“I don’t want to have to give up my dreams for the sake of being in a relationship with someone.”
“Every married person I see seems more unhappy than happy. What’s the point?”
As a marriage and family therapist, these are statements I’ve heard people say. I hear some of the most intimately held beliefs people have about their life and relationships.
What I’ve learned from my clients is that marriage has a very different reputation in our world today than it did even just a few decades ago. It’s often seen as more of a chore or challenge than the idealized, romantic endeavor we grew up idolizing in the movies. Or it’s viewed as a threat to independence; people fear that marriage will compromise who you are as a person.
At the same time, we put a lot on our partners in today’s world: We want them to be our best friend, our lover, our confidant, our fantasy, our cheerleader, and we also want to know they will support our dreams, life goals, and not get in the way of what we want to accomplish. That’s a pretty tricky balance, if you ask me. And it requires a lot more than simply being able to say “I do” to one another.
So what do I tell my clients, who want love but are afraid they will lose part of themselves if they get married?
Marriage does not have to be a threat to your independence. In fact, it can be a place where you grow as an individual. When you find a partner who is secure enough in themselves and in your relationship, the possibilities are endless. Marriage actually allows you to become more of yourself while being in relationship to another.
While the beginning of a relationship and marriage is defined by the bonding and attachment-building a couple engages in (often called the Honeymoon Phase), the long-term vision of marriage consists in an ability to safely fluctuate from that shared foundation to continually exploring individual values and goals.
So, a healthy marriage comprises “Me, You, and We.” This dynamic enables partners to pursue their personal goals, be assertive about their relationship needs, and also acknowledge the importance of communication, connection, and compromise with their partner.
This healthy approach to marriage rules out the idea of “you complete me.” You need two people who bring their whole selves to the relationship and do not depend on the other to make up for any of their own shortcomings. There’s a freedom to safely ebb and flow throughout life, separately and together, differentiating from one another while growing with each other. When couples learn what it takes to establish the balancing act of a real relationship, they are truly able to flourish.
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