A marriage therapist on 'the most horrific piece of advice' for relationships
If you've ever seen a particularly cheesy couple celebrate their anniversary on Facebook (or if — the horror! — you
are that cheesy couple), you might have seen one person call their partner their "other half." Or, maybe one of them announced to the other: "You complete me."
As it turns out, more than just annoying cliches, these metaphors are actually terrible descriptions of a healthy relationship.
At least, that's according to Hal Runkel, a marriage and family therapist and the author of multiple books on parenting and relationships, including, most recently, Choose Your Own Adulthood.
When he visited our offices in May, Runkel broke it down for us, using his own marriage as an example: "I am a whole person. She is not powerful enough to complete me. I'm not powerful enough to complete her. She's a complete person. That's why I want her. Not because she's half; she's whole."
That is to say, Runkel doesn't need his wife — and his wife doesn't need him — to be a fully functioning person.
When he hears people tell couples, "You are supposed to meet another's needs," he said, "that is the most horrific piece of advice I can imagine".
Instead, Runkel said, you should want your partner, and vice versa.
It might sound like semantics — but this mental reframing allows you to take a much more reasonable approach to any romantic relationship.
It means, Runkel said, that you always need to be working on yourself — first to make sure you're a happy and healthy individual, and second to make sure you're a desirable partner.
"When was the last time you actually respected a needy person, much less found them attractive?" Runkel said.
What's more, Runkel said, there will be times when you and your partner can't fully meet each other's needs. If one of you gets sick, for example, the other can only do their best at being caring and supportive.
Of his own marriage, Runkel said something as sensible as it is romantic: "I don't need my wife, which frees me up to want her. I want her."
If you want to attract the other person, he added, what you should be saying (at least to yourself) is: "I could live without you, but that's the last thing I want to do."