I love Independence Day. It stirs feelings inside me like no other holiday, renewing patriotism, remembering those who fought for our freedom, and those who waited, struggled, and sacrificed at home for those who served. I love the word independent—probably because I am very independent in so many ways. However, there is one part of my life that sometimes doesn’t fit well with that word, and that is my marriage.
Marriage in some ways is not for the independent. It is good to maintain individuality inside a marriage, but not independence. Merriam-Webster’s On-line Dictionary defines these words as follows:
Independence: Freedom from outside control or support: the state of being independent. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/independence)
Individuality: (a) Total character peculiar to and distinguishing an individual from others; (b) personality. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/individuality)
Independence inside Marriage
The whole concept of marriage is oneness of the couple. While it is important that the couple remain independent from outside control or support, inside the marriage each partner must remain dependent upon the other for support (not control). If one part of the couple doesn’t support the other, there will most assuredly be problems. Each needs to be able to rely on the other for support in every aspect of their lives.
On the other hand, it is important to maintain your individuality. Your personality and peculiar characteristics are what your spouse was attracted to in the first place. If you suddenly blend into the scenery, you won’t be a very exciting partner to be around.
When my husband and I were engaged, I left for a weekend with my family at our cabin in the hills. I was returning to town by bus, but had no idea which bus I would be taking. He tried to pin me down so that he could meet me at the bus depot, but I told him that I just didn’t know because I didn’t know what I would be doing. He paid no attention to me, and made the assumption that I would be coming in on a bus that arrived around 9:00 p.m. Sunday night. Meanwhile, I was having a good time playing hearts with my family, and ended up taking a bus that didn’t arrive until about 2:00 a.m. (and I had to be at work at 8:00 a.m.).
This was not unusual behavior for me. I had been totally independent for quite a while. Since I told my fiancé that I didn’t know what bus I was going to be on, it never occurred to me that he would be pacing the floor of the bus depot wondering if I had been eaten alive by wild bears or something. He finally gave up at the bus depot, went back to his apartment, and resorted to calling my apartment every 30 minutes. He was pretty angry at me, which baffled me. After all, it was his fault that he didn’t listen to me. This was at a time prior to cell phones, and there was not a phone at the cabin.
That episode was my wake-up call that when we got married I needed to be a bit more specific for him so he didn’t worry. Lest someone gets the idea that my husband is controlling, he’s not. That same episode was his wake-up call that I’m enough of a “free spirit” that he needs to give me some space. He respects my individuality. While he still worries about me 37 1/2 years later, he knows that he needs to back off. At the same time, I try to be considerate of his feelings and call him, if possible, if my plans change or if I’m going to be late so that he isn’t pacing the floors. I respect his individuality as the biggest worry wart on the planet—and I love him for it.
Independence outside Marriage
While marriage partners need to depend on one another, it is important that the couple is independent from outside sources. If a couple is dependent financially on other family members, it can be a source of contention and even family control. My husband and I made sure that before we were married we didn’t owe any family member on either side a penny, and that was a very wise decision. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long been counseled to be independent and self-reliant.
“Couples do well to immediately find their own home, separate and apart from that of the in-laws on either side. The home may be very modest and unpretentious, but still it is an independent domicile. Your married life should become independent of her folks and his folks. You love them more than ever; you cherish their counsel; you appreciate their association; but you live your own lives, being governed by your decisions, by your own prayerful considerations after you have received the counsel from those who should give it.” (LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, Oneness in Marriage, Ensign, Mar. 1977, 5).
President Marion G. Romney put it this way:
“. . . [T]here is no such thing as a temporal commandment. . . . [M]an is to be ‘an agent unto himself.’ Man cannot be an agent unto himself if he is not self-reliant. Herein we see that independence and self-reliance are critical keys to our spiritual growth. Whenever we get into a situation which threatens our self-reliance, we will find our freedom threatened as well. If we increase our dependence, we will find an immediate decrease in our freedom to act.” (President Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, Oct. 1982, 134; or Ensign, Nov. 1982, 93, quoted in Eternal Marriage Student Manual—Independence).
Whether we are talking about relationships between couples, or relationships with couples and the outside world, there is one form of independence that always exists, and that is the God-given freedom to choose between right and wrong. Of course, there is also responsibility and accountability that goes along with that agency. If we choose to be disloyal to our marriage partner, or we choose to abuse our spouse, we will be held accountable not only in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of God. We are responsible to our Heavenly Father for everything that involves our marriage, as marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.
“One of the last, subtle strongholds of selfishness is the natural feeling that we ‘own’ ourselves. Of course we are free to choose and are personally accountable. Yes, we have individuality. But those who have chosen to ‘come unto Christ’ soon realize that they do not ‘own’ themselves. Instead, they belong to Him. We are to become consecrated along with our gifts, our appointed days, and our very selves. Hence, there is a stark difference between stubbornly ‘owning’ oneself and submissively belonging to God. Clinging to the old self is not a mark of independence, but of indulgence!” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Conference Report, Oct. 1990, 18; or Ensign, Nov. 1990, 16).
Ah, another “I” word. We have independence, individuality, and now indulgence. As we celebrate our freedom this Independence Day, I hope we also consider these three “I” words with respect to our marriages. Marriage is a complicated union which deserves much thought, study, and prayer. It is my belief as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that marriage extends beyond the grave. Just as we have freedom to choose a spouse, freedom to practice our religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to choose an occupation, we also have freedom to choose to be a good marriage partner. We will be held accountable for how we treat all our freedoms, but I personally believe, we will be most accountable for how we choose to act in our marriage.
Happy Independence Day!
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.