The Challenge of Marriage

When people get married, they normally assume that all will go well. After all, they love each other. If they are mature enough to have thought ahead, they know how they plan to support themselves, where they want to live, and if and when they plan to have children. During their courtship, they focused on each other– wanting to spend all their time together. They waited until finally the day would come when there was no need to be apart.

In most normal marriages, the next few weeks or months bring the issues of family loyalty versus loyalty to spouse and differing expectations to the fore. At that point each is surprised that the other didn’t naturally understand what to them was second nature– from serving platters needing their own utensils to which way the toilet paper roll was installed. Minor differences in experience can make home feel less comfortable as the young couple adapts to each other– taking “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” from each one’s background. But, with loving intentions, eventually, they create together a new reality, a home that is uniquely theirs.

But marriage offers another large set of issues. In infancy, one is tightly connected to one’s parents and counts on them for food and for love. As the child grows, he/she becomes more and more separate. By the teen years, the child wants nothing more desperately than to see him/herself as separate from his/her parents. He/she may take on opinions and preferences that are specifically different from his/her parents to make the point that he/she is different. He/she enjoys being independent and making his/her own decisions. During those years, he/she imagines that marriage will consist of him/her and a spouse who will agree with all of his/her decisions. The idea that he/she may have to take into account someone else’s point of view, preferences, and needs only peripherally enters his/her consciousness.

But marriage consists of two people who are engaged in an ongoing endeavor to reconcile two legitimate but opposite processes. One is development of each of the individuals in the couple as a fully functioning adult with independent thoughts, actions, and feelings. The other is the development of a strong bond that defines each as a member of a couple or a team that has its own character. In a healthy marriage, both husband and wife feel their bond and their shared image as well as their individual images. Each of them is both enriched by and bound by their ties. The freedom each has in his/her personal life is often a direct result of the support of the spouse (e.g., the financial ability to pursue an education or the encouragement to create). A strong bond means emotional support, encouragement, and a feeling of safety.

Yet the tension between the “I-ness” and the “we-ness” persists throughout marriage and it is one of the contradictions that both spouses need to be aware of and understand. Often, the “I-ness” has to take second place to the “we-ness,” but through the supporting bond of the couple, both members become stronger- and together— they become unbeatable!

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