Today I finished watching the third season of Netflix’s House of Cards. If you are not yet a fan of this show, I encourage you to check it out. Not only is it a finely wrought political drama, but it is a fantastic collection of character studies. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, in particular, have created masterpieces out of their characters Frank and Claire Underwood. As I watched the last episode of season 3 (I won’t give spoilers, I swear), I found myself thinking a lot about marriage – mine in particular and the concept in general.
It occurred to me how much we enter this yoked state expecting to be completed by another person. Often we do this subconsciously. After a few years go by, we look at ourselves and realize we are unhappy. Desperately so. The most obvious (or convenient) culprit for our unhappiness is, of course, our spouse. But, unless we are married to someone who abuses us, cheats on us chronically, or in some other way mistreats us, the blame for our misery most likely does not belong to our spouse. It belongs to us and a mindset we have been taught to internalize until it takes over our romantic relationships, destroying them. The belief that we are a) incomplete without a romantic partner and b) our romantic partner is EVERYTHING to us is a toxic combination that not all corrodes our own sense of worth, but our ability to maintain a stable connection with another person.
Before I go further, let me pause and say I am not talking about or advocating polyamory, swingers, open relationships, or extra-marital affairs. Those are issues that each need and deserve their own conversations and I am not an expert in any of them. And, while some couples truly believe those activities are essential to their own marital health and happiness I am conflicted in my own mind about whether they actually contribute to married life.
What I am focused on are the aspects of our personality that demand expression in order to keep us balanced and whole. For instance, I’m a writer. Mr. A has never read any of my work. We don’t really talk about my work in any specific way. I still struggle with this and wish he were more of a partner in my writing life. But, that is MY failing. I am expecting him to provide something for me he is simply not capable of. Does that make him a bad husband? No, absolutely not. What this means is I need to make myself complete as a writer through relationships WITH OTHER WRITERS. I need to find others outside my relationship with Mr. A who share my passion. Conversely, Mr. A is really into sports and cars. I have absolutely no interest in either. Does that make me a bad wife and partner? No. And Mr. A has never expected me to share those interests. It doesn’t hurt him or make him think badly of me or the bond we have. He’s much more evolved in that capacity than I am 🙂 And so, he expresses those passions through his job at a dealership and by watching sports in his down time.
As a more basic example, let’s look at the obvious. Mr. A is a man. He has a penis and testicles and all the hormonal/biological baggage that comes with. He cannot give me the same companionship and understanding that a woman friend can. It’s impossible. I’m not one to see things in black and white. I don’t like to make generalizations or hardline my views. But, I see a disturbing trend in today’s world where the differences between men and women are seen as bad and worthy of annihilation. Why? What is so wrong with naturally occurring gender-based tendencies? And don’t tell me there is no such thing because I have two sons in whom I have never encouraged a preference for girl or boy toys/activities yet my youngest was irresistibly drawn towards cars, trucks, trains (anything with wheels and some sort of engine), which is a “traditionally” boy thing. I DO NOT subscribe to the idea that boys should only play with/be interested in certain things and girls in others. Neither do I subscribe to the idea that you need to make your daughter play with trucks and your son with dolls so they are not “brainwashed” by artificial gender notions. I say, watch your kids and find out what they are interested in. Expose them to different activities and encourage those they take to. As spouses and romantic partners, we should also encourage our “other halves” to explore different healthy hobbies and passions. We should help them find opportunities for expression and allow them the independence and freedom to get immersed in those activities. Doesn’t mean we have to jump in the pool with them. I’m content with waiting on a lawn chair and making sure they don’t drown. Weird analogy, I know.
No spouse/romantic partner wants to hear the phrase “You are not enough.” It contains so much possible hurt and feeds into our secret insecurities that we are not good, not worthy. I certainly would be crushed if Mr. A ever said that to me. But why? Why should I take that statement as an insult? Why should I interpret “You are not enough” as “You’re bad” or “You’re worthless”? They are not the same.
To often, we believe a separation of passions and interests means we are incompatible to each other. If our spouse does not plunge 100% into what WE are into, we take that as they don’t love us. That they don’t support us or respect our pursuits. We expect our partners to be a partner in EVERYTHING. But that just isn’t possible. Think about how much energy it takes to live your daily life: go to work, take care of your children or pets (or both), look after your own health and well-being, take care of a home, spend quality, intimate time with your spouse. Now add into that mix a submersion in a hobby, pursuit, or passion you really don’t care about. Is it fair to ask anyone to be all things to us. To be spouse, co-parent, co-caretaker of a home, worker, and lover as well as an equal enthusiast in all the things we take an interest in? Be excited for your spouse/partner. Rejoice with their success and cry over their failures. But don’t feel bad or unworthy because you can’t drum up the energy to participate day to day.
It’s true, those superstars of life who have made a HUGE success of their passions seem to have the tireless support and help of their spouses (at least as far as the public can tell). And I won’t dispute that a person can go much farther when they have a spouse/romantic partner dedicated to their dreams. But a healthy marriage/relationship does not require you to be totally focused on your spouse’s/partner’s aim, nor they on yours.
No one should come to marriage as an incomplete person. If you love someone, bring your complete self to the effort of loving them. Bring the whole person. If you feel you need a spouse or romantic partner to be complete, you have no business getting married or being in a relationship. Fill in yourself with work, friends, family, passion and hobbies, and amazing experiences. Then, you can approach a relationship as an equal partner, an independent force.