Chapter 23 Learning Objectives
Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:
- Distinguish between the need for a certain level of maturity, independence, and self-fulfillment of each partner in a relationship for it to thrive rather than being a mutually dependent kind of relationship.
Watch this video or scan the QR code to view ways to be independent in a relationship.
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,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For Only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
from The Prophet — Kahlil Gibran (1923)
I have already claimed that it is generally better for both partners in a love or marriage relationship to be fully functioning, capable, independent people for the reason that if one dies or is incapacitated, the other should not then also have to be incapacitated. Grief does not entail prolonged incapacitation. “Some grief shows much of love, but much of grief shows still some want of wit.” — from Romeo and Juliet. Further, I stated that people should be independent so that they do not waste whatever potential for good they, as human beings, might be capable of fulfilling. The ads on television say that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. That is true, but so are other potential qualities toward the good — artistic ability, athletic ability, development in matters of taste and appreciation, etc. I sometimes wonder how many people, particularly women, with the potential to have been like Bach, Einstein, or da Vinci are now living or have anonymously lived and died without being able to develop the talents they were born with and without therefore being able also to make the contribution to civilization they could have, had “civilization” only been kinder and more respectful to them.
But there is a further reason that I think it is important for people to be independent, or capable of independence, from each other; and that is that two whole, fully functioning people can bring far more to a relationship and to each other (as well as to themselves) than can two dependent “half” people. Two people who share full or “whole” lives and characters, bring to a relationship more than two people who share “half” lives.
Now, of course, in most areas of modern civilization, people are not totally independent of others, not for their food, their plumbing, their transportation, electricity, working materials, their jobs, etc. Nor would that generally be a very efficient and desirable state of affairs. And in the homes, though it may be possible for either to get along perfectly well without the other, still it is easier and more efficient and generally better if tasks are divided and shared reasonably and fairly. I believe in fairly appropriated interdependence and in taking care of each others’ deserved needs and reasonable desires, so I am not talking about some remote or hermit-like, Spartan, lonely, ascetic type of independent life style. Rather, I am speaking about being free from an incapacitating type of dependence where one person is unable to function in some sort of normal way without the other’s companionship or direction. And I am also talking about an emotional independence, an independence of the spirit, an independence that allows one to live an active and productive life, developing one’s good talents and abilities and one’s own interests and happiness as much as possible without being stifled (whether one realizes it or not) because one has to unreasonably submerge one’s identity to another, needlessly and unfairly sacrifice one’s energy and time to another’s undeserved needs, or depend on another’s successes, joys, and values for one’s own successes, joys, and values. Then the moments you do share together can be ones in which both of you bring things to each other to share — new ideas, new insights, new experiences, new feelings, new creations, and in general simply a vibrant new freshness and vitality that continually expand the foundation and the comfortable old areas of togetherness you now enjoy.
Relationships can easily get into a rut and can get bogged down in the business pursuits of either of you or in tending to wet diapers, runny noses, car-pooling, and keeping up with the latest fashions and fads. It is perhaps hard enough to avoid that if you try to; it is nearly impossible if you do not. Relationships can be hard to hold on to if there is little stability amidst incessant change, but they can also grow monotonous, brittle, and stale with incessant routine and little change or growth. Independence, where needed, for individual pursuit of growth and achievement by each partner should provide some of the growth for the relationship; commitment and sharing, some of the stability. I say “where needed” because there are some rare couples who can grow best in each others’ nearly constant companionship because they each serve as a stimulus and catalyst and as a source of ideas and energy for the other. And by “sharing” I mean with curiosity and enthusiasm and by attentive discussion between both concerning the areas of interest they each have and the areas of growth they each achieve. If two people in a relationship are each contributing exciting and worthwhile things to each other, both can benefit. When either or both are stifled from achieving and contributing, both can suffer, or at least not be as well off as they might be.
This is not to say one must be continually active, creative, reflective or studious; but there is some happy medium, I am sure, between that and never growing or expanding your horizons, or your and your partner’s horizons as a couple.
Now when I speak of independence, I am not speaking of sexual independence or licentiousness nor of any sort of unethical dismissal or denial of one’s obligations to his or her partner.
And I am definitely not speaking of the kind of financial independence so many people in the 1980’s seemed to be needlessly or futilely pursuing, too often at the expense of their relationships and/or their children, often at the expense of their more important talents and abilities, and often even at the expense of a more durable kind of happiness or satisfaction or other things of greater value than money. To work at a job that you really do not need whose only benefit is financial, as so many jobs are, seems to me almost as bad as being a slave to unfair, unaided, and unrelenting housework and chauffeuring. It is a change of masters without a change of merit. Of course, no one who could afford to do otherwise should have to stay home in order just to do mindless tasks; but going out to do mindless tasks for money is not a significant lifestyle improvement over staying home to do them, particularly if conditions at home could be improved by sharing chores, getting some help, and/or doing things that are worthwhile in between, during, or before or after chores. I read once where Robert Kennedy used to play recordings of Shakespearian works to listen to while he showered. Study of any topic at home with books, audio tapes, or video tapes is fairly easy. Audio tapes are even good to listen to in the car while chauffeuring children or otherwise driving around. If a job has merit above just its money, that is one thing, but if the job is oppressive or prevents the development of your talents and important growth, is of no real value to society, is only a means of redistributing society’s wealth, and drains your energy and spirits, then the money hardly makes up for that — unless you absolutely need the money to live and cannot get a better job. If a man or woman works at a socially valueless, oppressive, and stifling job just for some unnecessary additional material gain, then he or she is probably missing many things of higher value, even though in a materialistic and consumer-oriented society they may not be of popular value. To be able to afford the best stereo but unable to have the desire or the time and energy to learn to appreciate good music; to be able to afford distant travels but unable to appreciate different people’s customs, civilizations, psychologies, and philosophies and to disparage them because they are not like your own; to be able to build the finest homes that you never get to enjoy; to be able to afford good daycare for your children or the finest schools but not be able to spend time with them yourself and then wonder why they turn out different from you or not the way you wanted — seems to be a misuse of your most valuable resources, your time, energy, and talent. Parents may honestly try to better their children’s lives by working hard to be able to buy things the children might like, but the children might benefit far more from their parents’ time and energy than from the money obtained at the expense of that time and energy.
Jobs can take on an undeserved importance just from the time and effort they require, or because they are an improvement over what you were used to, or because you are good at it. But you have to continue to question whether the job is really affording you the kind of life you really want or ought to have, whether it is allowing you to make the kind of contribution to society and/or to your family you ought to be making, and whether there might not be a better job for you or a better means of attaining the life that would be the best you can reasonably achieve.
How sad it is to speak with intelligent people of moderate or better material means who can only speak of money or the (implied) costs of acquisitions and not their more edifying characteristics. It is particularly sad or disappointing because these are the people with the ability, resources, position, and potential leisure to have easily attained some wisdom. After a tremendous performance by a world renowned violinist, invited to help celebrate a city orchestra’s 75th anniversary, the only idea the president of one of the orchestra’s prominent auxiliary groups would discuss at a post-concert party, and he did that obsessively, was “Do you know how much per minute we had to pay that guy to perform here today?”
And too many such people can only have conversations about the latest resort they visited, their new decor, or their children’s or spouse’s latest accomplishments. Of course taking a helpful interest in one’s family and some deserved pride in their worthwhile accomplishments is a good thing but not at the total sacrifice of self and certainly not for hollow achievements that are just a gain of (additional) money and power for the use of which you have no personally or socially particularly good end.
Finally, in a different vein, a number of people think that love for others must begin with some sort of self-love or self-respect. In the usual context for this sort of claim, love for others seems to mean respect, concern, and decent behavior toward others, not just some kind of attraction. I suspect this claim is better expressed as advice to be an independent, fully functioning, constantly maturing and developing individual with something to offer both oneself and others in terms of traits and deeds that are good and that are satisfying, with the desire to bring deserving others the benefits and joys one can. Otherwise I do not see the point, for there are many unloving (that is, inconsiderate) persons who respect and love themselves beyond merit and who always give themselves first or sole consideration; and there are some people who have low self-esteem and poor self-image who are yet (and perhaps in some cases because of it) very considerate, kind, competent, loving people with a great deal to offer others.
- A loving relationship should generally be between partners who each contribute to enrich the life of the other beyond a normal level one should achieve independently, not a mere symbiotic relationship between two people who cannot function sufficiently either emotionally or practically on their own.
- A love relationship should be a relationship between two ‘whole’ people, not two ‘half people’.
- An incapacitating type of dependence is where one person is unable to function in some sort of normal way without the other’s companionship or direction.
Chapter Review Questions
- Question: What are the reasons it is better for both partners in a love or marriage relationship to be fully functioning instead of just mutually dependent on each other?