Two Shall Be One. Or Maybe Two.

Mismatched Wedding Rings

Mismatched Wedding Rings

Ten years ago, my wedding photographer made sure that we had all of the usual snapshots—including the traditional close-up of the couple’s hands, showing off their new wedding rings.

I look at that photo today and have to admit that it looks pretty stupid. The couples with nice hand photos show off the complementary rings they bought together. They are made of the same metal; they may have even been sold together as a set. It never even occurred to us to buy rings as a set. We were more focused on what each of us, individually, wanted from a piece of jewelry we would wear almost all the time.

Our preference for individuality in wedding rings echoed the respect for individuality we maintained during our courtship. I was a serious graduate student and my future husband was respectful of my need for several daily hours of un-boyfriend-accompanied study time. We were not one of those couples that were attached at the hip. We did not see each other every day. We had both married off several friends who had become downright impossible to be around during their courtship because of their obsession with each other and disregard for everyone else in the world. Our goal was to avoid such obsession. (Various observers have differing opinions of how well we succeeded at this—but at least we tried.)

In spite of our individualistic natures, I did have high hopes for marital unity. For the inscription on my husbands ring, I chose the phrase, “Two shall be one” in reference to the scripture, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

My husband interpreted the phrase and its accompanying scripture as a reference to sex, not unity. Apparently, that’s just one more way that we are different from each other. (Fortunately, this alternative interpretation did not reduce the appeal of the message to him—quite the contrary.)

While I hoped for unity, my definition of unity was vague.  Unity certainly would not include dangerous arguments in which spouses throw kitchen cutlery at each other, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what unity actually would include, exactly.  I had seen some apparently united couples who enjoyed the same hobbies, shared the same opinions, dressed the same, and even looked alike.  This kind of unity didn’t seem likely for my marriage.  Other couples seemed to unite when one spouse, usually the wife, dedicated herself to serving as an assistant to the other in achieving his personal goals and dreams.  I never desired this kind of unity, and to his credit, my husband didn’t, either. Our marriage is a lot like our rings. We’re two individuals, not one matched set.

Although I hadn’t figured out marital unity before I married, at the least, I believed I had pretty much figured out the keys to marital compatibility:

  1. Don’t get married as soon as you’re legally of age.
  2. Don’t marry someone you just met.

I still like these guidelines, but after ten years of marriage, I have to admit that my logic for them was faulty.  I thought it was important to really know the person you would marry in order to best predict your potential for lifelong compatibility. That would not be possible if you married someone with whom you had only recently become acquainted. Likewise, I believed that if you married young, you didn’t really know who you were marrying either, because personalities are so likely to change as people mature past the barely post-teen years.

Today, I am more inclined to believe that no one can really predict anyone’s future personality and values under any circumstances—not even their own.  People change.  Even grown-up people.

When my husband and I were dating, I fretted about whether I could marry someone who was so extremely shy. Recently, I mentioned this to a friend who didn’t know us back then and she was surprised to hear that—because he isn’t shy. Not anymore. But at the not-so-young age of 28, shyness was one of his defining characteristics.

That hasn’t been the only change. Only a few months after our wedding, my husband became very sick. He is doing better now, but understandably, he will never be exactly the same. My personal changes are a little less explicable. How did I get to be such a crazy liberal (at least, in comparison to the über-conservative culture that surrounds me)? In some ways, we have changed together. Neither of us were parents before we married; we have embarked on this life-altering project as a team.

Now, we are celebrating our tenth anniversary. After ten years of marriage, we are still two unique individuals, but we are not exactly the same individuals as we were ten years ago. Are we united? Well, we don’t throw knives at each other, so that’s a good sign. But we disagree with each other at least as frequently as we agree. Much of the time, we can’t even understand each other, in spite of ten years of marriage practice.

I still like the abstract notion of unity, but I still can’t define it.  I don’t know if we are united.  Here’s what I do know: we are committed to each other and to this marriage.  We care about each other and we care about our marriage.  That is what got us through the first ten years.  I am excited for the next ten.  Who knows how our individual personalities will have evolved again by that time? I am glad I have a caring partner who is committed to walking beside me through whatever changes are coming.  We’re not the same, but we are a team.  Maybe that is unity.   Even if not, it’s enough for me.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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12 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    When my husband and I were dating, I fretted about whether I could marry someone who was so extremely shy. Recently, I mentioned this to a friend who didn’t know us back then and she was surprised to hear that—because he isn’t shy. Not anymore. But at the not-so-young age of 28, shyness was one of his defining characteristics.

    Sorry this is a tangent to your major point, April, but I was struck by this point. I’m a man too, and I was also much more shy when I got married than I am now. It used to be that other than people I met at work, I pretty much only got to know people through my wife, because she was much more social. But I’ve gotten less shy as we’ve been married for a few years (okay 15). I’m not sure, but I think one reason for the change in me is that I am married to my wife: knowing she accepts me makes me less anxious about whether other people will accept me, and with less anxiety, I find it easier to meet and get to know people.

    So maybe this relates to your major point after all: maybe we change each other in marriage. Not only do our personalities evolve just because of aging and life experiences, but also because of the marriage itself.

    Interesting post!

    • Laura says:

      I would agree with you on the “we change each other” point. I’ve always been a social butterfly; my husband was a homebody and people often think he’s a bit anti-social. Over the past 16 years, I’ve become more of a homebody, and he is MUCH more social. It’s funny because he “puts off” this unsocial vibe, but before we relocated to Utah he was incredibly social in our last ward.

    • Amelia says:

      And to be slightly tangential to the tangent:

      I really think that the sense of security given by a very accepting, trusting relationship with a partner or spouse makes it possible to give up insecurities in a way that is not as easily possible, alone. For me, the insecurities I can give up, at least somewhat, are about how my relationship with the church might affect my family relationships. I still worry about it, as my partner could certainly tell you. But knowing that I am loved unquestioningly makes it easier to manage those anxieties because I know no matter what happens I’ll still have an emotional safe haven in my relationship with my partner. That is an indescribably enormous blessing.

      • Amelia says:

        Also, I think that’s what I would mean by unity–that we are unified in creating a haven for each other and ourselves in our relationship.

        Also, not throwing knives at each other. That’s definitely part of my definition of unity…

  2. Annie B. says:

    I found that beautiful, thanks for sharing it. I find what you say about people changing, even grown up people, to be true. I morphed from having an attached-at-the-hip courtship and engagement and thinking that my entire worth was derived from or for the purpose of my marriage, to feeling more like you do now, happy about the fact that me and my husband are separate individuals with a united purpose and commitment. Our 11th wedding anniversary was this month. Happy 10th anniversary to you!

  3. Rachel says:

    Great post. My husband and I are both pretty stubborn individuals – we’ve had our ups and downs as a couple. But over the course of our relationship, we’ve both changed a lot, become softer around the edges. And our different view-points have challenged each other to think about life differently. (I think it’s worth noting that we grew up in two very different cultures – US and India) I think change is a part of life – whoever said your character is formed by a certain age was grossly over-simplifying the matter.

  4. Rachel says:

    April, this is a really beautiful, and personally inspiring post. Thank you. If I were to copy and paste the parts that meant the most to me, I would be copying/pasting nearly the whole thing, but especially the last paragraph and a half starting with, “Are we united? Well, we don’t throw knives at each other, so that’s a good sign. But we disagree with each other at least as frequently as we agree. Much of the time, we can’t even understand each other, in spite of ten years of marriage practice.”

    Tomorrow I will be married for 11 months exactly. So nowhere near as long as ten years. My husband and I are very, Very different. We dress differently. We spend money differently. We differ in sleeping patterns and waking patterns. We differ politically and religiously (though we are supposedly Mormon co-religionists). Etc. Etc. I think that the only things that we share are tastes in music and a love of bikes (plus maybe a few more things). At times it can feel like too much, but in our better moments, I think we can respect each other in our differences, rather than in spite of them, especially as we strive to even understand the other.

    Thanks for hope that difference is not hopeless.

  5. I liked this description. My husband and I are coming up on nine years, and we are both very different people from when we were married. Fortunately, in a lot of areas we’ve evolved together, toward similar goals and aspirations. Looking back, I realize that neither of us had much of a clue what we really wanted to do with our lives (although we thought we did). We were both in our mid-twenties when we got married (twenty-three is mid-twenties, right?), and I kind of feel like we’ve grown up together.

  6. Amelia says:

    When my sister got married 13 years ago, our dad was our stake president. We both went to the temple that summer. When our dad interviewed us for temple recommends (sometimes it startles me that this seemed okay at the time; I think now I’d insist that one of his counselors interview me), he said something about his relationship with my mom that I’ll never forget. At the time, they were a few years shy of having been married for 40 years. He said: “Just when I think I really know your mom, she does something that surprises me.”

    I’ve thought about that a lot over the years since then. And I really think that this question of sameness and difference is at the heart of successful relationships. I think the strongest relationships are the ones in which people continue to evolve and are surprised and intrigued by how their partners do evolve. Personal evolution is inevitable. I think relationships fail when we think of the commitment made as being a commitment to preserve without change (or without any significant change) what was found during courtship. I think evolution–of each individual and of the relationship–is what keeps a relationship alive and thriving.

    Maybe tangential a little. But it’s what you brought to mind.

  7. April says:

    ” Don’t get married as soon as you’re legally of age.
    Don’t marry someone you just met.”

    I had to laugh when I read this. 14 years ago, when I was 18, I married a man I had known six weeks. In Vegas, no less. We are still happily married with three (young!) kids (I think that waiting 9 years to have kids probably helped). It makes me think of what Charlotte Lucas says in Pride and Prejudice, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” I would like to think I am an Elizabeth, but maybe I am a Charlotte. Or maybe Lydia, because, ya know, the whole Vegas thing. Anyway, as I consider my marriage and the marriages of my family and friends (some happy, some not) it is really difficult to come up with a formula for marital success. So, maybe Charlotte was right.

  8. Courtney says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. My fiance and I are getting married in two weeks, we bought our rings last week and they are completely different. I was ok with that when we first got them because I felt it would be a representation of compromise in our Marriage. I’m not so concerned on what they look like together as long as our Marriage was a great one. I was recently told that they have to match and so I started doubting myself. Reading this just made me feel better about our decision. I’m not so stoked on “Twin Marriage’s” either. -blacklockbeauty.com

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