Jan 242018 0 Responses

Step One in Marriage: The Creation of Us

When Jenny and I were married I was in graduate school in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a great time in life. We were young, ignorant, and poor, but we were together, in love, and presented with a great deal of freedom. As I went to school and worked a part-time job, Jenny traveled the country in a sales position. Little did we know at the time that a seemingly random life decision would greatly impact our marriage.

Over the last 15 years in working with couples with marriage issues, a pattern keeps appearing in many relationships. It’s not present in every situation, but it is an underlying problem in many marriages. The couple has never created a sense of “us.” For a variety of reasons, husband and wife have failed to identify and develop strong boundary lines defining who they are as a couple, valuing one another, and making it clear to others that they prioritize the marriage over everything else. By failing to create this sense of “us,” couples suffer many negative consequences:

  • Overinvolved in-laws/family
  • Unclear decision-making processes
  • Frustrating holidays
  • Insecurity
  • Uncertain expectations
  • Unhealthy communication

While these consequences are clearly felt, the underlying problem is rarely realized. They are problems, but they aren’t the core issue. They are presenting symptoms, but the underlying disease is a poorly formed marital unit.

When We Fail to Create “Us”

The first step in creating a healthy marriage is establishing a clear sense of “us.” What distinguishes us from others? What decisions are solely ours to make? Who are we as a couple? How do we interact with others? Who gets to influence our values and choices? What are the general operating procedures of our relationship?

As a couple transitions from being two independent individuals to a united couple, it takes some time and effort to create the proper boundaries which distinguish them. The move from “me” to “we” is not always an easy one. But it is a necessary one.

The failure of creating “us” often comes in two forms:

1. Couples never submit their individual desires to that of being a couple. While healthy couples retain their individual identities, those personas take a back seat to the well-being of the couple. “We” is more important than “me.” When couples fail to make this transition, they continue behaviors which are appropriate in the single-life but selfish and destructive inside a marriage.

2. Couples never change their identity with their family of origin in light of their marriage. Weddings change things. When a man or woman says “I do” their allegiances morph. While I still love my parents, the moment I married Jenny, she became my top priority. When a couple fails to create a strong “us” this enables their families to play an over-involved role in their lives and limits their growth as a couple. (See: My Wife Before My Mother)

The creation of “us” primarily revolves around the establishment of boundaries. A couple must establish and protect the elements which define them.

They must:

  • be each other’s greatest supporters and confidantes.
  • feel heard, understood, and in control of the important decisions.
  • feel valued and properly prioritized in comparison to others, especially parents and in-laws.
  • be the first person their spouse turns to in good times and bad.
  • equally work on the relationship with hope toward the future.

How “Us” Is Created

The creation of a sense of “us” doesn’t happen overnight. In the first few years, a couple learns how to properly relate to one another and others. They fail and learn of the needs of their spouse and how to meet those needs properly. They develop healthy patterns of communication in order to productively solve problems.

Early in the marriage, a couple should develop a basic level of trust. Through failure, struggle, repentance, and time, they should learn to depend on one another, trust each other, and continually work with each other to improve the marriage. When they fail to do this, they leave themselves open to tremendous sorrow. But when they do the work necessary to create a sense of “us,” they are laying the foundation for great success.

Sadly, many couples fail to lay such a foundation. Thankfully, it is never too late. If your marriage does not have a strong sense of “us,” it’s time to create it. With great intention (and probably the help of a professional), you can learn the lessons and redefine who you are as a couple.

When Jenny and I were first married, we lived ten hours from home. It wasn’t a conscious choice for the sake of our marriage, it was a simple decision regarding school. However, in retrospect, it was one of the most influential decisions we have ever made. By being so far from home and in a place where we knew very few people, it forced us to depend on one another. Without intention, we formed a deep sense of “us” so that by the time we moved near family there was no question regarding allegiance, commitment, and priorities. We loved our families, but we were committed to one another. We could be influenced by others, but we clearly understood what decisions were solely ours. Together, she and I became “us.” It was the best thing we could have ever had happen for our marriage.

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