Saying ‘”I do” doesn’t mean becoming co-dependent
I am a romantic. I used to be, anyway. I loved watching and reading about all-consuming loves like in Moulin Rogue and all those sappy Nicholas Sparks novels. I always dreamed of getting married and having kids young. I loved the thought of loving and being loved, needing and being needed. I wanted someone I couldn’t live without.
However, now that I am older I’ve learned that while fairytale romance might make a good movie, it doesn’t really make a healthy approach to love in real life. Making your spouse your everything is not the ticket to a happy marriage, but probably an unhappy one. Expecting your other half to be your “everything”, to “complete” you, and to fulfill all your needs (emotional, mental, social, sexual, intellectual and physical)…it’s just not possible for one person to do. Of course, it might be all nice and sweet to be the only two people in your little bubble of a world in the beginning, but believe me, it doesn’t work once you’ve been married with kids for a long time. Once little feet enter the picture, you will naturally lose quite a few friends and stop having the time and energy to do all the things you used to enjoy doing. In a nutshell, you might start losing bits of your life and identity and start clinging to each other and expecting the other person to make you happier…and then start resenting them when they don’t “complete” you.
I think not enough people admit that marriage is hard after kids. How can it not be with the sleepless nights, kids in your bed, baby stuck to your boob, zero time to yourselves, inability to do things you used to enjoy or go out with your friends (when the kids are young anyway)? My husband and I are better now than we’ve ever been but it’s taken work to get there. And one of the key factors in improving our relationship was realising we should not be each other’s “everything”.
It sounds strange that you should not be looking within your marriage to make it stronger, but that’s exactly what has helped improve our relationship. By working on fulfilling our needs separately (as well as together where required), I find we’ve grown into better, happier people and as a result are also more drawn to each other. We got together quite young and I would say back then we were two halves coming together. We hadn’t lived our lives and resolved our own personal issues to learn to be a whole on our own yet. Of course back then I thought the notion of two halves coming together to make a whole was romantic, but eventually you will realise it’s not at all. All you get in that scenario is half a relationship. That’s because a lot of problems with relationships stem from people chucking their baggage and insecurities at each other.
A successful relationship does require you to recognise your own issues, learn to fix them yourself and come into a partnership as a healthy, whole person. It’s unreasonable and unfair to expect your partner to handle your insecurities and personal issues. No one can complete you but you. Of course your other half can listen to you and support you but they can’t fix you. You can’t change or control another person or make them do what you want them to do. You have to realise that only you are responsible for your own happiness. Everything is a choice. So now my mindset is I can live without you, but I choose to be with you.
To be a better partner, you have to look after your own needs. So what are your needs? There are lots of different models of human needs out there but I like how Neil Strauss described six core needs in his book The Truth which he learned during his counselling for sex addiction. They are: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social and sexual. A lot of us tend to neglect some of these needs as we get older and busy with family and work but I’ve found if you make the effort to constantly fulfill all these needs, you will be a much happier person. Here is how I’m trying to juggle my needs:
Physical: I’m trying to make a conscious effort to exercise. Everyone needs to exercise. Your body needs it and it makes you feel mentally and emotionally better too. I already get lots of incidental exercise walking around (I don’t drive) but I’m now trying to rebuild my strength, tone and flexibility after childbirth with more Pilates-type workouts at home. Obviously it’s very tough with young kids and many days I find myself too exhausted to move but i do try to do some quick moves here and there when I can. I’m also trying to put a bit more effort into my appearance. The temptation to step out of the house in pajamas is strong and sure there are days I can’t be bothered to put on my face, but I try to muster up the energy to look nice most of the time. Looking good on the outside makes you feel good on the inside!
Emotional: I’m trying to live without censoring myself too much. I used to be more concerned about always trying to say the right thing and sounding nice that even trying to write something positive and non-controversial to a friend would take way too much time and energy. Now whether I’m talking to someone, writing a blog post, or writing a Facebook comment etc, I just say what first comes to my mind and don’t try to go back on it. I’ve gotten to a point where I can say “This is me and I’m happy with me. It doesn’t matter if someone else doesn’t agree with me.”
Intellectual: I’m reading books again and have started listening to podcasts which is a new thing for me. I usually do all this while carrying the litle one to sleep. I used to always say I’m too busy to read but now I’ve learned when you want to, you will always make a way. Grow your mind, grow your perspective.
Spritual: I’m always trying to spend more time with God. I won’t lie, it’s a continual struggle for me to remember to study the word, spend time in praise and worship, and pray. But I feel lately I’m understanding Him better as a result of also working on other relationships because after all, the bond you have with God is a relationship too. Podcasts and books definitely help here too.
Social: As I’m an introvert, I used to be adamant I didn’t need people in my life. Now I’ve accepted humans are social creatures and we’re better off with people in our lives. We need friends to feel energised. And we need one or two really close friends who we can share our problems with so we don’t overburden our partners and also to get different insights into our issues. At my age I am definitely pickier about who I choose to be close to and I am also less afraid of letting go of old friendships that aren’t working anymore. I am trying to make more effort to get out and see people, although obviously it is not the easiest thing to do with a baby. Effort counts, right?
Sexual: Obviously I won’t elaborate too much on this here, but I will say it’s important to have really open and honest communication with each other here. You want to be able to be completely truthful. Any skeletons in the closet will eventually kill you both. I personally think sex is very important in a marriage. I know a lot of people find it hard to find time and energy for it after kids but I think it needs to be a priority because it helps you feel closer and more connected emotionally to each other. It actually baffles me how people can keep denying their partner sex then be surprised when he/her cheats. Again, it all boils down to healthy communication with each other. Whether you want it or don’t- you need to be able to talk truthfully about it. Don’t lie about it.
I’ve found that by looking after all your needs and trying to be your best you, you will probably naturally become more attractive to your partner and make them want to be better too. You will be more energised when you come together and enjoy each other’s company a lot more. This is weird to say but you basically want to get to a point where you feel you would be okay if your partner chose to leave you tomorrow. You want to be able to say “I am my best person. I am happy with myself. If you choose to leave- that is your choice and has nothing to do with me.” The problem with marriage is that after a while you become too familiar with each other. You assume the other person will never leave you and hence you stop looking after yourself and working on yourself. I think it’s healthy to never feel too safe.
A lot of my friends have said they look up to my husband and I as role models for a healthy relationship and so here, this is one of our secrets I guess- look after yourself and never get too comfortable…and you will keep your relationship invigorated. Obviously at the end of the day, it helps that our personalities are highly compatible, but we also recognise marriage is a continual process of growing and evolving separately as well as together. It’s always a choice to be with each other and live a fulfilling life together. It’s a choice to work together and also respect each other’s needs. We are so far from perfect, but I feel blessed to be with someone who always wants to do more with himself as it inspires me to do the same.
To my husband, you’re not my everything and sure I can live without you, but life might just be a bit more boring. You definitely motivate me to be my best and keep me living on my toes and I wouldn’t ask to have life any other way. Thanks for choosing to live life with me.