I have written many times about my belief that marriage is about growing up.
This is the main idea behind Simple Marriage and the only way to experience more in marriage and life.
So what does growing up in marriage actually mean?
Another expression is becoming more emotionally mature.
For this post, growing up is not the physical aging of our lives, which happens naturally. The growth I’m writing about is emotional, mental, spiritual, and sexual.
Growing up involves balancing two fundamental life forces: the drive for separateness and the drive for togetherness. Separateness propels us to be on our own, to chart our own course in life, and to create our own identity. Togetherness pushes us to be part of a group, to connect with others, and experience things only relationships can provide.
When these two life forces are expressed in balanced, healthy ways, meaningful relationships are created where both members develop into better people.
Giving up your separateness in order to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship in order to maintain your separateness.
Either way, you end up being less of a person with less of a relationship. ~ David Schnarch
Since growing up requires a great deal and can often be confused with other ideas, here’s a few important clarifications:
1. It’s the ability to maintain a solid sense of self when your partner is away or you’re not currently in a primary love relationship.
Growing up values contact but doesn’t fall apart when you’re alone.
2. It doesn’t involve any lack of feelings or emotions.
Growing up means you can evaluate your emotions (and your partner’s) both subjectively and objectively. In other words, you can connect with your partner without fear of being swept up in their emotions. You can have your feelings without them having you because they don’t control or define your sense of self.
3. When people scream “I got to be me!” “I need space!” and “That’s just the way I am!” they are not growing up.
In fact, just the opposite. When you are afraid you’ll disappear in the relationship you do things in order to avoid your partner’s emotional engulfment. This is different than boundary setting, which is an important aspect of growing up. The difference is boundary setting while growing up is done in the context of staying in the relationship (i.e. in close proximity and restricted space). The process of holding onto yourself in the midst of an important relationship is what creates growth.
4. Growing up is solid but permeable.
When you have solid core beliefs and values, you can adapt and change without losing your identity. You can be influenced by others and adjust to new circumstances as the situations warrant. It is important to realize however, this flexible sense of identity develops slowly over time, requires soul-searching deliberation, and is not simply adapting to the wishes of others.
5. Your personal development is not selfish.
You can choose to be guided by your partner’s best interests, even at the price of your own agenda. This is often the price of committed relationships. Your partner is a separate individual – just like you. You can reach a point where what they want for themselves is as important to you as what you want for yourself.
As you reach higher levels of growth, your view of conflict in relationships will dramatically shift. “What I want for myself versus what I want for you” shifts to “What I want for myself versus my wanting for you what you want for yourself.”
When you feel you need to talk your partner out of what he or she wants in order for you to get your way, you lose.
No matter how you slice it – married life presents endless opportunities to grow up.
The choice is yours.