Is it healthy to view our spouse as someone who makes us complete?

“You make me complete.”  This statement, or a variation thereof, is heard in personalized marriage vows, wedding receptions, music, and movies. The phrase appears to be socially accepted. But is it healthy?

Many couples do complement each other in their relationship. One might be a planner, and the other spontaneous. Mutual respect and acceptance of their differences can open the door for a healthier balance in their interactions with each other and with others. It can work to a couple’s advantage when their gifts, skills, and tendencies complement each other.

But when people say, “You make me complete,” they usually are not referring to gifts and skills. They are referring more to personhood and heart.

The statement “You make me complete”
. . . refers to personhood and heart.

Saying, “You make me complete,” implies these dispositions of one’s heart:

  • “I am not a whole person without you.”
  • “I have voids in my life. I’m glad you’ve come into my life because you fill in my broken and missing pieces.”
  • “I don’t feel good about myself. You help me feel happy.”

Puzzle pieces that do not fit together quite right.

When we believe our spouse’s role is to make us complete, we view them as someone we can use to fill our voids and compensate for our deficiencies. The romanticized thought of being made complete by our spouse is especially problematic in a marriage to a survivor of sexual abuse. Read on, and I’ll tell you why.

When we believe our spouse’s role is to make us complete, we view them as someone we can use . . .

In this blog, I share three reasons why the “You make me complete” belief is unhealthy. I will then recommend four steps for moving towards individual and marital wholeness.

Three Reasons “You make me complete” is Unhealthy.

1. You end up dependent on your spouse for a sense of completeness and happiness.

When you perceive your spouse as the one who makes you complete, you become dependent on them to make you happy. At least two problems will arise.

  • You will be happy only if your spouse is happy.
    You will rise and fall together. And you will blame each other for the times you both spiral downward in your gloom.
  • You will be happy only when your spouse meets your needs.
    Here’s a typical example. A guy was raised in a home where his mom or dad placed high expectations on him. He strove to please but received minimal encouragement or affirmation. He tried even harder, but the best he got from his parent was, “Not bad.” He meets his future wife, who thinks he is terrific. She cheers him on. He loves it when she says affirming things. It soothes his wounds of childhood emotional neglect. But will her cheering ever be enough? Can her words fill the void of the long-term deficit? Probably not.
2. It places an undue burden on your spouse.

A spouse who is expected to make up for the deficits in the other will become depleted in the process. No one person can make up for the deficiencies of another. Fatigue will occur, and resentment will build.

Scripture encourages us to build one another up. But it does not teach us to drain all we can out of others so that we feel better about ourselves.

Using our spouse to manage our deficit is especially problematic in a marriage to a survivor of sexual abuse. Their perpetrator used them. If your spouse is a sexual abuse survivor, using them in any form to compensate for your deficits mirrors the devastating behavior of their perpetrator.

3. It avoids addressing our deficiencies.

One of the men I interviewed in my doctoral research said that his marriage was the most significant means for his personal growth. He opened his life to being transformed by the circumstances of his marriage.

We have a choice. We can either unduly drain our partner through our marriage or determine to grow personally in our marriage.

Four Steps for Moving Towards Individual and Marital Wholeness

1. Reframe Your View of the Marriage Union

The thought of being made complete by our spouse reveals an underlying fallacy that my partner is to meet my needs, and my marriage is to make me happy. Gary Thomas introduced a different framework to view marriage in his book Sacred Marriage. He stated,

Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value, and I slowly began to understand that the real purpose of marriage may not be happiness as much as it is holiness. Not that God has anything against happiness, or that happiness and holiness are by nature mutually exclusive, but looking at marriage through the lens of holiness began to put it into an entirely new perspective for me (pp. 22, 23).

Marriage, not our spouse, confronts the immaturity within us. The confrontation and exposure of our immaturity become a daily opportunity for us to change.

We become more whole, complete, or holy as we are transformed.

2. Apply grace to yourself.

Nothing constructive happens if you beat up on yourself for entering your marriage with the idea of being made complete. You are not alone. You’ve heard the romanticized falsehood through music, movies, and our culture in general. It’s all you knew. You didn’t know what you didn’t know.

You don’t need to figure out why you entered marriage as you did. What matters now is what you do moving forward.

3. Apply grace to your spouse.

Perhaps you feel criticized by your spouse. Consider this: maybe they are trying to tell you something you need to own, but no one else loves and cares enough about you to reveal it.

4. Open yourself to growth.

Redirect your energy from trying to change your spouse to initiating change in your life.

Personal growth never occurs in isolation. It happens through community. We might learn a new skill by being self-taught. But character growth occurs in our relationship with others.

Inviting others into our lives who are further along than we are in their journey and growth is essential.

Among the men with whom I meet is a gentleman who is ten years older than I am and faces health challenges. I initiated what has grown into a wonderful friendship because I sensed he was dealing with his poor health and aging with grace. Hearing about his experience opened the door for me to graciously accept the limitations that come with declining health and aging. Other men contribute to my intellectual and emotional growth as I invite their input into my life.

Ask God to direct your thoughts to two or three others with whom you could develop a deeper and life-changing relationship. Then take action and initiate a time to begin getting together.

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