I'm sure we've all heard people refer to their marriage partner as their "better half." Many of us have even done that ourselves. But this past weekend something came up that got me looking at that phrase a different way.
Josh was at some meetings with a group of leaders and when he came home he was telling me some of the things he had learned. Near the end of the conversation he said there was one thing that irritated him about the day. He had been speaking with one man who talked about how great his wife was. He doted on her good qualities and bemoaned his own flaws and faults. The man commented over and over that me had married above himself (the fact that this was irritating to my husband immediately piqued my interest...watch your step here, sweetheart).
He went on to explain that this sweet man had talked about how much better than him his wife was, how he had married up, how she was such a near perfect person while he was riddled with problems and on and on -- you get the idea.
Josh said that for a long time it has rubbed him wrong when men (it is often men) talk about how their wife is their better half and how they married up and how great it is that their sweetheart would condescend to their level so they could end up together. I looked at him quizzically (isn't it a good thing if husbands think their wives are incredible?) until he brought up a couple of fairly important ideas.
1. Shouldn't we be equally yoked as a couple? It doesn't make a lot of sense to have one partner pulling really hard and working themselves to death while the other one kind of glides along easily just loafing their way down the path. I've known people in marriages like that (I'm sure you have too) and it looks physically overwhelming and emotionally exhausting. Josh said while he sees me as an amazing person (good save, tough guy) it wouldn't work out for either one of us if I was super awesome and he was just barely mediocre. Our marriage works because we pull each other up. Sometimes I am stronger, sometimes he is. Sometimes I need support, sometimes he does. We work together to brace and fortify each other. We are a team and marriages work best when both partners participate fully as a team.
2. Do we really want to teach young women to marry down? I hadn't thought of this at all, but if girls regularly hear quips of "I married someone so much better than I am" what are they learning? Are we teaching them to settle? Are we telling them to be arrogant and view themselves as innately better than their male counterparts? What about young men? Do we want to give them the idea that they can never really measure up? Do we want them to wander the world of relationships expecting to be second-rate and planning on hitching themselves to a top notch woman so she can drag him along? I don't think so. I don't want my sons thinking that they can stop trying to improve because no matter what they will never really be good enough to match up to their spouse. I also don't want my daughters thinking that it's ok to accept a less than solid partner, someone that she will have to coddle and coerce to constantly improve, because that is just the way things are.
Ok, I see his point.
My husband is a pretty incredible person. I look up to him. He teaches me and lifts me and encourages me and reinforces me. And I do my best to do the same for him. I don't think either one of us is so much better than the other (we each have strengths and weaknesses, sure, but overall we are pretty equal). We pull each other up, so I guess you could say we both married up. Our marriage works because our goals and desires are headed solidly in the same direction. We are both working toward the same things even if he is better in this arena and I am better in that.
I wouldn't want to hear Josh say that he thought he was lesser just to express that he thinks I am great. We are a partnership. For good or bad, for ups and downs, we are in this together.
So, after Josh had his say and I admitted that he did maybe have some valid points I then expressed that to me there is something beautiful about seeing more of the good in your partner than the bad. That's what I hear when someone says "my better half." While we know all our own emotional warts and ridiculous behaviors, I think it says something great about us if see past those things in our spouse and choose to focus more fully on the wonderful pieces that emerge in their character.
Still, Josh's point is a good one. I adore my husband; he is my favorite person ever. But you know what, I think I am pretty good too. I like myself. Yes, there are nasty bits of my personality I would like to get rid of and there are plenty (very very plenty) of things I am trying to learn and improve on, but overall I'm pleased with the person I am growing into.
But better than who I am growing into, I like who we are growing into. I love the life we are building as we stride through the pits and peaks and rivers and gardens and fields of this world together. And wherever we end up, I want us to end up there as one.