and understood why we were responding to each other the way we had been.

And we both inwardly wondered if the other really understood their role in the mess that had been created. Still, it felt like progress had been made.

Sin Rears Its Ugly Head

Remember that crud I mentioned? It turns out that a lot of it (I mean A LOT) was inside ME. Those emotions I was shoving down, ignoring, thinking I had under control, had been growing into a huge, ugly mass and was becoming more and more angry. It no longer wanted to be kept in the basement and was finding ways to seep out. Sin does that to a person. But I still didn’t see it.

Two instances over the period of a few weeks caused the infection to finally erupt. Multiple times we talked all night. At times it felt like our marriage could be on the verge of ending. Like really ending. The first time was monumental. Eye-opening. I saw in myself things I did not like. For the first time I was able to see how my actions and reactions over the past 22 years had played a big part in putting us in our current situation. Those INTP traits of being logical, analytical, unemotional, and independent can become very… dark when taken to an extreme.

Likewise, my husband became more aware of how I felt and why I shut down. He understood why I reacted the way I did and saw in greater depth his own actions and how I perceived them. He also had allowed parts of his personality to get extreme.

The Endless Cycle of How Our Differences Could Cause Conflict

It’s almost laughable now, how we brought out the worst in each other. It should have been obvious. Our personality types, when we are at our worst, cause the worst possible reaction in the other. It became a cycle.

Example: Husband is stressed from work and hopes to come home to a little bit of order, a little quiet, and warm greetings (we have 7 kids at home so the first two are relative). His type likes order and hates inefficiency. He is more attentive to details, and quality time is high on his love language list. A kiss and hello from his wife mean a lot to him.

Wife, however, is stressed because things are NOT orderly, or quiet. She’s trying to finish dinner and get everything else done. I’d say it’s “one of those days,” but really that’s almost every day. She is a big-picture person, so things like cleaning up get put off when something more important, like conversation or playing together, is happening. Her love language is serving, so her priority becomes the work Husband would like done because it’s how she shoes she loves him.

He walks in and sees a messy house with kids running around, looking as if there has been nothing but disorder and inefficiency ALL DAY. Instead of a kiss, his wife is at the stove barely aware he is home. Stress increases.

Wife senses this and recoils, on edge now, because she does not handle criticism well, especially when she feels it’s unwarranted. Things have not been crazy all day, and plenty of work had been done. She is not a naturally touchy person so a kiss doesn’t cross her mind. In her mind, she’s showing him love.

Now Husband is even more irritated because not only has everyone been noisy and lazy, but his wife is mad at him for who-knows-what when all he wants is her attention for a second to reconnect.

Now the whole night is nothing but irritation and bad attitudes, all because of a massive difference in how different personalities see things and respond. Assumptions based on an individual’s filter instead of taking the glasses off to see clearly. The inability to step outside of the situation to make a proper assessment and to cool things down.

Seeing Clearly on How to Bring Out the Best in Each Other

We see this now. We see more clearly than we ever have and (mostly) strive to bring out the best in each other. This happened not too long ago, a month to be exact, so not far enough to say we’re on the other side of it. It feels like a long time ago, though. After so much emotion, turmoil, and most of that crud coming out, we feel better. I feel better.

Proverbs 3:13a

Happy is the man who finds wisdom,
And the man who gains understanding

The pain of dealing with issues feels so much better than living in cold apathy. We’re finding that there is still infection inside, but each time it comes out we also know it’s that much closer to being gone. We know there is an end to it and now come together instead of pushing each other away.

The wounds are healing and we are learning to trust each other again. Personality type has nothing on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Constantly Working Towards a Happier Marriage is Worth The Effort

This has been hard work. Harder than I ever imagined, despite the traditional “marriage takes work” quotes. New habits have to be established and it takes constant reminders, prayer, faith, and a lot of intentional effort.
I have to stay open and share every thought and concern in order to fight my natural tendency to solve everything or withdraw.
For now, every time I get upset, mad, or stressed I have to stop what I’m doing and talk to, or text, my husband. If I don’t, I overthink it and the situation builds. Even seemingly little things! Things I know might be silly but are stressing me out. I share the good things, too. What makes me laugh, what I’ve learned, what I’m thinking about. Being more open with how I feel and offering encouragement and support. These are all things I have failed to do in the past.He has to watch his tone of voice and demeanor. Not assume the worst. Realize there is more to what he sees, more depth than just the surface story. Let go of control and expect mistakes.

Pressing Forward and Seeing Hope in the Future

Looking back, I wish we had noticed these things earlier. It feels like a lot of time was wasted, but we are so thankful that we can look forward to the future with hope.
It’s an ongoing battle, but this time we aren’t making each other the enemy.

Galatians 5:22-23

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Love much, forgive often, and trust that God can produce fruit in soil we think is dead.

Wife first, mom second, but actively filling the roles of teacher, counselor, nurse, chef, maid, chauffeur, accountant, sleep specialist, writer, and blogger. Twenty two years of marriage and eighteen years of homeschooling nine kids keeps me always learning, adapting, laughing, and on my toes. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Adrienne Koziol

The Zoological Home

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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33 Comments

  1. Jane Eyre

    I think that one of the ways Satan harms marriages is by convincing us that our spouse does not actually want what is best for us. (In some marriages, that’s actually true, and it’s horrible.)
    “He walks in and sees a messy house with kids running around, looking as if there has been nothing but disorder and inefficiency ALL DAY. Instead of a kiss, his wife is at the stove barely aware he is home. Stress increases.
    Wife senses this and recoils, on edge now, because she does not handle criticism well, especially when she feels it’s unwarranted. Things have not been crazy all day, and plenty of work had been done.”
    The crazy thing is, both are stressed out from serving their family. He serves his family by putting up with the stresses and headaches of work. She serves the family by homeschooling seven kids and taking care of the house.

    Reply
  2. Kristen

    My brother is an ESTJ, while I am an ENFJ. It’s odd, how similar we are in some areas as both extroverted judgers, but when it comes to the way we really view the world, very different. Growing up, I was definitely a people pleaser and tried to keep the peace, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to speak my mind more, even if it entails conflict. It’s weird, we disagree more than we ever have, but now that we’re (I’m) vocal about it, we’re closer than we were as children.

    Reply
  3. Ali

    I’ve found that the Enneagram is MUCH more helpful in understanding people’s personalities and what motivates them than Meyers-Briggs tests or any other personality profiles, and many Enneagram authors approach it from a Christian perspective. It is based more on core motivations, which explains people’s behavior so much more effectively than other tests. My husband and I took an Enneagram class at our church, and it has had a remarkable effect on our ability to understand why we do what we do and what creates many of our disagreements, and it sparked some really wonderful and desperately needed conversations.

    Reply
    • Kacey

      I think it depends. Both systems are frameworks for understanding that can be applied well or poorly.
      Myers-Briggs helped me make sense of the way my brain and emotions worked (INFP). The Enneagram makes absolutely no sense to me (though I’m apparently a 4 wing 5?). But if you find it a helpful tool for understanding yourself and others, great.
      I don’t think either system is a be-all, end-all of how we work, but again, both can be a useful framework.

      Reply
      • unmowngrass

        Hi! I am also INFP, and also 4wing5, and I love all this stuff. So feel free to shoot me an email if you want any further explanation (unmowngrass@googlemail.com)
        Sometimes it’s easier to understand from someone with the same brain type. If you’re interested 🙂

        Reply
    • Ina

      I find no system works perfectly! I don’t really relate to my MBTI, but am 100 percent type 1 enneagram. My husband doesn’t resemble his enneagram super closely but is text book INTP. People are complicated!

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I find the differences fascinating. My daughter Rebecca and I are both classic ENTJs, but I’m a pure Enneagram 8 and she’s a 9 Wing Something (I forget). So we’re different there. I find the MBTI easier to understand, personally, but I know many like the Enneagram better!

      Reply
      • E

        I can totally see you as an 8, Sheila! I am a 5w4, and feel my 5ness very strongly. But, I also love Myers Briggs and can definitely see my ISTP traits too. I find the Enneagram sometimes gets confusing as you dive deeper into it, but so far I have found it helpful to learn about, both for myself and my husband.

        Reply
  4. Doug

    One of the things I could see clearly once I learned to look for it, was the way my wifes dysfunction dovetailed into my own, and vice versa.
    Unhealthy coping mechanisms are just that. They are unhealthy. When your unhealthy coping mechanism is something that triggers your spouse tho, it can be much more damaging than just unhealthy behavior.
    One example that comes to mind is that I have some separation anxiety issues. They are deeply ingrained, and have been from childhood. On the other hand, my wife tends to go into full retreat mode. If she believes you are being critical about something, whether it is based on reality, or just what she might imagine, her response is often along the lines of “If I am not good enough, I will just leave”. In the last post, Shelia made the point that threats of divorce are or could be a form of abuse, and in all honesty, as many times as I have heard it, and as many times as she has said it but didn’t actually leave, you would think I would be somewhat immune to it. I’m not. It is still one of the most terrifying and hurtful things that she can say to me. As to whether or not it is abusive, maybe. If it was a malicious thing intended to manipulate me, I think I could easily agree with that, but it isn’t. It is nothing more than her own unhealthy response to what is essentially the same issue. “I’m not enough, or not good enough”
    On the other hand, because of my own trauma, I had some pretty severe anger and control issues. She was no stranger to those, as she grew up in an abusive home. So, my outbursts aimed at making the world a less scary place for myself ended up triggering her, and making hers more scary.
    Sometimes it isn’t so much how we see the world that causes problems as how we react to it.

    Reply
  5. Bethany

    We’re 2 infj’s married to each other. But im big picture and he’s the detail oriented. We have different love languages and learn to compliment each other. He likes to do the shopping and volunteered to keep up with the finances. I help with both and keep in touch with him, but letting him do it alone first, lowers the dumb arguments.

    Reply
  6. Maria

    I think personality test are great ways to understand ourselves and others. Unfortunately sometimes people use them to justify “the way they are. “ A lot of the weaknesses in the various personalities types can read an awful like like sin if gone unchecked. We are still responsible for actions no matter our personality or weaknesses.
    I like the prayer that says something like…. help me seek not so much to be understood but to understand. If both people in a conflict do this regarding personalities and perspectives.

    Reply
    • Anon

      “We are still responsible for actions no matter our personality or weaknesses.”
      Years ago, I read a book called ‘Spirit Controlled Temperament’ – I found it fascinating, as it looked at each personality type’s strengths and weaknesses and how the Holy Spirit works in us to transform our weaknesses. It helped me understand why I found some areas harder than others (because of my natural personality traits) while making it clear that ‘personality’ was no excuse for sin!

      Reply
  7. Lea

    I associate myers briggs more with business school than relationships, so it’s interesting. I think the introvert/extrovert/ambivert part is useful for relationships.
    I’m much more interested in attachments styles at the moment though.

    Reply
  8. Nathan

    > > I associate myers briggs more with business school than relationships,
    I tend to agree. I’ve taken that test five times and have been an INTP “Architect” every time. Another person I know has taken it four times and has gotten a different result each time. I suspect that all or most of us have tendencies to most of the personality traits, and maybe he’s just more balanced between extremes than most.

    Reply
  9. Andrea

    Has anyone heard of the “Big Five” personality traits — the most popular among research/academic psychologists, but slowly becoming known to the popular public?
    I find those the most useful and they are: extra/introversion (the only one in common with Myers-Briggs), conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to new experiences. Lots of tests you can take online…

    Reply
    • Adrienne Koziol

      I like those tests, too. I took Jordan Peterson’s, and it seems the results do a good job at going in-depth. My only issue is that it’s hard to walk away with a summary, and you really have to dig into it to know how it applies and what the different aspects mean.
      That’s not a bad thing, it’s very helpful, but it’s time-consuming.

      Reply
  10. Increasing in Love

    Oh dear, I pretty much could have written this. My husband is also estj. And I am an infp. Can’t get any different! He can be glass half empty, critical, gets irritated easier and when going thru hard times esp, it gets to me. I don’t take criticism well if, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Often times, he feels as tho I don’t care about things I should care about. Although to me, I do care, I just don’t express it or I don’t deal well with dramatizing situations that I feel dont warrant such enthusiasm lol. I have to purposefully talk more, about everything… even after dealing with the constant of homeschooling 7 kids when my happy place is in my head, dreaming about things. It just doesn’t come easy to me to be so verbal, but I try cause I love him dearly and care about his heart and he is awesome to me. He needs that verbal stuff to connect 🙃 Any hoot, yes, we have to try very, very hard at times to understand each other or we can easily get on a downward cycle. He also loves quality time and we have seven kids, so I try to think of dates, and keep a table in our room so we eat alone together. It helps me also to think on the qualities I love about his entj self. He is orderly, loves spending time with those he loves, can see details, can make things run smoothly, is a great leader, deals with issues, looks out for his family very well, communicates very well, is quick witted and super funny, etc. I so look up to him because he is very different than me. I think I get him to chill a little and have peace and silliness in more of an imaginary way 😉 and we are so in love with each other, even tho we are so different!

    Reply
    • Adrienne Koziol

      I’m glad I’m not alone! I think the situation is even more difficult because I don’t fit the stereotype of how a woman interacts with others. I’m not emotional, I don’t talk much, probably overly independent.
      We definitely balance each other out, when we allow each other to!

      Reply
  11. Keepingitinside

    One of the difficult things for me when it comes to this is to communicate about it. I usually just keep things inside and just as the author I let it grow there and it can easily turn into bitterness. I know I should speak up or say something but its so difficult. Like recently. I have been helping my wife with some big projects that have taken a lot of time. And I love being there for her and help her achieve her goals but sometimes its been too much considering I also work. I have spent hours and hours sometimes and while I have loved being there for her I have often felt unappreciated afterwards. Like when one project had sucess after I spent at least 20 hours a week on them while also working full time and all I got was basically a “thank you”. Nothing else. I know that I as a christian husband shouldnt expect anything in return but it kind of hurt. I am helping my wife with a project now too and have spent a lot of time and even slept less to do things for her and I fear that it will be another “thank you”. Its not that I want some grand gesture but at times I wish she could try to do something extra now that I dedicate most of my days after work to help her with this while trying to take care of kids and do chores if I have time. BUt I guess as the article says that we have different personalities. SHe may feel that she has thanked me and made me feel appreciated while I start to feel a little bitter. I just suck at bringin these things up and dont want to feel like a jerk so its easier to just hold it in.

    Reply
    • Lea

      What is it you were expecting for helping your wife besides ‘thank you’??? A watch? Breakfast in bed? It sounds like you have kids too that she takes care of. Maybe she doesn’t realize you have these expectations. If they’re not even clear to you or in this comment she may be unaware.

      Reply
    • Cynthia

      I know some women who do this too, so it isn’t just a husband thing.
      Honestly, it sounds like a communication and expectation issue. Do NOT just “hold it in” and continue in the same pattern, because it is clearly causing you to become increasingly upset.
      Instead, try this:
      1. Before you start helping with a project that is clearly “extra” (ie. more than just what you would normally be expected to do as an employee, husband and father), speak up if it is too demanding. It’s okay to sometimes say “no” or “not right now” or “let me check my schedule” or “I can only fit in X hours this week”.
      2. If you do go ahead and help, do it with no particular expectations apart from a thank you. Understand that this is not a transaction, unless you have specifically said, “I can help you with X, but I will need your help with Y.” Yes, YOU might be the sort of person who would appreciate and show your appreciation by reciprocating, but she might not be thinking that way and she can’t read your mind.
      3. If you want her to do something, ask her! Don’t give her a big guilt trip, but it is really okay to make a request without expecting that she will magically do what you want without you ever asking.
      4. One thing that was useful several years ago for me (since I can sometimes do things for my spouse and then feel unappreciated or like I don’t have time for my own work) was just working on a master family schedule. I didn’t do it with this intention – I was just trying to organize life when the kids were little – but I wrote down everything that we were doing and blocked off times that he needed to have free for his work, meetings, gym, etc. Visually, it was suddenly clear that I was doing a LOT at home, where before that we had been thinking that we were both working, but he was working a lot harder at his job than I was at mine.
      Let us know if this works!

      Reply
  12. Ashley

    Personality differences caused such a big issue in my marriage! I think they can definitely be overcome if you both have goodwill toward each other, and both put in the effort. I think if I had discovered Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram in my early-married days, our marriage would have gone better, even though it ultimately ended because of his cheating.

    Reply
  13. Cynthia

    One insight that helped me was to see my husband and I as being two halves of a whole, where that whole is created in the image of God.
    This means that yes, of course we have different personalities and strengths – but that it isn’t a question of one being better than the other, but of figuring out how we can work together to complement each other. [Note: this is different from what is commonly taught as “complementarianism”, because it is based on the specific personalities of the individual couple and not some generic notion of what all men or all women should be like.]
    I’m a fairly calm, very rational, often laid-back introvert. My husband has a ton of energy, can get more emotional, gets more worked up if things aren’t going right, and is very much an extrovert.
    I used to get irritated when he would get worked up about stuff, asking myself why he couldn’t just relax and calm down and not take the opinions of others so seriously. Sometimes, I would just try to stay in bed and ignore him, leaving him to his own devices. I learned that this wasn’t remotely helpful. He wasn’t going to change, and I wouldn’t really WANT him to change, because those were the same traits that made him hardworking and ambitious and extremely caring toward others. What he needed was for me to get up and help him with the traits that I had which balanced him. So, I would talk stuff out with him, organizing concerns by logically analyzing things and breaking them down into manageable bits. He energizes me and gets me doing things, and I calm him down. In turn, he realized that he really does need my input.
    Or sometimes, we’ll divide tasks by who does what best. He’s great at reaching out to people on the phone or social media, while I’m better at working by myself researching or writing stuff on the computer.
    Sheila, you’ve written before about how contempt is one of the worst things for a marriage. Seeing differences in this way – as being essential, rather than a sign that one person is right and the other is wrong – makes it possible for each spouse to respect those differences and look for ways that they can be used to work together.

    Reply
    • Adrienne Koziol

      Good point. Usually the differences that help balance us out are the same differences that can drive us crazy, if we allow it. It’s good to keep that in mind!

      Reply
  14. David

    Never too late to discover compromises.
    Knowing how to communicate can save many marriages from destruction.
    In my case I’ve had to do a lot of praying and meditating as to why verbal sparring and anger, occurred in what should’ve been a simple discussion.
    I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think society, schools, churches and many parents has done a very good job in mentoring how to be good communicators and understand that we are uniquely wired differently.
    I have to also realize that sometimes bad communication skills and understanding can’t rest solely on bad mentoring from parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.
    My wife and I had elder relatives had tragedies of sicknesses and early death, so they didn’t have parents to mentor them.
    Some may have naturally good communication skills no matter the background, but not always.
    The truth is during the endless nights of disagreements in my marriage, would’problem ve been better served if we began having thought provoking conversations much sooner than we did.
    The main topic of our thought provoking discussion was to agree that when voices were beginning to elevate or when an unkind word was exchanged, that one or the other (or both) can confidently say “we agreed to not to do this”.
    What were doing was either fabricating a crisis out of thin air or magnifying a problem bigger than it was, when we had the ability to discover solutions in polite and civilized ways. Which in the end makes it possible for spouses to mutually stimulate one another’s mind.
    To all of us with adult or young kids, we do have a responsibility to break generational curses and have thought provoking dialogue with our kids about how they communicate with their loved ones., so history doesn’t repeat itself.

    Reply
    • Adrienne Koziol

      Good idea! A simple way to de-escalate a situation (as long as someone can be in their right mind enough to say it). Say it early and say it often!

      Reply
  15. merry

    I guess a majority of couples suffer from the problem of personality differences yet they do not know how to tackle it rather they tend to drift away. They have to realise that separating is not the solution rather you should help each other understand the problems and overcome them.

    Reply
    • David

      Merry,
      I completely agree.
      I sometimes wonder “what is the real problem when spouses look at things from a difference vantage point?”
      My view is people don’t know how to communicate in a polite way. Instead of having a discussion in developing understanding and solutions, they resort to verbal sparring and critically picking each other apart.
      They need to consider that if they have a hateful spirit or a loving one. Not with just each other, but with other’s as well because having an angry spirit isn’t honoring God.

      Reply
      • Adrienne Koziol

        Agree! Unfortunately it’s probably easier to be more patient and civil with others than it is with your spouse. We get too comfortable, and it’s too easy to assume we know our spouse’s motives.

        Reply
  16. Bill Johnson

    This one tapped into one of my Most Favorite Subjects. The first paragraph had me hooked. It is very hard for a “P” to live with a “J.” The P is always under scrutiny and, well, judgement! J’s are like prosecutors that have already decided you are guilty of SOMETHING, and now they are just looking for corroborating evidence. It’s exhausting living like this, but even worse is the condition I call “T/F Polarity.” T’s (thinkers whose emotions are buried a little deeper than an “F’s” seem to take great pleasure in making their Feeling spouse have to beg for the slightest scrap of attention. The T motto is “whoever needs the least, wins.” They tend to meter out meager affection to the poor, starving F in order to maintain control and/or dominance.

    Reply
    • Adrienne Koziol

      Yikes, that nails it. I’m sure neither one thinks they are doing it, but they are.
      I know I, as a “T”, would never purposely throw scraps of affection to someone, but I bet that’s how it comes across.

      Reply
  17. Lydia Vowels

    Ditto
    I am a homeschooling mother of 12 and a melancholic. My husband of 31 years is a phlagmatic. We didn’t know how we were wired when we married and until it caused problems, I didn’t look into it much. Our marriage is miserable because we haven’t figured out how to get these opposite temperaments on a safe page.

    Reply
    • Adrienne Koziol

      It takes incredible amount of work. You really have to retrain your brain in how you see and respond to things. Impossible on many levels? I don’t know, haven’t figured it out!
      I think if it’s important to both of you, than you’ve crossed the biggest hurdle.

      Reply

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