Many single men and women fear that marriage will crush their separate identity. This need not happen. A good marriage supports both interdependence and independence. We all depend on others in life for many things. Marriage is simply one way this interdependence happens. Yet we all want to have enough independence to feel alive, vital, and fully human. This article suggest ways to foster a great marriage, with spouses being relationship partners while also maintaining their their separate identities.
“No man is an island” said 17th-century author John Donne.
This is true in marriage. Spouses do become interdependent in many ways. But this does not force them to give up their separate identities. It is important to keep one's individuality after tying the knot. Yet, none of us is totally self-sufficient.
In fact, just about everyone depends on car mechanics, airplane pilots, farmers, friends, accountants, therapists, and others. Certainly, in a good marriage we rely on our marriage partner. We respect each other’s individuality and also connect as romantic partners and as lifetime teammates.
Balancing Independence and Interdependence
Here is how one wife explains how she views her marriage: Amy says, “I think of my marriage as a three-stranded braid. One strand is me, a separate person. Another is Michael. The third strand is our relationship.” She is describing her marriage as a union of two individuals who are both independent and interdependent.
Until recently, the roles of men and women were fixed and interdependent. Usually the husband earned the money (or brought home the kill). His wife cooked and kept the home fires burning. Today, in many good marriages, spouses are interdependent in different ways. Either partner can be the “provider” or homemaker. Often both jobs are shared.
Some couples have "commuter" marriages, living in different states or on different coasts in the USA because of where they work. They may spend weekends and vacations together. Other couples are business partners. They may share an office at home or elsewhere, which means they're likely to experience plenty of togetherness and interdependence.
People need different amounts of time spent together and separately order to feel good about themselves and their relationship.
Concerns to Discuss Before Marrying
So when seriously thinking about marriage, it’s time to talk about how the two of you want to function as a team and who will do what independently. Sounding each other out about whatever is important to each of you is helpful. A few examples: How will you deal with money concerns? Who will be handle different household responsibilities, such as cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundry, and gardening? Child care? Diaper changing? Except for who currently gets to bear children, just about everything is negotiable.
The more you think through what you will rely on each other for in advance, the more realistic will be your expectations after marriage. You and your future spouse can customize your interdependence in ways that honor your needs and preferences as individuals.
Staying Connected After Marrying
After marriage, many spouses find it easy to take each other for granted and forget to nurture their relationship. Some say that they've drifted apart, which means they're now functioning more as totally separate identities than as partners who feel connected to each other. Keeping a marriage good means, among other things, maintaining a balance of independence and interdependence that fits for both partners.
Many couples find that by holding a weekly "marriage meeting" they are able to reconnect. The simple agenda include a time to express appreciation, plan dates for just the two of them, coordinate chores, and resolve issues respectfully. The book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted, gives step-by-step instructions for holding a marriage meeting.
Marriage meetings foster a healthy balance of interdependence and independence. While they provide a forum for spouses to relate interdependently, they also provide a space for each partner to express his or her feelings, thoughts, wants, and needs as a separate person.
Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of bestseller Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted, is a psychotherapist in private practice. A former executive director of a family service agency, she worked professionally in family and children’s services, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry departments for the City and County of San Francisco. www.marriagemeetings.com