Being one in marriage is hard, but, “There is healing, much healing, in being vulnerable and accepted by another…”
“My other half.”
This phrase, and the image it evokes, assumes that one is incomplete until finding their soulmate. I didn’t like it when I was single, and, as a married woman, I don’t like it—because if broken, the break would seem symmetrical, clean. I picture a two-dimensional object, a cookie perhaps, being split in two.
A break would be gory. Sinew separating from bone, a case for a forensic pathologist to sort through. In a show my husband and I watch, a wife tells her husband a “working part” of her is gone because he has it. And that’s the way it felt when my husband went on a spiritual retreat last week. I didn’t realize how dependent I was on him to tell me where the bicycle pump was, to be home with kids in bed so I could walk the dog, to help me calm the seven-year-old when she had one of her rare incidences of incessant crying.
Some desires of what I thought was good needed to be reordered. What was more important? The girls coming with me to walk the dog or their practicing the piano? Getting them to bed on time or reading a book to them?
These values are related to time, but since my husband lost his job, we are also negotiating our desires for our family in the realm of money. I’m guessing he’ll want to nix the one extracurricular for the girls, besides piano, this fall. We already argued this morning because I volunteered to bring the main dish—the most expensive one—to a potluck I’ve been organizing for a friend.
He looked me in the eyes and said, “I know this is hard for you. I know you don’t like to ask for help.” He’s right. I didn’t ask anyone else because I didn’t want to put that burden on another person. I desperately want to appear competent, to be seen as not needy, to avoid guilt for causing any stress to anyone else. My unspoken desires, revealed.
The other reason I don’t like the “other half” analogy is that the image is one of annihilation of self—two people merged to where if one is red and the other blue, they swirl into purple. It doesn’t happen, not even during intercourse. I am still me. I am still a separate person.
Whatever previous pain I thought might have been washed away through romantic love, lingers. There is healing, much healing, in being vulnerable and accepted by another—but the pain is subdued, like an injured tooth that aches again when a low pressure system moves in bringing storm. And as the storm—stressors in our lives—roll in, the hidden desires we’re uncomfortable with, surface.
This is a blessing of marriage. If we’re listening to God and each other, we’ll encounter the conflict of values within ourselves. I’m reminded of how cultural anthropologist Jenell Williams Paris defines sexuality in her book with the provocative title The End of Sexual Identity: “a valuable part of human life in which we embody conflicted desires, and through which we receive grace.” With our primary identity as God the Father’s beloved, “we grow toward greater congruence between what we value and how we live.”
Is this what it means to be “one body” with my husband as the Bible says? Not just sex, but this challenging of my own heart, and our hearts together, as we reorder our desires as a couple and a family to press into being God’s beloved.
Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.