It’s among the first things we learn as children: one comes before two. The fact that one comes before two may have been one of the first absolute, self-evident truths that I embraced.
Relationships By The Numbers
Yet, I forgot that one came before two, especially as applied to my relationships and myself. I don’t mean that I forgot to put myself first (one) before others (two). No one needed to teach me that either. I knew from birth how to look out for numero uno.
What I mean is that instead of understanding the importance of being a healthy, complete, whole individual (a one), I thought that adding a relationship (a two) was going to do it for me. I was not even a complete “one” yet. I was only a fraction. But I naively thought that I could get where I needed to go and be who I needed to be from someone else. I forgot that one comes before two.
I need you = I use you to make me happy
Maybe you can relate. As we grew up, we became more and more aware of our own feelings of inadequacy. We got the idea from somewhere that we were not enough. We needed more. As young adults, we bought the notion that adding a second person to our lives would finally give us the value and security we were longing for. We needed to add a two! That equation would equal happiness for us!
So instead of working on ourselves, we worked on finding someone else (who was probably just a fraction too). He or she was going to make us whole. Our expectations were that “two” was going to meet our needs, fill our voids, and make us feel sufficient and adequate. We would never feel lonely or empty again. He or she was going to make us complete and content. It would all happen with a magical little ceremony called marriage.
One Incomplete Single + One Incomplete Single = Incomplete Couple
It didn’t take long for Becky and me. It probably didn’t take long for you either. The marriage itself and the person we married didn’t ultimately do it for us. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great marriage and tons of fun together, but our unfair and unrealistic expectations for each other were not fulfilled. We discovered that even after all the thrills and shrills of newlywed life, we still felt empty, incomplete, and inadequate. There was still something missing. So we had kids. That finally did it for us and it made us perfectly happy and whole. Just kidding.
Unfortunately, people spend their whole lives moving from one experience to another, one relationship to another, one house to another, one car to another, one job to another, one high to another, etc., etc., searching for that elusive missing piece (or missing peace).
Why Aren’t You Meeting My Needs?
When a person is unhappy in his or her marriage, his first reaction is to focus on number two–the spouse. In his mind, if the marriage is not adding up to the solution he was expecting out of it (happiness), the problem must be the second addend. “My marriage isn’t doing it for me (satisfying me, meeting my needs, fulfilling my hopes and dreams) so the problem must be either my mate or my marriage!”
So what do they do? They try to fix the other person. They try to change them and fashion them into whom they need them to be. Sometimes their partner goes along with it for a while and tries to live up to these expectations. This course of action eventually exasperates them and the relationship suffers. So they go to counseling to “work on the marriage.”
“Something must be wrong with the marriage because a good marriage would leave us feeling fulfilled, satisfied, and complete, right?”
Our focus needs to be on us as an individual before it can ever be on us as a couple. When our mate or our marriage fails to be all that we need it to be, why do we think there is something wrong with the mate or the marriage? Maybe there is something wrong with us. Maybe my marriage isn’t broken at all. Maybe something is broken inside of me. The fact that marriage didn’t fix me doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the marriage. Marriage counseling won’t help. The marriage may be fine. But marriage isn’t able to heal broken bones or broken souls. We would never expect it to do the former, but we often demand that it do the latter.
You cannot expect your spouse or your marriage to fix what is broken in you, heal your hurts, or solve your problems. We must focus on being a healthy, whole, complete, secure “one” before we can ever hope to find intimacy with a “two.”
Your life and your relationships will dramatically change for the better if you remind yourself of the old familiar truth that one comes before two. If you do the personal work that’s required, rather than using “two” for your own sense of worth and leaving him or her feeling used, and manipulated, you will be able to serve, love, and enjoy “two” without needing anything from them in return since you will already have everything you need as a whole and secure “one.”