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Emphasising Healthy Individuals

A healthy marriage is made of two healthy people. Commit to a lifetime of healthy emotional, physical and mental growth and development.

A marriage can only be as strong as the two people in it, and a healthy marriage is made up of two healthy individuals. Thriving couples focus on how they can each be a better spouse while continuing to grow emotionally, physically and mentally as individuals. A healthy marriage makes room for self-care and self-improvement. In this type of relationship, the partners know that they can't be everything to each other. As a result, each learns to find other friendships to meet his/her needs that cannot be fulfilled by the other.

It would be fair to say that a solid understanding of this basic truth is more desperately needed in our time than ever before. Today's culture has many married people so confused that they are running in relationship circles. Some of them have been so beat up and wounded in the past that they find it difficult to see their true potential. Without this realisation, they can't hope to have a thriving marriage.

Common sense itself suggests that healthy relationships emerge when healthy individuals come together in a healthy, positive way. Here are some ideas that will help you get moving in that direction.

1. Individuality
Lots of people come into the marital relationship with flawed expectations. They assume that marriage is designed to cure their personal ailments and that their spouse is supposed to make them whole. They don't realise that they've got the whole thing backwards.

The truth is that marriage consists in the mysterious one-flesh union of two distinct lives and personalities. This union is a blending, not a cloning. It's a partnership in which two people with sharply defined differences – not merely the difference between male and female, but the distinctions between two separate individuals – come together and complement each other as pieces of a puzzle and parts of a whole. These differences should be affirmed and enhanced. If you downplay them, suppress them or attempt to erase them, you have nothing to offer to your mate.

It's worth adding that there's a sense in which mystery is absolutely essential to romance. Boredom can be the death knell of any relationship. Many couples find themselves "falling out of love" when they become convinced that they've learned everything there is to know about each other. That's one reason it's so important for spouses to work on preserving and celebrating their separate identities as two distinct people.

2. Self-care
If you've done much flying, you can probably recite the following from memory:

In the event that cabin pressure changes, the panels above your seat will open and an oxygen mask will drop down. If this happens, pull the mask toward you until the tube is fully extended. Place the mask over your nose and mouth, slip the elastic strap over your head, and adjust the mask if necessary. Breathe normally and rest assured that oxygen is flowing even though the bag may not inflate. Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.

This brief announcement communicates a principle that is basic to all healthy relationships: you have to secure your own "oxygen mask" before you can help others.

In order to give proper attention to maintaining their uniqueness as distinct individuals, spouses need to take time for self-nurture – time to be alone with friends (he with his and she with hers), develop personal interests, and engage in lifelong learning. As Dr. Gary Smalley explains, good self-care sets you up for relationship success, because "If you don't take care of yourself, you have no overflow".

Marriage is about giving, but you can't give your spouse what you don't have. If you're fatigued, depressed, or saddled with a sense of guilt or inferiority, you're in no position to encourage or build up your partner. Before you can love your mate, you have to love yourself. This is where the give-and-take of a healthy marital relationship really begins.

3. Independence and dependence
A healthy, deeply satisfying marriage that will stand the test of time leaves room for relational margins and breathing space. It includes time apart as well as time together. Thriving couples understand that husbands and wives can't be everything to each other. As imperfect, finite people, they don't have that capacity. That’s why it’s important to cultivate close friendships with other people. A word of caution though – no relationship should take priority over the husband-wife relationship, not even relationships with your mother or father or siblings.

From the Focus on the Family website at focusonthefamily.com. © 2016 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How can I help facilitate your own growth as an individual – emotionally, physically and professionally?
  2. How can I encourage you and give you the freedom to pursue your own personal growth so that you can make an even greater contribution to our marriage?
  3. Do you feel that there's enough "breathing space" in our relationship? If not, what can we do to fix the problem?
  4. What one question have you always wanted to ask me?
  5. What can I do to help you know me better?