There’s something people often misunderstand about marriage. They take the concept of two people becoming one much too literally. The vision of two people moving through life in complete agreement and harmony sounds nice, but it doesn’t happen.
The reality is that when two individual people come together in marriage, they actually become two individual people with two sets of personal preferences and independent thought processes who are now married. Dealing with conflicts is an inevitable part of relationships, and if we start by believing “happily ever after” means we should always agree, we’ll only damage our relationship and set ourselves up for unhappiness and failure.
In the movies, people in love say things like, “you complete me,” but each of us is already a complete individual, and real love is about appreciating each other’s uniqueness. We were created to think independently and find our strength and worth within ourselves, not through the eyes of our partner. Greg Smalley and Robert Paul’s 9 Lies That Will Destroy Your Marriage: And the Truths That Will Save It and Set It Free explains that marriage isn’t about losing our identities when we say our vows. Instead, it’s about living those vows — promises we make to one another — while protecting and celebrating our individuality.
It’s why one of the most important concepts for a healthy marriage is knowing how to stay in our own yard. Having boundaries in relationships is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s about building respect for each other, and it reflects the reality that each of us is only responsible for ourselves. We can’t (and shouldn’t try) to change other people, nor should we try to complete them or meet all of their needs. It’s too great of burden to bear or to expect.
If couples disagree about something, that doesn’t mean their marriage is unhealthy. It means that it’s normal. Life would be boring if we all saw things exactly the same. The key is how couples handle those disagreements. In a healthy relationship, disagreements lead to constructive conversations. In an unhealthy relationship, they spark fights and resentment. Sometimes, protecting those vows means one partner has to use tough love with the other, such as making it clear a particular behavior won’t be tolerated.
Real love is precious and wonderful, but it isn’t something out of a fairy tale, and it isn’t easy. Establishing and respecting boundaries and individual needs actually helps couples remain closer. If you’re afraid you and your partner are drifting apart, or if marriage isn’t living up to your expectations, sitting down with one of our professional counselors may give you another perspective and practical steps to preserve and protect your vows. Why not set a time to talk right now?
Teresa Land is a counselor at Care to Change who helps couples learn how to relate in healthy ways.