In the movie, Jerry MacGuire, most of us (women) got all teary-eyed when Jerry says to his love interest, “You complete me.” What a beautiful sentiment, that another person is not whole without their lifelong companion. And I even used that expression in an earlier blog. It’s true, we cannot be separate from another person. We must see our connection with others and realize that we are all connected and therefore we should treat each other as an extension of ourselves.
But there is an important step that needs to occur before we can be connected. Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger’s characters had to realize it before they could get to that fateful moment. Before we are complete with others, we need to be complete with ourselves. We need to know and understand ourselves in order to have a healthy relationship with others. They need to be complete with themselves as well, or we have co-dependent relationships.
I was married quite young, and so this lesson has occurred while married. During the first part of our marriage, I would say that I was the co-dependent one in the relationship. I used to let Jeff make all the big decisions. I went along with everything he said, whether I agreed or disagreed with his ideas. I didn’t feel confident that I understood problems as well as he did. During the next part of our marriage, Jeff was co-dependent on me. The roles were pretty much reversed when our kids started growing up, with his letting me guide how to raise our family and establish our family routines. He trusted me to do it because of my teaching background. And it’s only been the past ten or so years that we find ourselves not being co-dependent on one another. We got to a point of raising our kids when I was at as much of a loss for the “best practices,” and I told him we needed to do this together, as we were stepping into uncharted territory. The balance of responsibility evened out in the relationship. During this transition in the relationship, we went through rough times, as we would take turns seeing if the other would take the reins. At the same time, we decided we needed to spend more quality time with each other. We started our Friday night date nights when the kids were mid-teens. We didn’t want to get so wrapped up in raising them that we forgot each other. We needed time to discuss other things than just where are the kids and what is for dinner and who has homework. While Jeff had always gone on hunting and fishing trips, while I had my one weekend a year with girlfriends, I started traveling more with my girlfriends. That gave me some time away to rediscover myself in the company of my best friends. I found out that I was a pretty fun person when I wasn’t being a wife and mom. That helped me to be more of myself when I was in the role of wife and mom. The same is true for Jeff. I encouraged him to do more fishing and hanging out with his buddies. He learned how to be a better friend and companion with his new-found independence.
Sometimes it’s scary to step outside our roles and add new dimensions to ourselves. It scares us, and it scares our partners. But, unless we were in a really unhealthy relationship that exists only because of dependency, the changes will make the relationship stronger. Especially as we encourage our partners to grow too.