By Wendy Donahue, Tribune Newspapers
April 18, 2012
The problem with the "you complete me" model of relationships is simple math.
"The myth trumpets that 'I am less than whole but with you I can be restored to whole,'" said Victoria Fleming, author of a book inspired by that cliche, "You Complete Me and Other Myths That Destroy Happily Ever After" (North Shore Wellness Service). "People think 'I'm half and you're half and together we make a whole.' But human beings aren't additive, we're dynamic. It turns into multiplication. A half times a half is a fourth, and you end up with less than when you started."
As a licensed clinical counselor, Fleming sees the fractional fallout from that and other romantic fallacies too often. We asked her to elaborate on a few points.
Q: In much of today's marriage advice, I hear two contradictory messages: The first is "Be careful who you marry." The second is, "Marriage is challenging with anyone, so who you marry doesn't matter as much as who you are."
A: You've got to flip the order of those. If you take care of the first step — knowing who you are — the second almost takes care of itself. The more you're tuned into what you need, the less likely you are to partner with someone who doesn't make you feel good about yourself. Whereas if you don't know what it's like to feel good, you're much more likely to be swept up in a relationship based on chemistry and novelty, and less likely to find someone who is a good match for you.
Q: Tell me more about the chapter "Let's make a deal: The barter economy marriage."
A: An example of this is "I'll stay home and watch the kids while you earn the money." There's nothing inherently wrong with that as long as everyone is bartering in good faith and that the agreements are continually assessed. ... There's another piece, what's going on socio-economically. Ten, 15 years ago people made this deal, and then all of a sudden they lost their job. I actually think this economy has done more than anything else to reveal the heart and soul of marriages. People in the '90s were distracting themselves from their marriage with hobbies and trips and creature comforts. Now people can't afford to jet-set off on the weekend. They're sitting around the table playing Monopoly like we did in the old days. You learn a lot more about people when you're having a family game night. People didn't realize they had marriage problems until the economy went south. Maybe the stay-at-home spouse is thinking, "This is not the deal I signed on for." If they picked their spouse based on that and only that, then they're going to be left really questioning their choice.
You have to have the flexibility and wherewithal to really dig deep and find out what your priorities are ... and allow your happiness to rest on your sense of centeredness.
Q: Why is staying married important?
A: If there's abuse, if it was never a good match and you can't be your best self in this marriage, and your spouse cannot, then divorce maybe is an option. But if the marriage problems stem from the issues that reside within you, you're going to take those issues into your next relationship. It's kind of like, somebody has their first marriage and it doesn't work out, and then their second marriage, and then their third. After several marriages, the person asks, "What did all of these marriages have in common?" The answer is "Me." This book helps people to explore the "me," before the end of the first marriage.