Marriage or a Life – Can You Have Both?

Have you grown up? Have you achieved a level of individuality where you inhabit your strengths, celebrate your uniqueness and take pride in your personality?

One of the most important themes in all our lives centers on whether or not­ we have developed a whole, complete identity. Look at your own journey and ask yourself, “Have I changed over time and stepped into a place of maturity and confidence where I honor and celebrate my own uniqueness?” If not, what gets in the way?

Could be lack of self-confidence from childhood or struggles with depression or anxiety you haven’t solved. Or any issue you haven’t mastered that compromises personal development and lasting self-worth. Unfortunately, it could be the result of merging your life with your partner’s in marriage. Yes, your marriage.

Although marriage creates a wonderful union of soul and heart, it challenges us to keep and sustain our individuality in the face of a gravitational pull that draws us toward oneness and unity. Like the tide in the ocean, we feel the momentum of rushing toward and merging into the shores of interpersonal connection with our mate while trying to make sense of the departing current that longs to flow toward horizons yet experienced in the unknown distance.

So one of the most painful themes in marriage comes when either partner feels boxed in. Like they can’t breathe and grow, surrounded by walls that don’t let in the light or energy and that move us toward personal freedom and growth. Sometimes this comes in extremes. One we call co-dependency. You often see where addiction persists in the home – where the spouse focuses on keeping the addict sober at the expense of developing a life for themselves. No one wins.

The more common development comes from the nature of marriage itself. Being in love with someone means sacrificing and surrendering our lives to someone we deeply love. Unfortunately for some, this feels like a loss of individuality when you give to your lover of your emotions, life direction and time. Some begin to lose sight of what it means to make individual choices, to experience the freedom to explore alternative directions in life and may begin to blame the marriage for the problem. More importantly, blame their life partner.

How does loving and giving of self in marriage promote sacrificial love while enhancing worth, identity and uniqueness of each life partner? Is it even possible? Is this too much to ask? Don’t think so. Marriage has the power to do both. To create both a space of loving and belonging while enhancing the personal worth, freedom and individuality of each partner. But it needs two lovers with distinct characteristics that make it possible to facilitate and celebrate each other’s individuality while simultaneously asking for closeness and togetherness.

Let’s explore some traits of two partners who make marriage really work and honor individuality while creating closeness and unity.

  1. Two life partners who bring their own wholeness into the marriage grow a kind of mutuality that fosters togetherness without sacrificing separateness. When you have grown up, whether from past wounds or other reasons that keep you from loving fully, you sustain a personal confidence that doesn’t get threatened when it is time to surrender or sacrifice time and energy for the love of your mate. Too often one or both spouses who haven’t grown up begin to blame the other for holding them back, rather than embracing their own need to become whole in and of themselves.
  2. Two lovers, who take full responsibility for their own growth and their own experience of individuality, fail to be threatened by the wants and needs their lover brings to the table. They give from a full well and know that others can’t diminish their self-esteem or sense of personal worth. So loving never gets equated with loss.   Only gain. This leads to the next point.
  3. Giving and surrender don’t have to mean loss and disempowerment. Loving another – deeply loving another – grows energy and brings light into the relationship. Doesn’t diminish self. So sacrifice, reaching out and caring deeply provide opportunities to express power and individuality. Perhaps the greatest pinnacle of personal growth happens when giving is experienced as receiving. Light and power reside within and when given to another, the well of love replenishes from the act itself.
  4. Finally, when two lovers commit to building a marriage that deeply supports one another’s individual growth, a kind of powerful energy inhabits the relationship. When your thoughts and actions say, “I see you as an amazing and unique human being and I’m going to support and encourage you to become all you can be as my way of loving you,” then love grows tall – like giant redwoods that stand out in a dense forest of mutual care and adoration. Confidence and appreciation for each other reaches new heights.

Love, true love, happens between lovers who see each other as a marvel of creation. And they have learned how to say “I love you and want you to soar.” “You are profoundly different than I am in so many ways and I love you for this.” A love like this feeds the soul. Honors the stunning uniqueness that every person possesses and waits with anticipation for time together – where two souls merge together without ever losing the drumbeat that makes them different and exceptional.

Creating an exceptional marriage, an amazing marriage – together yet apart.


About Doug and Leslie Gustafson, MFT's

As writers, speakers, therapists and coaches, our mission centers on working with men, women and couples who want a more fulfilling life by living out their true vision and passion. We have written the book Amazing Intimacy - Create A Spectacular Marriage In and Out of the Bedroom as a how to guide for love, sex and passion. Ultimately, we all have an incredible potential we have only partially discovered and fulfilled. This brief journey in life gives us the opportunity to realize and pursue this exciting potential.
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