I read something the other day that stuck with me. An author of best-selling relationship books was giving the secrets to sex and marriage. “The myth in marriage is that two people become one,” she said. “Couples who allow each other to grow separately, I believe, have a better shot at growing together over the long haul.” Now I’m not going to base an opinion about a person or her entire philosophy on one isolated quote. I agree that we are better for each other when we are two whole, healthy individuals as opposed to a co-dependent or otherwise unbalanced relationship. My agreement pretty much ends there, though.
People misunderstand “oneness.” It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your own thoughts and opinions. It doesn’t mean you can’t have your own iTunes account or belong to a different gym than your spouse. It doesn’t even mean you have to agree on everything. It does mean that in order to truly grow, you are going to have to give up a little of yourself, take on a little of your partner and both of you leave some things behind.
I have close friends who have tried it both ways. They functioned according to the standard this well-meaning author proposes, and they found themselves married, yet not growing. We sat down across a table one weekend and I asked them this question: “When you think about your marriage and the future, do you see yourselves as walking side-by-side on parallel tracks? Or do you see yourselves, hand-in-hand, walking together.” The husband asked for clarification. He didn’t see the difference in the two scenarios. I explained that walking on parallel tracks doesn’t require much growth. There’s no major sacrifice or life change. You decide to marry someone, and as long as his track runs parallel to yours, all is well. But being on separate tracks means one very big thing: you aren’t tethered to each other. If, at some point, one track begins to veer away from the other, that’s just “part of growing apart.” I would argue, though…that’s not growing. That’s changing, yes. But it doesn’t take much growth to do what you want to do. The second of the two scenarios left my friend silent for a very long time. He pondered, thought and contemplated what it would mean to be on the same track. It wasn’t such an easy picture, and it took him time to wrap his mind around that. Walking hand-in-hand with someone means that at some point, she’s going to want to go right, you’re going to want to go left and a decision will have to be made. One track means you can’t veer off. You are connected. Good, bad, scary or fun…you are going in the same direction.
After spending a little time on separate tracks, my friends have learned the penetrating peace of becoming one. She’s still very much the strong, independent woman she’s always been. He’s still the fun but quiet strength we all love about him. But she’s sacrificed a little independence to allow him room to lead. He’s learned that giving voice to his thoughts means he doesn’t have to navigate them alone.
Walking the same track – becoming one – takes growth. You can’t be selfish and walk the same track for long. It takes sacrifice. It takes compromise. It takes grace and mercy, love and forgiveness. Those are not traits that come natural. You have to grow into them. And that’s why so many marriages end in divorce. That’s why we spend millions of dollars a year on books that make us feel good about walking on separate tracks.
Growth hurts. It’s sometimes hard. And like most difficult things…it’s worth it.