Why You Don’t Want Your Spouse to Complete You
Are you familiar with that scene from Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise makes cinema gold and tells what’s-her-face that she completes him? That scene has messed up so many marriages.
Recently, my husband, Brian, and I watched this movie together. It was a romantic night, with popcorn and bed at 10:00 p.m. sharp. As we prepared for bed, Brian and I embarked on a long discussion about why I should stop buying bargain toilet paper. I don’t know how we got there. Something about “You had me at hello” got us into a conversation that had subpoints and follow-up arguments on two-ply. I think, at one point, Anderson Cooper was called in to moderate.
“What you are failing to acknowledge,” Brian said, his hands folded in a tent with fingers aligned, “is that my derriere* can only tolerate super soft. Not sandpaper. It’s killing me. I am going to die a slow, sandpapered death.”
“Is it a tiny bit possible that you are overexaggerating here?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. And it’s exfoliating.”
“NOBODY NEEDS EXFOLIATION DOWN THERE.”
I bet Jerry Maguire never argued about toilet paper.
Our marriage seems to have tides. Every marriage does. We ebb and we flow with our feelings for each other and hope we don’t wreck. And our marriage has steered past many dangerous waters: my growing addiction; his anger issues—oh, and I’m sure those first two are so not linked—my relapse; and his innate desire to eat gas station hot dogs even though I beg him not to. And here we are, still floating along. And we are still in love, or working at being in love, every day.
The thing is, when Brian and I got married, I kind of had it in my head that I was saving his sorry behind from a life of lonely bachelorhood. I was rescuing him. I had already helped him stop wearing a phone on his belt, and I managed that in less than two weeks. I could totally rehab the guy. I was on this marriage thing. I had a whole slew of It’s Marriage! It’s Awesome! books, Bible studies, and plans ready to go. We were going to be the best married couple in the world.
But, this is marriage:
You get up and kiss each other hello, with his stubble and your morning breath. And he makes the coffee too weak, and you forgot to pick up the towels, and his lunch is leftover chili that wasn’t good on the first running. And you text each other about four times each day, but it’s mainly about whether you paid the water bill or whether he can pick up dog food. And a lot of times the texts are answered with “Y,” which is code for “I’m too busy to talk and I don’t want to text ‘K’ because that’s rude, but somehow I can’t even get the time to push ‘E’ and ‘S.’” Your discussions at night hit maybe ten minutes tops. Instead, you invest in long-winded conversations with small children about why peeing is a sport that involves both aim and dedication. And then you fall asleep, but not before he smushes over and tries to kiss your cheek but ends up kissing your eyeball due to the light being turned off. Then he snores and you hog the blankets. And you get up and do the whole thing again the next day. And so on.
That’s marriage. It’s built upon a foundation of “and so on.”
I realize I am not really selling this whole marriage thing. It doesn’t make an inspiring bumper sticker—Marriage: Sometimes It’s Nice.
I would say Brian and I have a comfortable marriage. Comfortable is not bad. Slippers are comfortable. So are large couches and smooth jazz channels on the radio. And honestly, if I must, I’ll compare my marriage to warm, fuzzy slippers anytime. There are worse things.
Yet, contentment doesn’t have to live in fuzzy slippers. It can live in Manolos, or some other high-end footwear; however, I don’t wear Manolos because they make my toes feel like they’re being eaten by stylish piranhas. Contentment deserves better.
You know what I also have a hard time with? Those Hallmark cards that have pink roses all over them and the swoopy gold raised letters saying, “You Are My World, Please Don’t Ever Leave Me.” I don’t like those cards. They are too much. When you open the card, you have to get that weird smile on your face and pretend to read the four paragraphs of redundancy inside while your husband watches you to see if he made you cry. It’s uncomfortable. Those cards just seem too . . . needy.
What’s comfortable is a marriage based not on need but on interdependence. I know. I sound so super healthy and also really coldhearted here, don’t I? Stay with me. It only took me about ten years of marriage to get to this point. Brian, not so much. He was pretty cool with the fact that I was not the wind beneath his wings from the start. I don’t know how he got to be all self-aware from the get-go. It’s kind of annoying.
All this not-needing business leaves a great big hole to be filled by God, which is a good thing. Need doesn’t have to be synonymous with love here. I need oxygen, but I don’t loooooove it. I don’t take selfies with it or write about it in my journal or plan trips to go visit oxygen. Yet I desperately need it.
Think about it. If you had a union with someone who was constantly deep and constantly soul-searching, and had emotive goo slathered all over it, wouldn’t you go kind of nutty after a while?
In sum, this is not my marriage. We don’t do goo. We go through endless arcs. We think each other kind of adorable. Then, we can’t stand each other. This is followed by wallowing in apathy. And then, we cycle back again. Marriage to my husband is generally good, generally positive, and often, very specifically maddening. Perfect wives don’t exist, and neither do perfect husbands, but we stay together. This is a straight-up miracle. Most marriages are.
But then, watching my husband play air guitar to “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” reminds me that youth is fleeting, but nuttiness? It’s forever.
Adapted from How to Be Perfect Like Me by Dana Bowman with permission of Central Recover Press. Copyright © 2018 by Dana Bowman.
Bowman is a long-time English teacher and part-time professor in the department of English at Bethany College, Kansas. Her first book, Bottled: A Mom’s Guide to Early Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press, was chosen as a 2016 Kansas Notable Book. She is also the creator of the popular momsieblog.com and leads workshops on writing and addiction, with a special emphasis on being a woman in recovery while parenting young children.
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