I was in University, it was the year before my friend and I decided to start dating when the movie Jerry Maguire came out with this iconic line. I remember thinking, at the time, how I wanted to be able to say that phrase myself. It took many more years for me to learn how empty and destroying that phrase was to my marriage and myself. Creating a healthier approach took even longer.
When I got married I really did think that my fiancée did complete me. He was one of the first persons to whom I could speak without feeling the need to couch my responses in whitewash or a carefully constructed presentation of who I wanted to be versus who I was at that time. From the beginning our friendship was one of sometimes brutal honesty. Which is a great foundation on which to build a long-term relationship.
It isn’t that I’m 100% opposed to this phrase. There is something beautiful about being aware of your own short-comings and seeking to lean on the support of others to build you up in these areas. At the time of our marriage I knew that I was an absolute failure at managing money. While we were dating I remember a conversation where my boyfriend disclosed his bank balance. I remember thinking “how perfect” because it was a healthy balance and clearly he was better at saving than I was. He completed my lack when it came to finances.
As life is lovely and full of irony, it turns out that at that neither of us were good with money. Thankfully we’ve both changed and we are now quite good with money.
There are many ways in which our qualities temper each other and we are definitely improved individuals through our marriage. I love-adore-thrive-dream-breathe change. He values consistency-stability-normalcy-tradition-routine. Rather humorously, when dating he was asked what was most attractive about me and he replied, “She’s so comfortable.” From him, a compliment of the HIGHEST measure; for me, scandalously insulting! As you can tell, we still teasingly laugh and talk about the compliment. I’ve come to appreciate where his heart was in making the comment, and he appreciates how I felt as the recipient. Most importantly, there are many times when his aversion to change have served us well. Equally, there are enough times when my drive for change pushes us in ways that have been beneficial. And, for both of us, times where our tendencies have caused us problems.
What concerns me the most about this phrase is that no one person can actually complete another person. In researching this topic, I learned that at the root of this perspective is a teaching of Plato. Plato is at the bottom of many things and I never did get along with philosophy class.
Basically Plato held that at the beginning of time there were perfect, whole beings – but they fought all the time. Zeus was frustrated with the situation and “cleaved” each being in half. The premise is then that one half can find the other half and together they can be completed, but they have to learn to work together. No longer would people be fighting, they’d be spending their time searching for “their better half.” By the way, many other traditions hold similar teachings – kabala, hebraic and even several christian traditions.
As a Christian, I also believe that we are created with an emptiness that needs to be filled. The logic behind the phrase “you complete me” is that each person is created with an emptiness that needs filling. No emptiness; no need for completing. Most cultures and traditions acknowledge this emptiness.
The question then, and my main point of contention with “you complete me,” is where we look to be completed. Here are where popular culture suggests:
- your significant other
- your family
- your friends
- the common good
- a nebulous higher order
The list can and does go on and on. I have struggles with all of those options. As a Christian, I have found what I believe is the answer. But the point of this post is specifically with the second option, my significant other. When I depended on my spouse to consistently complete me, he couldn’t. I put such a burden on our relationship that no other person could EVER hope to fill. It completely ignored our individual capacities, undermined our strengths, and limited our possibilities. Note: I’ve deliberately used the word ‘our’ instead of ‘my.’
When both of us seek to be filled by a different source,* and then choosing to support each other on these separate journeys, we create a strength that goes beyond our capacities. Much like the nature examples of birds flying in V formation, or the weaving together of individual fibers to create rope or fabric.
By releasing my husband from the responsibility of completing me, he can then support me in ways that rely on his strengths. For example, I have strong emotional needs. I would love for this to be filled to the brim by my husband. When he couldn’t do this, I turned to friends, my former blog, reading, writing, and other family members. Because my expectation was that he should be doing this for me, I became quite bitter. Seeking fulfillment from other sources led to me creating connections at an intimacy level that should have been reserved for my spouse.
Eventually I realized I should not rely on other people to fill my emotional needs. It was a struggle, but I turned to release him from my expectations and deliberately stopped finding other sources to fill my emotional emptiness. Instead, as a believer, I turned to prayer and faith.
What happened, and this was slow, was that my spouse and I actually did build a connection and way of communicating that honours both his needs and my needs. At the same time, I came to great awareness about my needs. I learned that, often, my expectations were coloured and defined by my culture and not healthy. I found resilience within myself that I had no clue existed. I found that there were other sources that filled my emotional needs in ways that were healthy and beneficial to my marriage.
When I look around, I see so many relationships in struggle and often it is because we hold these externally determined expectations up for our spouses. We fall into the trap of thinking, “well, if they truly loved me then they would do this because I asked them to.” And, we should seek to do things for our spouses when requested. But if we are asking things from them that are not within their capacity, then we have created a measure that they can never achieve! There is then only one result!
If we predetermine that someone’s capacity to love us is/should be from A to Z, and they are only able – at the best of times – to love from A to L… then we’ve set ourselves up for a whole lot of hurt. If however, we set the bar at A to L (and account for capacity limiting factors) then we open ourselves up to being overwhelmed at the reality of what is being given to us. What is more, with time you will see ways to expand your own capacity to love and show love. I promise you, together your capacity will grow.
That’s my perspective as to why YOU could never complete me.
*for us – God the Creator
[As always, please be aware that this is not an article intended to badger someone into staying in an unsafe relationship, nor is it a judgement on your beliefs and values. My intention is, as always, to create a point for conversation and a place for thought. As someone who volunteers in crisis support, it is NEVER my intention to inflict harm or pain. Please do point out where you disagree with me. Please do reach out to me for support if you think I could provide it. I will honour you as I can, and direct you to another place if I cannot support as desired. Blessings!]