After yet another episodic hiatus from blogging, I have several things rumbling around in my head that I have been thinking through. One of those deals with the notion of self-actualization as it relates to marriage. I teach about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in my counseling class. The needs, in order from most basic and essential to highest and most difficult to attain are:
1. Physiological needs such as warmth, shelter, food
2. Safety and security needs
3. Need for love, affection, and belongingness
4. Need for esteem (self-respect and respect from others)
Self-actualization is the notion of being and doing what you were born to be and do. It’s the fullest realization of one’s potential.
So, how does self-actualization related to marriage? Unfortunately, I think that often it doesn’t. However, I think it can be completely related. All of these thoughts came from a discussion Robert and I had several weeks ago. I was thinking (always a dangerous thing) about how if just a couple of minor details or timing in our lives were slightly adjusted that we would have never gone out for that first date or gotten married. Then we started talking about if we hadn’t married each other, who do we think we would have ended up with.
At this point, I must interject that while I think it is a lovely romantic sort of notion, I do not believe that there is one someone for everyone. I think there are several potential someones for everyone and I think God has more important things to do that play heavenly matchmaker for those two people that are destined to be together. But, I digress…
So we were talking about various people from our pasts that we could have ended up with instead. Now one must know that since Robert and I started dating right after we both turned 17 neither one of us had tons of previous relationships. We had both dated a couple of other people and had been on dates (to dances and the like) with a handful more. We also both had a lot of really close friendships with people of the opposite sex in high school and in college. We both came to the conclusion that if we had married a couple of different people from our pasts that we could have likely been content…even very happy (potentially–who knows the reality of that). However, here is the thing: Because we married each other, speaking for myself at least, I have transcended happy, very happy, and have arrived at marriage self-actualization.
What this means to me is that due in part to the fact that I married my soulmate and best friend, I think I have become the me that I was created to be. Everyone always loves the line in Jerry McGuire where Tom Cruise bursts into the room and announces to Renee Zellweger, “You complete me.” Personally, I think that’s sad. Robert doesn’t complete me. Only Jesus can do that and I find my completion in Him. However, Robert makes me a better me with him than I am alone. That’s what I think marriage should be. We should make one another better together than we are as individuals.
Part of the marriage self-actualization process has probably even come from the fact that Robert and I grew up together. We were just punk teenagers when we started dating and now we are middle-aged. we have actually known each other since we were third graders together. We went through the awkward teen years together, going through college, getting married, having babies when we had no idea what it meant to be a parent, going through some drama along the way, and learning what the “in sickness and health” vow was all about. However, I can count on one hand the number of times we have actually argued. By that I mean yelling at each other and being really angry. I can recall three specific episodes. Now certainly we have had other minor disagreements, have hurt each other’s feelings, not communicated well, etc., but for the most part we just “get” each other and we know how we work, how we think, etc. Over the years we have learned how to head off a disagreement before it happens and we’ve learned to quit playing the “Are you mad? No, I’m fine.” game, when really we are irritated. Now we just talk it out before it escalates.
The other part of the self-actualization piece is the adventures we have had that led to some huge life experiences and realized goals that I never even knew that I had. I am so thankful that we have lived in so many places–5 different states. While I never like goodbyes and have cried each time, I do love the adventure and excitement of a new place and new start. However, I love that now we are home. I didn’t even know where Wisconsin was 4 years ago and now I know that I know that I know this is exactly where we are supposed to be and we are both doing exactly what we were created to do. I love that we are able to put down deep roots here because this is where we are investing.
Because of Robert and his encouragement I got my Ph.D.and now I am starting to run—for real this time. He makes me feel like I can do anything! He challenges my faith in hard ways and makes me have flesh out why I believe what I believe. He’s comfortable with agreeing to disagree on some topics like capital punishment (which we have finally reconciled) and what video games the boys can play (we still disagree…and I’m right). Robert’s taught me about mercy, justice, compassion, scandalous grace, loving the unloveable, priorities, the radical nature of Jesus. He’s introduced me to my home away from home, Nicaragua. He’s shown me how little by little, one person at a time, we can change the world. He’s the real deal. He practices what he preaches and he truly lives it out daily in our home, in his dealings with me and our sons. So yeah, I’m glad I didn’t end up living some perfectly content southern middle class happily-ever-after. I’m blessed to be…here…now…with my soulmate who has helped me become a better me.
One of favorite poems on marriage kind of sums it up (emphasis mine):
Most Like an Arch This Marriage
by John Ciardi
Most like an arch—an entrance which upholds
and shores the stone-crush up the air like lace.
Mass made idea, and idea held in place.
A lock in time. Inside half-heaven unfolds.
Most like an arch—two weaknesses that lean
into a strength. Two fallings become firm.
Two joined abeyances become a term
naming the fact that teaches fact to mean.
Not quite that? Not much less. World as it is,
what’s strong and separate falters. All I do
at piling stone on stone apart from you
is roofless around nothing. Till we kiss
I am no more than upright and unset.
It is by falling in and in we make
the all-bearing point, for one another’s sake,
in faultless failing, raised by our own weight.