Whenever we attend a wedding ceremony and the pastor says, “And the two shall become one”, my dear husband winks and whispers, “I wonder which one?” Those words came as a result of years of challenging growth for both of us.
Our premarital counselor, a pastor, gave us some extremely troubling advice when he met with us. At the time David was in seminary preparing to be a pastor. These were the pastor’s words, “Dave, your responsibility is to serve God and Janet your responsibility is to serve David.” At that moment I instantly felt devalued and less important. I was left confused and uncomfortable. Dave, on the other hand wondered why he hadn’t gotten married sooner if my job was just to cater to him and serve his needs. Forty-four years later we chuckle at that memory.
We had a couple come to us for premarital counseling. They were extremely intelligent and fascinating people in their own right. Both of them had just completed their doctorates. Together they were a dynamite team. We had the privilege of attending their wedding ceremony.
Our joy however turned to disappointment when we heard the pastor’s words. “You will have a partnership marriage”. Then he looked at the husband and said, “You will be the head partner” Then he directed his attention to the radiant bride, who had just received her PhD. in communication from UCLA. He said, “You, my dear, will be the silent partner.” Devastating words if they are accepted as the way to do marriage.
Last week we addressed the first lesson we have learned in our 44 years of marriage. This is the second lesson we have learned.
Lesson #2: “Healthy Partners Aren’t Echo Chambers”
Perhaps you know a couple that before marriage were both vibrant and interesting. What a tragedy it is to run into them five years or so after they have been married only to see that one of them has disappeared. They aren’t showing up or speaking up. It’s like the lights have gone out. Only one voice is heard. The other voice seems to be nothing but an echo. That is a tragedy. Marriage was never meant to silence one voice.
“Marriage is meant for two complete (mature) persons to come together and build a “WE” that is bigger and better than either one of the “I’s” – (Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend)
How will our “WE” ever happen if each spouse’s perspective isn’t welcomed, valued and encouraged?
When we first fall in love with one another we are attracted to the uniqueness of the other person. We delight in it and dream about it. After we are married these same differences often are perceived as a threat if we’ve been influenced to believe that differences are bad…even a sign of disrespect.
When we haven’t learned how to speak our own truth we will accuse our partner of trying to control us when they give us their perspective. No doubt you’re familiar with this quip.
Before marriage opposites attract. After marriage opposites attack.
When we’re uncomfortable with our spouse’s separateness it is guaranteed that we will be threatened by it.
Perhaps you and your significant other stayed single longer than many. You have developed a strong sense of self, have a career and perhaps have even purchased real estate on your own. After you have spoken your vows and exchanged wedding rings, each of you is still going to have to face this challenge.
Can I love someone who is separate from me, different from me… who is not me?
Do I assume that love means we will always agree? Do I immediately try to make the differences bad? Do I attempt to force my opinion on my spouse? Do I shame my spouse for having a different perspective? What do I do when it’s painfully evident that my beloved and I are on opposite sides of an issue?
Do I get curious or furious?
Forty-four years ago I was afraid I couldn’t express my unique perspective, especially after our premarital counseling tragedy. I grew up in a family where my disagreement, my questions, my opinions were only valued if they were the same as my parents. The emotional result was that I never felt loved when I expressed a different perspective. After our wedding ceremony I found myself afraid that my new husband would be no more open to my perspective than my parents were, that he only expected me to be his echo chamber.
When we married, I dreamt of creating an “US”. Yet in reality I was afraid that my truth wouldn’t be welcomed, that my perspective wouldn’t be received. My fear led me to become reactive and argumentative. I became furious, not curious when David had a differing perspective. My tendency had to be faced before there would be any hope of the two of us forming an “US”. Dave had to confront his belief that a supportive wife would never disagree or confront. She would just be his echo chamber.
Over the last 44 years we’ve experienced the benefits of welcoming each other’s perspective. In the process we have learned these truths:
- It takes two to create one.
- Love creates space for the other to express themself.
- Swallowing my truth because I’m afraid of conflict, harms me, harms my spouse, and harms our relationship.
- Listening is one of the greatest gifts love can give.
Obviously we didn’t learn these lessons overnight. School is still in session. Yet something has happened over the years.
We can see how God has used our marriage to grow us up individually.
Rather than feeling limited by our relationship, we find ourselves enlarged by it. When we each stopped expecting our spouse to be our echo chamber, we became fascinated with what our spouse brought to our relationship. We are always learning something new about each other. At times, that is thrilling, at times surprising, and still at other times, aggravating. It is never boring! In the process our “US” is being developed. We both know we can truly be ourselves and still be in relationship.
Until our next conscious Lover’s Blog…