Is there a me in marriage?

19th Sept: 5 years of marriage Several months ago I read the most interesting article in The New York Times. In it, Tara Parker -Pope explored the notion that it’s no longer enough to stay married and that couples today are in search of meaningful and satisfying partnerships that help them grow.

My immediate reaction was: Of course! Would a person consider any different?

Arguably I’m not a relationship expert. Ten years into a very happy marriage, I genuinely have no idea what any other kind of relationship would be like. In fact,  I married my high school sweetheart, the only man I ever seriously dated. So relationships experience isn’t something that I have a lot of. But I do know that he’s my soul mate, and the perfect partner. I’m a lucky woman.

I do however, believe (perhaps naively) that our generation, and presumably those from our parents generation (and all those in-between) wanted the same. I realize that historically speaking marriage was not what it is today.

We’ve certainly come a long way in recognizing marriage as a partnership between two equal individuals and the importance of love and commitment. We now have the “Michelangelo effect“, a term coined by Caryl Rusbult, a former researcher at Vrije University in Amsterdam, that suggests that “close partners ‘sculpt’ each other to help one another attain valued goals.” I googled the term; apparently I’ve been under a rock because I’d never heard it before. If you search it, you’ll find countless blog posts and other web documents that explore the issue.

To be honest, I think it’s a very apt description of my own relationship. I’ve been with my husband since I was 15. This fall we’ll celebrate 19 years as a couple. That’s a very long time. We’ve truly built our lives together, as partners. He understands me completely and accepts all of my faults and limitations. No one knows me like he does. Frankly, he probably knows me better than I know myself. It makes for a powerful bond, one that I cherish and rely on.

At the same time, he fully supports who I am outside of the relationship. He recognizes that I have personal goals that help enrich my life and contribute to my happiness, and by extension our happiness as a couple and family.

So I understand the idea described in Parker-Pope’s article that “individuals experience personal growth through their partners in big and small ways.” For goodness sake, we literally grew up together.

My husband celebrates my individuality and helps me nurture it. But our bond is strengthened by our commitment to our marriage and how we live our lives together. A true partnership is not about me or we, it’s about a perfect blend of both. A subtle, but important distinction that recognizes the strengths and importance of honouring ourselves as individuals and partners .

Image: ‘19th Sept: 5 years of marriage‘ by scribbletaylor via a Creative Commons license.
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13 thoughts on “Is there a me in marriage?

  1. Julie says:

    There’s also the theory that we choose partners to help us heal our childhoods, and I often feel like my husband of 15 years and I kind of “raised” each other to be the people we really want to be, in the absence of proper support from our families in the past. Right now we’re teenagers in our marriage, on the cusp of becoming adults, and I really feel that transition – I feel much more in control of my life than I did when we were first married, and ready to take on anything. We’re finally grownups!

  2. I must be living under a rock, too. Never heard of this. But it makes sense, doesn’t it?

  3. I read and really enjoyed Tara Parker-Pope’s article, too, and I’m so drawn to the idea that we co-create our relationships and profoundly influence each other. There is an inherent emphasis on we and me, and neither thrives without sufficient care and attention to the other. Although my husband and I did most of our growing up separately (and worked out many kinks in our previous relationships with other people), we continue to influence–or “sculpt”–each other, and to encourage personal growth, as well. Congrats on the many years of love and devotion you and your husband have experienced–19 years of togetherness is something to celebrate!

  4. Justine says:

    19 years. WOW!

    Same rock here, but having been through what I just did with my partner, I understand that completely now. And I agree with you – it has to be a blend of both the we and the me for it to work perfectly.

  5. I also never heard of this, and the dilemma of the disappearing “me” in marriage seems so often to be a woman’s issue more than a man’s. Certainly, when parenting comes along.

    When we lose the “me,” the “we” becomes so much more difficult. All the more reason for solid, ongoing communication between the partners, and some social changes (employment environment included) that would make sharing parenting responsibilities – a very practical consideration – more reasonable. This would alleviate a great deal of stress on marriages, and potentially allow for more “me” – not only in “men” but in “women” – and a stronger “we” in the marriage.

  6. I do think my husband and I have sculpted each other, and we will continue to do so. Marriage is like this living breathing entity, isn’t it? You make it sound so easy.

  7. ShannonL says:

    Hubby and I have a very strong bond, a lot of it due to some major issues that we’ve had to face and conquer together. I agree that you need a “me” in order to have a strong “we”. Like BLW said, when we lose one, the other becomes that much more difficult. But there is also finding the TIME to work on the “me” side. For both of us. With so many work and family commitments, the “me” can easily be lost. Both partners must encourage the other to take time for themselves. I think in general that women seem to need more of the “me”, so a supportive husband is so important for that! I’m rambling, but I just think that it’s such a difficult balance to keep sometimes. Jana is right, too – you just make is sound so darn easy!

  8. Chantal says:

    You are a lucky woman to have such a loving and stable marries. As am I. I know a few who don’t/didn’t and it is a difficult situation.

  9. Okay, I’m starting to think you’re a secret twin to me somehow. I met my husband at 15. We married at 20 and celebrate 15 years of marriage this summer. We are soul mates and all you’ve described above applies to us, too. I’m so glad to have found you and get to peak over your shoulder as you share your life hear – seeing echoes of and differences from my own. xo

  10. Congrats on nineteen years of coupledom! I do agree that the best marriage relationship is one that works together as a whole, while still preserving each individual’s idenitity. It sounds like you have a symbiosis of the two.

  11. Kelly says:

    19 years is a huge accomplishment. I never wanted to be married, but once I met my husband and realized that I had made a soul-deep decision to be with him and only him, mentally and spiritually and physically, “marriage” didn’t matter. It didn’t change the commitment. We got married because he wanted to, because it was important to him. The commitment hasn’t changed by being married, but it’s gotten deeper by the years of living together and making little decisions every day that honor us as a unit.

    Great post – very thought provoking!

  12. Amber says:

    We have very similar backgrounds. I will celebrate 10 years of marriage, and 20 years as a couple, with my own husband this May. We starting dating at the end of grade 9, just a few days before I turned 15. He was still 14 at the time.

    I don’t know why our relationship has lasted so long, when so few high school relationships do. I suspect there are many reasons, but since I lack experience in any other relationship, it’s difficult for me to identify all of them. Mostly, though, I think it has something to do with the “Michelangelo Effect” that you described here. We’ve grown TOGETHER. We work TOGETHER. And we are both very satisfied by that.

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