The “We” of a marriage is what it’s about, except when it comes down to the work you have to do.
If you’re contemplating marriage—and you both welcome and know to your core that it’s a lifetime commitment and not just an extended sleep over—get ready for a major shift because, well, it is. Breathing life and strength into a marriage requires a change to your principle pronoun. Put “I” aside and welcome “we” because it’s no longer all about you.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with “I”. For all of us, there are decades where it’s necessarily the main thing. But I never wanted to remain single. The idea of creating a functional “we” and being a father was always with me. Beside the risk of boredom–“I’m” just not that interesting—I looked to a partner to fill out my life and, yes, maybe even fix the broken parts I hadn’t patched together for myself.
While occasional begging may be involved, marriage isn’t about putting the marriage always ahead of your own ambitions. Done well, marriage is a place of strength to step from and toward new challenges that benefit you, your partner, and that place of joint life called a marriage. Just remember, you owe your partner the same scope and swing.
The marriage muscle can take you forward and it can help keep you grounded when life gets complicated. I’ve been at my own marriage for 33 years. We’ve had the normal ration, and perhaps a few extra servings, of family health challenges. And it’s when I’ve moved toward my wife and our partnership that we’ve been able to navigate the rough patches best. And there will always be rough patches.
Fatherhood – Expanding the “We”
And if you’re contemplating fatherhood, and I mean a fatherhood of shared effort, that activity is decidedly not about you. “We” gains quite the expanded meaning.
When I was courting my wife, I bought a puppy, an Australian shepherd, knowing that I needed some fuzzy help to round out the package I hoped she’d buy. It worked. She bought in and the three of us went along for five years in a happy inverted pyramid of mutual time and attention: the two of us balanced on top and the Aussie just below, always close at hand.
Then our daughter was born. Our 6 pound, 11 ounce rookie human shook that happy geometry into a straight and rigid hierarchy I wasn’t prepared for: baby, mom, dog, and then me. Me, that is, after I’d given mom a break from baby care, walked the dog, brought in the wood and bacon. Diaper changes were involved. Talk about a fall from grace.
Except When It Is About You
There were times when I had to turn my attention back to me. Sometimes they were about career, but the critical ones were over what needed fixing. I brought my full share of mangled gears to the relationship and, while I muffled the sound pretty well before we got married, there came a few times afterwards when it was impossible to ignore the clanking.
I learned you can’t look to your spouse to be the mechanic. She may tell you something’s broken but she can’t fix it and she’s definitely not responsible for the stripped gears. Jerry Maguire’s “you complete me” declaration was a compelling compliment. But if the sub-text reads I expect you to fill in all the holes in my heart and soul then you’re placing burdens on your partner and your marriage that neither are equipped to carry.
No one can cure your pains, heal the rents in your heart, and drop your baggage except for you. I made the mistake of expecting that and she almost left me. Fortunately, once I got on with the work (if you need a therapist, shop for one until you find one that works—you’re the buyer) she saw what she needed to see.
If you’re fortunate, the marriage will be the safe harbor from which you set out to do the work but it’s still your work to do. That part’s all about you.