The Independence Day holiday got us thinking about independence and what it means in the practicality of our everyday lives. We quickly realized this country no longer has the high level of independence that many people would like it to have. This has become very obvious in the effects on our economy resulting from problems in other countries, our dependence and the actions that follow from needing foreign oil, etc. In the same way, while some people cling to the idea that they can be the “rugged individualist”, the reality of our lives is that none of us makes our own clothes, grows all of our own food or could possibly create the electronics we use. We also depend on the behavior of others in many ways. On the road we obey most of the rules, most of the time and count on others to do the same. I am acutely aware of how much my safety depends on good behavior on the part of drivers when I am on my bicycle.
When one considers the extreme of individual independence, it becomes obvious that there is a high price to pay. I have recently been rereading Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe. This fictional character, stranded alone on an island for many years, was forced to be truly independent and care for all of his own needs, but to do so he had to forgo any human relationships. Apply this to the spouses in a marriage and it becomes clear that the greater the level of independence spouses maintain, the lower the level of intimacy they can have. Deep intimacy requires openness and trust and letting another see your insecurities and flaws, as well as your strengths.
The other side of independence is dependence. Often, one or both spouses fear developing too much dependence on the other, resulting in loss of personal identity and reduced self-esteem. There is an alternative to either great independence or debilitating dependence in a relationship. Strong interdependence can lead both spouses in a marriage to grow in self-esteem and confidence and can lead them to be the best persons that they can be. After some thought it occurred to me that interdependence requires that spouses become mutual enablers. The word “enabler” has a negative connotation associated with drug/alcohol dependency and other addictive behaviors, but it can be positive. In the context of interdependence, consider the possibilities if each spouse becomes an enabler of the best qualities, talents and capabilities of the other.
In our marriage, Rita has helped me to become a better person and develop my talents in many ways. Perhaps the most important is that she has helped me to get past my negative self-image in social situations. Her encouragement and constant love, no matter what, has allowed me to give up my fears that people really don’t like me and gives me self-confidence that has helped me to be a good leader in my job and in the volunteer work we have done. I am more relaxed with people and have more fun being in a crowd or making a presentation. I am still astounded at times that people like me and have great respect for me.
Rita is also the person I go to when my life isn’t going well or even if I’m just having a bad day. She listens while I vent and reassures me that I am OK. Often she is able to see my world from a different perspective and offer good suggestions that help me to improve the situation. When she has nothing else to offer, she just listens and comforts me.
Rita has a tendency to underestimate her capabilities. The self-confidence she has helped me to build allows me to encourage her and assure her when she is hesitant about taking on some new challenge. I always try to let her know how proud I am when she succeeds.
In our marriage, Bob has helped me to develop many talents that I sometimes recognized and sometimes denied because I didn’t always see them as qualities a woman should have. Two of those qualities are leadership and strength. In the years I was a department chair and a campus minister I used leadership to help develop curriculum and retreat programs. I was a leader in the ways I helped others be innovative in the classroom, in helping student and adult retreat leaders have strong talks, by the ways I constantly tried new things in the classroom and in my willingness to write retreat talks that challenged and supported others. I also helped students to be inventive in the way they planned liturgies. As a department chair in a leadership role among the faculty I challenged others and supported them when they were frustrated or discouraged, as well as being a constant source of affirmation. Bob’s support and encouragement helped me to carry out these roles even if it meant hours of additional work and time on my part.
While I likely got my quality of strength from my mother it was working with Bob on a multitude of levels that helped me to see that strength isn’t just a masculine quality. It is that strength that lets me believe in myself enough to challenge Bob when he needs to be, to be a friend and help someone grow, or be a listener and give advice to a perfect stranger who asks for it. I have for 40+ years used that strength as a mother and still use it today when our children or grandchildren ask. The important thing for me in discussing this topic was the realization that in some ways I have more independence and freedom because I strive for and rely on the interdependence we have in our relationship. I thank God each day for Bob enabling me to become the woman that I am.
Developing interdependence and working at enabling each others’ best qualities has required us to be open to each other about our hopes, fears, and dreams in all areas of our lives and has led us to greater intimacy. It supports my desire to live a life of gratitude for the gifts God has given me, especially for Rita’s ability to lead me to be a better person. Like Rita, her ability to enable me has given me the freedom to develop my best qualities and to become the person God made me to be. While it is important for this country to celebrate its Independence Day, perhaps in our marriages we should focus more on Interdependence Days.
We encourage you to look for a quality in your spouse that s(he) would like to develop, but is insecure about pursuing. Find small ways to be gently encouraging and supportive. Give it time to develop and grow.
Please post a comment below. Are we right on? Or way out in left field?