I was only in my late twenties, and he had been married over 40 years. We stood together talking in the church vestibule. His wife had died several weeks ago. His tears of grief flowed freely as he spoke of her. One sentence in particular stood out for me as he spoke: “I’m a better person because of her. She made me a better man.”
As a young, single man I appreciated his sentiment, but I really didn’t understand the depth of his comment. Now, 30-some years later with a wife of 30 years, his words bring tears of recognition to my eyes.
In a healthy marriage, our spouses help us become better people, a better version of our selves. They help us gain more knowledge and develop greater character. In fact, if both spouses are not growing as individuals in their marriage, they begin to feel as though they’re “stuck in a rut” and bored.
Marriage encourages us to grow. As “me” becomes “we” and “mine” becomes “ours,” our character develops. To truly invest in “us” and “ours” means becoming less self-centered and more humble. Rather than doing only what I want, I must learn to take pleasure in doing what my spouse wants as well. We honor our spouse by learning about their interests and, on some level, participating in those interests with them. Inevitably, my spouse and I begin to blend our interests and ideas. …and so, we grow as individuals and as a couple.
We also learn from our spouses’ unique strengths. Our thoughtful spouse teaches us to be more thoughtful. Our organized spouse teaches us to be more organized (at least a little bit). Our humorous spouse teaches us to enjoy humor more. And so, we grow as an individual and as a couple.
Interestingly, couples who report feeling more growth as individuals and as a couple also report a more passionate love, greater relationship satisfaction, and stronger commitment. Each one has learned to value the contentment of their spouse and the health of their relationship “as more important than their own.” They have learned to “not only look out for their own personal interests but also the interests of others.” They report more physical affection, greater sexual desire, and less conflict. They have learned how to better resolve conflict. They have learned how to please their spouse. In other words, they have grown as an individual and as a couple.
Here is the takeaway. Dive into your marriage. Learn about your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s interests and dreams. Become involved in those interests and dreams. And invite your spouse into your interests and dreams. As you do, you and your marriage will grow.
Develop interests as a couple. Try new things together. Enjoy quality time with one another exploring new areas. As you do, you grow. Your spouse grows. Your relationship grows. Your marriage becomes more satisfying. And one day you will say: “I’m a better person because of my spouse. They make me a better person.”