Most days, I really love my job. I feel so honored when a couple I am working with reaches their goal and creates the marriage of their dreams. It’s those experiences that keep me going when other individuals and couples aren’t able to revitalize their relationships.
Recently, I’ve had a couple of clients who are really struggling in their marriages because they have lost who they are. Neither onehad productive ways of dealing with the strength of their partners’ requirements, so they found it easier to give in. This only worked in the short term.
So much is wrapped up in this whole idea of separate vs. together, dependent vs. independent, individual vs. couple that seems to define marriage. While I am a big proponent of working as a team and putting the health of the relationship first, I do not subscribe to a person being subsumed by “the marriage blob”.
One of the very first couples I ever worked with are an excellent example of what I’m talking about. Matt came in and threw himself down on my big blue sofa. He forcefully stated, “If I do what my wife wants, she wins.” My first thought was a flippant, “You don’t want a happy wife?” My next, more therapeutic, thought was, “You’ve just set this up as a competition and that will never work.” I could tell he was going to resist the natural, and needed, process of becoming interdependent.
Unfortunately, my recent clients’ experiences are the exact opposite of Matt’s. They tended toward the absorption end of the spectrum. They have gone too far into the world of dependence trying to appease their partners’ unfair requirements. As we learned in World War II, peace at any price is ineffective.
Marriage success requires knowing when you can bend and knowing when to stand your ground. If you never push back against the pressure to conform to your partner’s way of thinking and their expectations, you will eventually break. As I have said before, it is not necessary to give up yourself to be happily married. In fact, if you do, you will almost certainly be unhappy.
It also isn’t necessary to see these manuevers as a conflict or a fight. You and your partner each have a viewpoint about how you want your marriage to be. Neither is right. Neither is wrong. If you want to be successful, the two of you will have to merge those two positions into one you both can support. This is not possible if you give up being who you are. That is not assimilation. It’s a surrender that will lead to anger and resentment.
Besides, if your partner truly loves you, they don’t want you to give up being you. Yes, they may push you towards it. They may even try to cajole, guilt trip, or pout you into it. They also may have no idea that’s what they’re doing. They are just trying to get things to be comfortable for them. Ultimately, the choice is yours about how you respond.
Being clear about where you can accommodate to your partner’s requests and where you will stand your ground is crucial if you are to be part of a happy marriage. Fighting for your right to exist is not required. When you accept it as a birth right, then define and lovingly enforce boundaries to protect that right, there will be no need to defend it. It will simply be a statement of fact.
It’s always fair to listen to your partner’s requests and see where you can accommodate them. Love means saying yes as often as you can.
However, it is never okay to be bullied into being someone you are not. Stepping into yourself and claiming your right to exist is also loving behavior.
True love honors both the individual and the relationship. The one cannot exist without the other. They are, in a word, interdependent.
Have you given up part of yourself to be in a relationship? How does that choice leave you feeling? What would allow you to reclaim that part of yourself? What is the ultimate cost if you don’t?
- The Secret to Embracing Interdependence: A Fearless Marriage Quote
- How to Own Your Happiness and Enjoy Your Marriage Now and Forever (Part 5)
- How Competition Will End Your Marriage: A Fearless Marriage Quote
Learn more about Lesli’s book and how you can take the work and sacrifice out of your marriage.
Photo: Igor Aleshin