Aleteia

How couples can be happy together without stifling each other

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Can we live in harmony with each other without being overbearing or feeling abandoned?

All couples are animated by two powerful impulses that seem hard to reconcile. The first is the desire to be together. Generally, people who are in love have a great desire to live their relationship to the fullest, manifested by their wish to be together at all times and to include each other in their plans. The second is the desire for independence: preserving one’s old habits and individuality. To a certain extent, every couple exists within this innate tension of being together and apart, both close and distant at the same time.

Being together and apart

Some claim that living as an unmarried couple is preferable to being trapped in a marriage. But it is hard for us as Christians to put the words “unmarried” and “a couple” together. As a couple, we can never be both totally independent and together. The desire for one or for the other is always more powerful. As in our social relationships, maintaining both becomes a balancing act and there appears to be three types of couples:

– Those who prioritize togetherness over personal freedom. The partners are literally “glued to one another” and seem to get on fine, but in fact one of them is usually stifling the other.  

– Those who prioritize personal freedom above all. These couples are allergic to any form of commitment. The partners give priority to the satisfaction of personal urges and consider any kind of jealousy “unhealthy.” In other cases these may be “tired” couples, where the two people lead parallel lives, becoming more and more estranged. The lack of affection sooner or later results in one of the partners feeling abandoned and unloved.

– Those trying to balance being together with time spent apart. These partners respect each other’s needs and celebrate each other’s individuality while spending time together. Each of them can enjoy personally fulfilling activities and share their experiences or troubles with their partner. They are together not despite of being different, but because they are different.   

Striking the balance to attain harmony in the relationship

In the middle of everyday problems, it is vital for a couple to find the balance between these two impulses. Partners must take breathers, alternating them with intense moments full of love and tenderness spent in each other’s company. It’s the only way to avoid both stifling each other and experiencing solitude.  

Here we touch on the very problem faced by all couples: the inevitable balance between “being together” and “remaining apart.” So, as the great Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran wrote in The Prophet: 

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.”

Denis Sonet