Can’t Live Without

Heard this one? Don’t marry the person you can live with. Marry the person you can’t live without. credits Dr. James C. Dobson as saying that, and honestly, I didn’t know it was him until I looked it up right this second. I can only imagine, given the readers that I actually know about, that about half of you are nodding your heads comfortably at the mention of this man’s name, and the other half are tempted to close out this screen. I’m not going to tell you which half I’m in . . . at least, not today. But I am going to tell you what I think about this quote, whether Dobson originated it or not.

I want to say I first heard it, or something like it, as early as junior high, though I can’t for the life of me remember the context (I picture myself sitting in the junior high science room at the time, but we didn’t have much in the way of sex ed at my little Christian school in the 80’s, and a quote like that might have summed up most of it, so . . . I might just be making this whole thing up. Anyway, I know I heard it when I got to college, because I had a friend who used to like to quote it a lot.

The first time I heard it, whenever that was, I thought it sounded like a good matrix, but by the time my College Friend started repeating it, it had acquired a certain feeling for me of not-quite-right. As it happened, my friend ended up quoting it sort of in desperation at two different times in her life when she was engaged to two different guys, neither of whom was right for her but without whom she felt, respectively, she could not live. Now she’s happily married with children, but not to either of the guys she had been engaged to previously, and also without the attendant drama in the relationship, I believe. Then I myself experienced the feeling.

First of all, I’d like to point out that it’s really not that difficult a feeling to drum up. Any high schooler with hormones and a little bit of insecurity can develop a full-blown crush on another one and feel–to the point of ulcers–that they can’t live without them, and it’s possible to go pretty far into adulthood feeling that way about certain people, too. I certainly did. That kind of desperate feeling that life was going to be devoid of all meaning and happiness unless I could be forever with the one I was obsessed with, was something I had experienced over and over again, but it came to a head in my mid-30’s, of all things, when a man gave me the benefit of the doubt and decided to date me regardless of my insecurities and our differences.

I really did love him, regardless of the codependence, and maybe under other circumstances (and other belief systems) we could have, in fact, forged a real partnership and marriage, but under the ones we had, such an alliance would ultimately probably have been painful and disastrous . . . in part because I felt I couldn’t live without him. I think this was true of my College Friend’s ended-engagements, too. Now whenever I hear that quote, I want to say to the person blissfully quoting it, “There’s a psychological label for that. It’s called ‘codependent.'”

The other day I watched a movie with Girl-Talk Friend, and it displayed all sorts of glaring relational no-nos (kind of like Mama Mia!), but at the end when the estranged young couple are about to make up, the young man predicts that his erstwhile fiancee is going to tell him she can’t live without him. It’s not an unreasonable assumption–she has just spent the entire movie acting very insecure and making really stupid decisions. But:

“No,” she says. “I’ve realised I can live without you. I just don’t want to.”

Maybe it’s just the head-space I’m in these days, but if that head-space means that I’ve got a little more confidence to go through this life without basing my worth on what other people–particularly a “significant other”–think of me, well, I’d rather be here than where I’ve been before. I’d rather know I am complete in Christ and able to go through life with Him and Him alone if I have to. I think I have more to offer that way.

It’s not that I WANT to go through the rest of my life single. You should be able to tell that from all the talk around here lately. But I think if I were *capable* of doing so, I’ll also be a lot more capable of a successful marriage.


7 thoughts on “Can’t Live Without

  1. Sounds about right. Although I think that’s not really the point of the quote, however it may be misused.

    Yes, ideally both individuals should be entering marriage in hopes of an equal partnership. They should be strong, confident individuals making a decision to enter into life together, not mere victims of hormones or pheromones.

    And what the quote is trying to say–the good message from it–is that one shouldn’t settle. The first person willing to enter a relationship with you may not be God’s best. Reaching a certain age, looking a certain way, having special needs, whatever, shouldn’t mean that you should settle for someone who you can handle living with. That part of the equation is right. But “Don’t marry the person you can live with; marry the person you care about deeply who will enter an independent, mutually edifying, adult partnership with you” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    That said, I got married as a rather young, hormonal person with no self esteem to the first guy who showed any interest in me. I think our honeymoon period lasted about 6 years and I’m still madly in love with him. I have never for a moment regretted marrying him, and I have grown into a better, more adult person within our marriage (and I think he has too). God has His hand in things, and for whatever reason he made sure my husband and I each married the right person before we were the right people. If my husband died and I were to remarry, I’d be looking for someone who has the qualities he has–and a lot of these are qualities he didn’t have when we were younger. I mean after all, this is a guy who fell for an unbeliever. So I don’t know as there are any magic formulas.

    • Yes–I think you’re correct about the true point of the quote, but even though it’s less clunky as stated, it’s also kind of misleading. I do agree that magic formulas are right out–although, that’s kind of a shame. πŸ˜‰

      I really appreciate your story (which, of course, I’ve been blessed to see something of in real life) and the reminder that God is the one who ultimately makes the marriage successful and is capable of working through each one of our foibles, whatever they may be (and they certainly will be)!

    • Incidentally, it might be noted that I have certainly spent plenty of time railing at God (melodramatically and self-absorbedly) about why on earth *I* evidently have to become perfect before I can get married when other normal human beings get to move toward Christlikeness together and in the process of marriage . . . So far, He’s still not telling me . . .

      • I am sure there are lots of advantages to having the perfection you will have attained by the time you get married πŸ™‚

        There have been times when I learned something, and have been called to God to things (I think), that just could not happen if my husband were not on board. But because we didn’t really talk about those things before we got married–in fact agreed to other things in some cases–I was left wondering, what if my husband doesn’t agree? What if one day he stops being willing to let me pursue this? There are things I would require my spouse be open to if I were choosing one now that the man I married would not have been open to–and that the man I am married to now is open to. If that makes sense. Knowing so much more about yourself hopefully means you won’t have to go through as much of that.

  2. Marriage is messy, being grounded in my relationship with God is my ideal, but so is having a great marriage and like marriage my maturing in Christ is messy too. I guess Balance would be nice but…

  3. I don’t know. The sentiment behind that statement seems to smack more of a wierd sort of consumerism when applied to a person. It seems to credit us with having much more control over our own lives than is actually healthy (or indeed a whole lot less).

    I’ve heard it explained as aiming for God’s best – but that’s equally problematic, as it can become used as an excuse to alternatively avoid or engage in relationships.

    I was reminded of this article that I read a efw weeks back:

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