Tandem Marriage: Being Your Best Self With The Person You Love
What is Tandem Marriage?
Merriam Webster defines “tandem” as: a group of two people or things that work together; in partnership or in conjunction.
If you have read through some of our previous Tandem Marriage blog posts, you’ll know that Michael and I ride a tandem racing bike, a bicycle-built-for-two. We have covered a bunch of miles on our tandem. And we have relationship lessons and lifelong memories to go with almost every mile journeyed.
Our tandem adventures have been woven into the fabric of our relationship.
In our blog post Going Solo we tell of our beginnings and why riding solo wasn’t a good fit for us. It didn’t align with the way we wanted to do marriage. Michael and I have been very intentional in our choices in order to avoid the destructive path of parallel lives. So many couples we know have spent years of their marriages living parallel lives. We did in previous relationships.
Parallel lives do NOT lead to success. Whether married or single, you will not become your best self alone, siloed off from others. You become your best self with someone else. And if you are married, becoming your best self with your marriage partner is the only safe way to go.
Dr. Sue Johnson, Co-founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, has coined the expression “we find our best selves in the arms of another”. It’s when we feel secure and loved by the person we love the most that we have the courage to live into the fullness of who we are.
John and Mary were very successful individuals. John held a ministry staff position at their church, an eight to five job on most days. He was living into his calling. Mary was a nurse and picked up three or four night-shifts each week. The hospital depended on her advanced critical care skills. Between the two of them, one was usually available to shuttle the kids to and from activities. John and Mary came together on weekends where their time was consumed by church and children’s activities.
For John and Mary, and for many couples we see, they had no connecting points in their marriage, other than the kids. They were living parallel lives.
John and Mary hadn’t felt the fire of romance for years. Sex was a quarterly event if that. They spent their occasional date nights trying to be present to each other, all the while feeling distant and alone. They were both exhausted much of the time. John and Mary knew that when the kids were older their lives would change dramatically. In just 8 years they could once again live and love like a couple…or so they hoped.
Theirs is a very common story. And theirs is a very dangerous life. Fortunately they found their way into therapy, but none too soon. They knew their marriage was in trouble, but they didn’t know why. They had always thought their decisions to prioritize their careers and kids were noble. Deep in their guts they knew that prioritizing each other was important. But what would that even look like? They simply didn’t have a model for anything other than what they had done for the last 10 years of marriage.
A marriage relationship will not wait until ……. fill in the blank. We cannot put marriage on the back burner, on simmer, waiting until we get the job promotion, the bigger house, or have kids going off to college. The harsh reality is this, the simmering pot will boil over… it’s a recipe for disaster.
The less time couples spend together intentionally sharing their feelings with each other, the lonelier each of them will become. In time each of them will cover their loneliness with other activities, addictions or often unhealthy relationships.
Going around the relationship to get our needs met often feels like betrayal and will spark angry conflict in the relationship.
How do you become your very best “self” with the person you love?
A few years ago I left the workplace and partnered with Michael. It was a huge sacrifice on both our parts. We gave up my good salary, great benefits and a lucrative retirement package. My eight-to-five hours didn’t jive with his noon-to-nine schedule. We weren’t able to connect physically, or just as importantly, emotionally. We lived in two different worlds, with no intersections.
The points at which our lives intersect would be few and far between if it weren’t for the deliberateness of our decisions.
I quite ably and efficiently took over the administration of his therapy practice, those things that are not his strong suit. Michael was released to do more of what he’s extremely gifted to do…therapy. He and I were in the same work, with different roles. His practice ran more smoothly than ever.
Some call us fortunate or lucky to be able to make these changes. Others call it stupid that I would give up my life to “help” him run a more efficient business. He doesn’t give me a paycheck, but the benefits are awesome. 🙂 We get to spend lots of time together. Essentially, we do life side-by-side. Whether it’s Crossfitting, eating, writing or riding, we get to hang out together.
The way we do life is not going to look like yours. I understand that it’s not possible for everyone to quit a job in order to sync schedules with your spouse. But I guarantee it is possible to join forces with your partner. Be creative in what that looks like. Change your night shifts to the day, so you’re together more. Take a good look at your kids’ activities. Are they separating you and your spouse? What are yours and your spouse’s gifts and talents? How can you make those work for the couple?
Make decisions through a new lens, that which is best for the couple. I assure you, those choices will result in a better you.
A really great relationship is one where the different parts of our selves (work, fun, spiritual, parenting, etc.), can be best expressed in the context of our marriage. Where we can fully live into all of our roles and thrive with our partner’s encouragement and excitement. Where competition, jealousy, striving or bitterness do not separate us. Where being our best self means our partner also becomes his/her best self. And as a couple, we become amazing and unstoppable.