The healthiest marriages are not the ones where husband and wife spend the most time together. Does that surprise you? The marriages where husband and wife are both thriving and satisfied are those where you let your relationship breathe. Both spouses deeply invest in the relationship, but they each also individually invest in becoming whole human beings themselves.
Many couples, when they are first dating, want to spend every minute together. Your partner is your whole world. But after a little while that becomes stifling. An enmeshed marriage is not fully alive.
A relationship that breathes is one where neither partner becomes absorbed into the other. You spend quality time together on purpose, investing daily and deeply in the connection between you. And each of you is also connected in meaningful ways beyond the marriage.
Do you let your relationship breathe?
Where Stifling Comes From
The need and desire for connection and intimacy is what drove you to get married, and that’s a good thing. But no single human being can meet all your needs or fill you up. If Adam looks to Eve as his Source he will be frustrated and angry. If Eve looks to Adam as her Source she will become manipulative and miserable to be around. It’s possible to have too much togetherness.
You didn’t wake up one day and decide to harm your relationship by suffocating your spouse. Your style of relating came from somewhere. You might have never developed a secure attachment to healthy people while growing up, so you became desperate and clingy as a way to survive. You’ve never learned how to feed yourself, and you’re looking to your partner for your identity. This can be a factor for both spouses, though it more often affects women.
Believing you’re the only one who’s right and that you must be in charge can also be stifling. You perhaps unconsciously see your spouse as only there for your benefit, to be at your beck and call. You’re demanding from a position of control and power, and there’s little sense of partnership in the relationship. Either spouse can display this style, but it’s more common among men.
The result of stifling is that the relationship turns inward. You end up feeding off each other, and you often get eaten up in the process. Such a relationship is a closed system and does not grow, because growth requires input from the outside.
If You’re Never Apart
Each relationship is unique. But if these are true of your marriage, it’s a sign you’re turned inward and not breathing.
- Neither (or only one) spouse has significant outside friendships
- You rarely or never consider doing an activity without your spouse
- You wouldn’t think of attending an event alone
- Neither spouse is engaged in individual growth activities
- There is no “me”, only “we.” You have no sense of who you are as an individual.
Marriage is the establishment of a “we.” But God does not save couples; He saves individuals. When you get to heaven He will not ask you whether you fulfilled what your spouse wanted you to do; He will ask you whether you became the person He called you to be.
Marriage is a laboratory in which you learn to love well. But you cannot love another well unless you are a self, an on-the-way-to-becoming-whole human being taking in goodness from God and others so you have something to bring to the marriage.
A marriage that is turned inward is in danger of collapsing in on itself.
If You’re Never Together
Breathing does not mean you are never together! It’s as or perhaps more dangerous to live as two ships passing in the night without investing regularly in deep connection together. Perhaps the biggest reason you engage in individual growth is that it makes you a better person for the benefit of the relationship.
Working on your union, your oneness, is not automatic. Never together is the condition I hear most marriages sliding into. Especially in our busy culture it takes effort to make the investments your relationship needs to thrive. Make special note of the coming and going rituals, such as when you leave for work or return at the end of the day. Be intentional in how you say Goodbye and Hello, such as a fully-present hug, kiss, and I love you.
These investments include rhythms of communication, regular intimacy and sex, periodic date nights or weekends away, and planning for the future you want together.
You are still a “me,” but you are deeply investing in the “we.”
How to Let Your Relationship Breathe
What does breathing in a healthy relationship look like as far as moving apart and coming together again? The specifics will vary depending on your personalities, season of life, etc. But this can give you some ideas.
- There are a few couples you are both friends with, and you each also have a handful of deep individual friendships
- You spend at least one or two evenings a week together if at all humanly possible, and other evenings you sometimes do different things
- Your budget provides a little money for each of you to use as you wish without having to ask permission or justify to your partner, and the rest of the money is joint
- Both of you have an individual growth plan in place; books you’re reading, podcasts you’re listening to, small group or therapy you’re going to. And you periodically share with each other how you’re growing.
- When either of you has a problem you consider it a “we” problem and work together toward solutions
You may have noticed a few of these are more about the “me” and some are more about the “we.” Both the “me” and the “we” need intentional nurturing.
And finally, breathing will take some learning. Ask yourself and your spouse, “Are we too much together, or too much apart?” It’s a dance you can get better at with intentional practice.
Your Turn: How well is your relationship breathing? Are you too much together, or too much apart? Which do you need to put more effort into? Leave a comment below.
Tweetables: why not share this post?
- For a marriage that lasts, you must let your relationship breathe. You are each becoming more whole human beings individually, and you regularly come together and work on your oneness. In. And out. Breathing. Tweet that.
How’s the Communication in Your Marriage?
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