What did you want to be when you grew up? A doctor? A fireman? An astronaut? A spy? A princess? If you ask a child that question, you’ll get any number of answers that can range from expected, to intriguing, to downright funny. Our culture often defines us by what we do. Whether we like it or not, value is ascribed to us based on our occupations. That’s why the first question most people ask when they first meet someone is “What do you do?”
But there are also other things that give us identity. Where we are from? Who our family is? What do we like to do? Where do we like to go? What kind of lifestyle appeals to us? There are a multitude of factors that help shape someone’s identity.
When a couple comes together in marriage, we often talk about the divine mystery of two becoming one. But, the reality of two becoming one is a process that many newlyweds (and some longtime married couples) try to bypass. Here are a few things to consider as you think about who you are in your marriage relationship.
- Don’t attack the things that make up your mate’s core identity. Unless the identifier is something destructive to the marriage (addictions, inappropriate conduct in a relationship outside the marriage, etc.), try to find the beauty in the things your mate appreciates. She likes the excitement of life in the big city, but he longs for a peaceful Mayberry-like existence. He’s a sports fanatic, but she thinks sports are a waste of time. She gives generously, but he adamantly saves for a rainy day. You might not always connect with the same things or have the same approach, but to demean the things your mate cares about is to say that he/she is deficient in some way, or somehow doesn’t measure up to your standards.
- Be careful about family-based identifiers. Jane grew up being told that she was a wonderful conversationalist just like her outgoing mother. She took that as a compliment because she loved her mom dearly. Jane’s husband Ray, who is introverted, doesn’t hesitate to tell Jane that her mother is loud and talks too much. How does Jane feel every time he blasts her mom? When you critique your spouse’s family—whether it is their mannerisms, their politics, their faith, etc.—you are often making condescending remarks about your spouse. Even if your spouse initiates a negative conversation about his/her family, tread carefully. Remember, your mate’s positive traits that you love dearly also likely came from their family.
- Form an identity together. It is easy to be known as something individually—he’s a real talker, she’s a wonderful giver, he loves golf, she is the best cook—but what are you known for as a couple? Part of the process of becoming one is to find a united identity in Christ. If you are called to marriage, you are called to use your marriage in the Kingdom of God. What do you and your spouse want to be known for as a couple?
Identity is important. We want to be known, and we want to feel connected. But as you establish your identity as an individual and as a couple, always ask yourself, “Is this thing (hobby, interest, desire, action, lifestyle, relationship, etc.) something that is bringing me closer to my spouse and centering our relationship on God?” If not, think long and hard on whether or not that’s who you really want to be.