Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Nurturing Marriage. It has been republished here with permission.
You met, you fell madly in love, you got married. The honeymoon was like floating on cloud nine. Now what? You’re two different people, with different talents, gifts, passions, and dreams. Pursuing those dreams while merging your lives together isn’t always easy.
So, how can you maintain your independence while building a unified, dependent marriage? Try out these four tips and let us know what you think!
Being married is a totally different ballgame than being single. Individually, you still have the same talents, gifts, and inner drive to pursue your dreams. But now, you’re tasked with the challenge of merging your life with the life of another human being who also has their own talents, gifts, and inner drive to pursue their dreams. At some point, the honeymoon stage wears off for most couples and the reality of this challenge settles in (and I haven’t even mentioned the kids yet!). It’s no wonder that creating a strong marriage requires hard work and effort (just like every other worthwhile pursuit).
What’s the key to acing this test and building your dream marriage? In short, you need to become independently dependent. Try out these four tips to see what we mean.
1. “You” is now plural
Before worrying about how to maintain your independence in marriage, first figure out how to work as a team. Build unity, trust, and confidence in one another. Become a strong companionship and learn to depend on each other.
Your life now becomes YOUR life. What I mean is that “you” is no longer singular — it’s plural. That doesn’t mean you lose your identity – it means you gain a best friend and partner! You no longer act in isolation because your actions directly impact more than just you. Now, your marriage becomes an interdependent one. Where you and your spouse rely on each other and support each other. Where you work as a team in all things.
When I was getting ready to graduate, I interviewed for several jobs. In one of those many job interviews, the interviewer stopped me after one of my responses and said, “You say ‘we’ and ‘our’ more than anyone I’ve ever met.” I hadn’t noticed it before, but he was right (and he probably thought it was slightly creepy). I wasn’t sure how to interpret his response at the time — but I now consider it a compliment. He was used to interviewing mostly single students who would respond to questions using “me” and “I” statements, but when interviewing me, he had noticed that I almost exclusively used “we” and “our,” statements. That’s because I never considered important career decisions to be mine alone — they were OUR decisions to make together as husband and wife. April and I were (and are) a team.
2. Choose to be selfless, not selfish
Building, creating, and fostering a happy marriage is not easy. But, you know what’s harder? … Not building, creating, and fostering a happy marriage. Why? Because choosing to build a happy marriage leads to great satisfaction and fulfillment; whereas failing to build a happy marriage leads to a lot of regret and sadness.
So, what’s the key to creating this happy marriage? One word — selflessness.
Being each other’s companions for life and beyond requires sacrifice on both parts. There’s a constant need for give and take, and for compromise. The key is to put your spouse’s needs and desires above your own — to be more concerned with them, than you are with yourself (which is no easy task!). In addition, it’s important to recognize the sacrifices your spouse makes for you and to express gratitude to them sincerely and often.
Remember, selfish play doesn’t win games — teamwork does. One of the beautiful things about marriage is that the two of you together can accomplish, create, and achieve far more than you ever could on your own. Aristotle explained this well when he said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Nowhere is this truer than in marriage. So, choose to be selfless, not selfish.
3. Give them wings to fly
I think the greatest compliment I’ve ever heard one spouse give to another is when a wife told her husband, “You have always given me wings to fly.” While I never personally observed this couple “up close and personal,” I imagine their marriage was remarkable to be deserving of such a compliment!
What does it mean to give your spouse “wings to fly?” To me, it means being their constant support through thick and thin. It’s being their greatest cheerleader, providing encouragement every step of the way. It’s believing in them even when no one else does — perhaps not even themselves. It’s pushing and helping them to achieve their goals and aspirations.
What does this look like? It could be taking the kids for the afternoon while your spouse enjoys a much needed break and some time to themselves. It’s taking on a few more responsibilities at home while your spouse is working late preparing for a big presentation. It’s happily and patiently putting up with hours of study and many late nights getting through school.
A great example of this to me is my brother-in-law, who recently indulged my sister (his wife) in her love of photography. Sure, the new camera was expensive and those classes take time, but he’s showing her, in tangible ways, how he loves her — he’s giving her wings to fly.
4. Be comfortable in your own shoes
At the end of the day, you (plural) create your own life together as well as your own happy marriage. Enjoy the journey! Be patient with yourselves when things are moving slowly and the road seems rough. Everyone has those moments, so don’t stress yourselves out.
Remember that your version of a “happy marriage” may look different than your parents, or your neighbors, or your friends — and that’s OK! The trick is to be confident and comfortable in your own shoes.
It’s easy to feel pressure to follow popular trends, to keep up with the crowd, to feel like your personal worth is dependent on the next promotion, or any of the other ways we try to “keep up with the Jones’.” Unfortunately, yielding to those pressures rarely leads to real satisfaction. Instead, resist the temptation to look sideways at what others are doing. It’s OK that you do things a little differently. Just keep looking and moving forward. These four suggestions are simple, really, but they will go a long way in helping you to create your dream marriage — an interdependent one — so that you and your spouse both become the people you ultimately want to be.