November 5, 2014
Last post, we talked about Denial of Self, which is sacrificing parts of who you are, in order to keep your relationship running smoothly. The opposite of Denial of Self is Personal Growth.
When we partner-up (married or not), we usually stop thinking of ourselves as “single” and start thinking of ourselves as part of a “couple.” This new status is reflected in all kinds of ways: couples are invited places together, bring each other to family functions, they may get engaged, move in together, or get married. During some marriage ceremonies, partners light a new candle from their individual candles to symbolize the new life they are creating together. Some traditions go so far as to pronounce them “one flesh.”
It’s a lovely symbol – the new candle lit from the two others – two people working together to build a life, each bringing unique strengths, gifts, and talents to the endeavor. But in at least one ceremony I attended, after the new candle was lit, the partners extinguished their individual candles. What a powerful symbol for denial of self!
This is why I have a personal dislike of phrases such as “my other half,” “my better half,” or (worst of all) “you complete me” (with apologies to Jerry McGuire). It implies that, without a partner, we are somehow defective, incomplete, missing something essential. That’s why I borrowed the following bit of wisdom:
You can’t make a whole relationship with two half-people.
No, you can’t. I don’t care if you think I’m the most unromantic person alive. There are no exceptions to this rule. That’s why I’ve been harping so much on not collapsing yourself into a role. It’s absolutely essential that all partners be whole people, and that means growth.
Growth can be a challenge. In fact, at times it can be a real pain in the neck! But here’s the dirty, little secret: we all need growth. We need to grow up. We need to grow out of our bad habits. We need to grow past the baggage of old wounds, and most of all, we need to grow into better and better versions of ourselves.
Why? Because the things we demand from modern marriage – love, friendship, emotional support, open communication, and intimacy – require much more work on the part of the people involved. Marriage is a verb!
Partners who are invested in their own growth, and in their partner’s growth, will reap the rewards of increased intimacy, a deeper friendship, more open communication…is this sounding familiar? Partners committed to growth will have a more fully developed self, and a more integrated, cooperative relationship, to serve as the foundation for the family they are creating (whether or not they choose to have children).
Next post…the trap of “Couplehood.”