My son Bill and I will do doing our third Monk and CEO program on December 16. This one will be about healing relationships, and I have been reflecting on what I have learned about relationship in my marriage. There are many things, of course, but the one that stands out at this point is how freedom to be myself and to be an independent person has provided the space for a growing relationship of intimacy. Yes, it is counter-intuitive. Independence can lead to a more intimate relationship.
When my wife and I were in our mid-fifties, I wasn’t at all sure the relationship would last, and this activated panic in me. How could I get along without Sarah? How could I be complete as a person? Fortunately, I was in therapy at the time, a step that had been stimulated by Sarah’s drive for greater intimacy in our relationship. Many of my therapy sessions dealt with our uncertain relationship. My therapist helped me face the reality that my marriage might not last. Ultimately, I had no control over my wife and what she did. However, therapy also helped me see that I could have a life without her, even though that was not in any way my preference. I started to see that I was already a whole person, and didn’t have to have her to complete me.
I also read several books on relationship including one about co-dependent relationships. This helped me see that I had been co-dependent with my wife and thought I needed her to complete my personhood, to fill in gaps in myself. I also started to see the possibility for freedom from that dependence and the empowerment that would result. I started to be less afraid of the future and whether I would remain married.
This book also taught, and my therapist supported the view, that truly strong relationships can only be built on a stance of independence (I am already a complete person) and not from co-dependence (I need the other person to complete me). Living from the reality of independence, two people have the freedom to be fully self-expressed and the opportunity to be related deeply from who they truly are; they can become inter-dependent, two whole persons who are able to share life without clinging.
All of this happened in my life over 20 years ago. Sarah and I are still married, and I am still learning how to be in relationship. However, we are reaching depths in our relationship that I would not have dreamed of when I was in my fifties. I am thankful each day for my marriage of over 56 years, a relationship that still is unfolding based on freedom and commitment, a relationship moving toward inter-dependence.