Our culture is full of sayings about many subjects, including marriage. Some are deprecating – the old ball and chain – and some carry good advice for those who are married – marriage is not a 50-50 proposition, it is a 100-100 proposition. Today we will comment on a positive phrase which, like most, is more complex than it sounds at first hearing.
The phrase is: “One person, no matter how much they love you, cannot meet all of your emotional needs.”
We have had some discussion along these lines many times over the years and I recognize that I have always been a loner. In my family of twelve children I was third oldest and had six sisters before I had a brother, who is ten years younger. While I played with my sisters, I spent much of my childhood pursuing my own interests. I was always interested in learning and understanding how things work and could occupy myself for many hours reading and building toys with my Erector Set. In school I always stood out as being at the head of my class but not very good at sports. I mostly perceived myself as at best on the fringe of groups where everyone else seemed to be a fully participating member. I remember some loneliness in that, but tended to retreat into reading and learning and finding satisfaction in intellectual pursuits. That continued through college and into my professional career.
Our years working with married couples and Rita’s insistence that I am lovable and have something to offer to others opened me up considerably and over the years we have had great relationships with couples – usually working with them, but also in close friendships. I have learned to be freer with other people and can be part of a group, but I’m still not especially good with small talk.
With Rita, I have, from our first dates, been able to share my emotions and have a greater intimacy than with any other person. That has grown through the years. When we were married we moved away from family and anyone we knew. We learned to rely on each other for support. I think we both found some of that support among our coworkers during our careers. Since retirement I still have some contact with former colleagues and enjoy visiting with them but the regular contact has greatly declined and I find that most of my contact is with Rita.
We have had a number of discussions about this. For me, pursuit of ideas and intellectual discussion meets an important emotional need. I find gratification in understanding ideas and passion in pursuing them. Rita is a great intellectual companion, but not always interested in the same things I am. Sometimes she is frustrated by my attempts to push discussions on subjects that are not of great interest to her. I want to find companion(s) who share(s) my interests and likes intellectual discussions. Our children, like me have wide interests and an intellectual bent that makes it fun for me to spend time with them, but I would like to have more. I have tried this a few times, but have not made lasting connections, especially with men. I miss that, but I am unsure how to pursue finding a person or persons with whom I can connect. This is an ongoing discussion for us. We are trying to reconnect with some of the people who have been important in our lives and with whom we have lost contact. Meanwhile, I am privileged to have Rita to provide support, ideas and intellectual input.
It has become a running commentary by people that I know, especially Bob and our children, that I either have pheromones which send out signals or a sign on my forehead that says “you can trust me,’ because many people, some strangers, ask me for advice on any topic or will tell me their life story with its ups and downs. It does fill some emotions needs in me. Not very long into our relationship I was aware that Bob would run things by me when he was making little and big plans in his life. It is likely one of the things that attracted us to each other and helped our relationship develop. Through our years of marriage whether he was trying new things in the classroom, discouraged at work, trying to invent little things, parenting, or when we were involved in our parish or Marriage Encounter he would use me as a sounding board. He does that when we are planning travel and now that we are both retired whatever topic or issue he is currently interested in he will talk to me about it. In many ways we are both happy to live this way. It challenges both of us, calls for trust, requires patience on both our parts and provides a healthy bond between us. While it does fill intellectual needs there is an emotional aspect to it as well. We both know that we are important to each other in ways only we are.
While Bob is a loner and I am to some extent I have more of an emotional need to be in relationships with others. For me, that need to be in relationships has been met by this trust factor that I seem to elude. As I reflect back through my life it has been there for quite some time – likely it began in my teen years. In my early teaching years I became aware that students seemed to trust me on an intellectual level that allowed them to ask questions in the classroom and on the emotional level as they would hang around after class and after school just to“chat.” Even various people who lived in our apartment buildings would seek me out to talk. This capability enabled me to get students to delve into themselves when they were writing talks for a retreat or doing reflective papers in religion classes. Adults in all the buildings trusted me as well. It was not uncommon for people, male and female, to be waiting for me to arrive at school to chat or to appear in my classroom or the religion office on my preparation or lunch period or after school to speak with me. Through the years many students referred to me as their mother at school. It sometimes surprises me that people see this quality in me. A young Muslim woman in our neighborhood, just from watching me walk, began to come out to speak with me about love, marriage, parenting, and how to be fulfilled in her busy life. One day I just said hello to a woman down the street who I really didn’t know at all and before I knew it I heard her whole life story. One day as I was out walking the man down the street who had been recently widowed was out and I just said I was sorry about his wife’s death. Some time later I realized that he used me to process many of his feelings about her passing.
Even since I’ve retired many of my colleagues and students still contact me for advice. After three years it still surprises me to open my email and find a message from one of them. The woman who cleans our house will often stop and ask if we can chat. It gives her someone to speak to in her otherwise “alone” world.
Of course our children and their spouses and grandchildren do the same. The topics have changed through the years but phone conversations and live conversations happen all the time and sometimes in unusual circumstances.
So what does all of this have to do with our topic of today? Each of us as husband and wife must have meaning in our lives that goes beyond jobs, shopping, exercise and sports. We have to be in relationships with others. Some of us need a broader and wider number and others of us are content with a few. What I have learned in this is that my life has great meaning when I am open to the needs, wants and desires of others. It starts with Bob and then branches out to everyone with whom I come in contact. Being in other relationships makes me a better person and that makes me a better wife, lover and companion.
Do you live by marriage alone? Do you live in your marriage? Both are interesting questions to think about and discuss. Give us some feedback as to what gives meaning to your life and thus to your marriage.