A Good Marriage Needs Separateness
When I picture today’s woman, I see her juggling while riding a bicycle on a high-wire. Add being a wife and mom, and picture this same image but with the high-wire suspended over a lion’s cage.
Motherhood today is anything but simple, and I doubt I need to tell you that marriage is the same. Marriage stretches us, tests us, and frustrates us, and it can also be a means to tremendous passion and adventure.
Research continually shows that married people live longer, experience more fulfillment, and have a more passionate and satisfying sex life. But all this doesn’t happen by chance. There’s a popular belief that if you love each other enough, everything will just work out. The cynic Ambrose Bierce defines love as “A temporary insanity, curable by marriage.”
Who’s the most important person to you?
Who’s the most important person in the world to you? I ask this question to almost every couple I counsel. The answers I hear vary, and rarely is the answer the one I’m looking for.
Who comes to mind? Your spouse? One of your children? A parent? You may know where I’m going with this, and it’s fairly easy to say the right answer, but do you live as though it’s true in your life?
The answer, of course, is you. You are the most important person in the world to you.
Let me torpedo the common initial rebuttals to this statement:
“If I view myself as the most important person, then I’m selfish or arrogant.”
The simple truth is that nobody can take care of you better than you. Plus, if you don’t love yourself, how can you possibly offer love to anyone else? I assume you’ve heard the analogy with the safety procedure for a flight, about putting on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others. It’s true for marriage as well as parenting.
“Jesus tells us to serve others and put others first.”
Yes, he does say this. But he also said to treat others as we treat ourselves. If you’re called to care for others, you need to be in good shape first. Jesus spent a ton of time on his own, recharging and caring for his needs.
So how does taking care of yourself improve your marriage?
Marriage can’t be broken down in a few easy-to-follow steps, but there are some natural needs for every marriage. These can be cultivated to create more passion and adventure.
1. Choose to grow up.
Marriage done right is a people-growing machine.
The natural tension in marriage is part of this growing-up process. When things don’t go as we hope, our natural reaction is to lash out or shut down—the classic fight or flight. There are daily opportunities to grow up.
Take care of yourself by choosing to embrace them. Don’t ignore them, and don’t resent. them. Go with them.
2. Meet your needs both for togetherness and separateness.
Everyone longs for connection with other people: we hang out with friends, chat with co-workers, cuddle our children, spend time on social media, and get intimate with a spouse.
But we also want to chart our own course in life, to live by our own terms and follow our dreams.
We fluctuate back and forth between these two forces. We move towards the together side of things, until those needs are met, and then we move to the separate side. Whenever you get too close to another person, it’s common to create distance and separation in order to feel better.
Recognize this natural process in your marriage. Be honest about how your spouse can meet your need for togetherness, and find ways to meet this same need of theirs. And then be honest about your need for separateness, and find healthy ways for both of you to meet it.
You can have differing opinions—that’s separateness . But you can respect these polar opinions and choose to maturely listen to each other—that’s togetherness. Your natural need for separateness doesn’t threaten your natural need for togetherness.
This push/pull between togetherness and separateness is a universal truth about relationships. Once you recognize it, you’re better equipped to meet these needs—first in yourself, and as a result, in your marriage.
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