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“You Complete Me”: An Examination of Marital Expectations

by Eunia Lee, LCPC 

“You complete me.”
 – Jerry, in the film Jerry Maguire.

Did you swoon when Tom Cruise (Jerry) declared his love to Renee Zellweger (Dorothy) with these words near the end of this film?  Am I the only one who thought something was a bit off about this declaration?

This view of “love” may work for a time in a dating relationship (where you are google-eyed in romantic bliss, and being with your significant other almost always feels good to you).

But for marriage, it is troubling.  And here’s why:  That statement is meant to depict true love. Yet it expresses quite the opposite sentiment upon closer examination:  Jerry looks to Dorothy with needy eyes. You complete me because I need to be completed and therefore I choose to be with you. Being with you is about me. My needs. My wants. My feelings. And that is why I value you.

But marriages often break up over this very sentiment.
One day, Jerry will realize that Dorothy doesn’t complete him after all, because no human being is able to complete another human being. That is not what another person, even a marital partner, is for.  And so when you no longer complete me, make me happy, or meet my needs (emotional, sexual, material), or when marriage is simply too much work with seemingly little gain, it’s time to say goodbye (well, at least 50% of the time, which is the approximate divorce statistic for this country).*

The purpose of marriage, in contrast, is to love your spouse well and to give of, deny, and sacrifice yourself for the good of your spouse and the relationship.  Love seeks the good of the other person.**

Just look at the customary wedding vows. They are some form of “I promise to love you, no matter what hardships we may face. If you fall ill, I’ll stick by your side and take care of you. I will love you even when it hurts a lot. Till death do us part.”

Yet, perhaps Jerry Maguire, and many others, actually mean the following as they utter those vows: “I promise to stick by your side and love you, as long as you make me happy, and being with you is easy for me and doesn’t require really hard work.  I am yours as long as I get what feels good to me. Till death, or unhappiness, do us part.”

If you are a Christian, you know that the underlying purpose of marriage is to exemplify God’s committed, unrelenting, and self-sacrificial love relationship with His Church. When you love and commit to your spouse, till death, you proclaim God’s unceasing love for His people.

If you are not a Christian, you are still interested in loving your spouse well.

If you are engaged, or single and want to be married, take a look at your expectations:

  • Are you self-seeking in your thoughts of marriage?
  • Is the purpose of marriage to cure your loneliness and to make you feel happy and complete?
  • Are you intending to love your spouse and seek his or her best interest?
  • If you’re a Christian, is your aim in marriage to proclaim God’s deep and self-giving love through your commitment?

If you are married:

  • What were your expectations going in?
  • What attitudes do you now hold toward your spouse and your marriage?
  • Do you lash out in anger or hold deep resentments because your spouse is getting in the way of your demands (for example, a tidy house, respect, or support whenever you want it)?
  • Are you seeking something ultimately for yourself or something that goes beyond yourself?

Whether married, engaged, or single, marital expectations are hugely important. The more you make marriage about loving your spouse and less about yourself, you will see your relationship grow and deepen. This is because as people, we are meant to love others more than seek something from them.***

Maybe the more romantic line from Jerry would have been, “It’s okay that you don’t complete me, Dorothy.  Why?  Because this relationship is actually not about me.  You won’t meet all of my needs, and I know I won’t meet all of yours, and that’s okay.  I’m going to love you deeply anyway.  I love you.”

Now that, Jerry, is swoon-worthy.

 

 

* Source:  http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1989124,00.html

 

**You may wonder about the limits to such self-denial, and the question of abuse and/or extreme selfishness may arise. Does love mean sacrificing and subjecting yourself to abuse? Abuse is good neither for the relationship nor for the abuser. Therefore, allowing abuse is not love. This also goes for other selfish attitudes of your spouse. While you need to display patience, love does not enable selfishness.

 

***Ed Welch, in his book What Do You Think of Me?  Why Do I Care?, lays out this fundamental view of other people.

 

 

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