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The He, The She, and The We By Gary Robbins

In the 1980s, Robert A. Johnson wrote a trio of books with deceptively simple titles.  The three books were titled “He,” “She,” and “We.”  More than just short and memorable, these titles provide a convenient shorthand for understanding couples and their relationships.

Let me show you what I mean.

I know men who are deeply driven by ego and ambition—men who work long days and nights at their jobs and still bring home work over the weekends.  Longing to be valued and recognized, much of their discretionary time is spent serving on boards and participating in professional organizations.  Everything else in their lives is subordinated to this singular commitment to external success.  In their great epic productions, wives are delegated to supporting roles.  When you look at these men’s marriages, you find that so much of the space is dedicated to “he” that there is very little room left for “she.” Sadly, there is hardly any “we” to be found.

At the other extreme, I have known women who are extremely controlling. In these marriages, there is little question who is in charge.  Because of fear or anger or resentment, they write the scripts for the family—and in their quest to orchestrate their lives and the lives of their family, everyone is cowered into playing their assigned roles.  In these marriages, there is a lot of “she” but not much “he.” And because “we” takes intimacy, vulnerability, equality, and trust, there is not a lot of “we” in the marriage.

Probably more prevalent still is the marriage where both the husband and wife work demanding jobs. In today’s fast-paced, high-pressure world, the couple often feels as if their jobs pull and tug at them all day long—and then, when they get home, the lawn still needs to be moved, groceries have to be bought, and kids need to get to soccer practice.  They may both experience a dizzying sense of accomplishment—and there may be plenty of space for both ‘he” and “she”—but the husband and wife find themselves living parallel lives.  And at the end of the day they are exhausted.  Given the pace and demands of their lives, they lament that there is hardly any time left for “we” or “us.”

You see, “we”—that sense of emotional closeness and shared togetherness—takes time.  It grows out of long walks and relaxed conversations over coffee.  It grows out of date nights and foot rubs and unhurried intimacy.  “We” is almost always intentional and rarely happens by accident.  “We” says, “Yes, I am important and you are important,” but it also says “The life we share together is incredibly important as well.”

Both the Jewish and the Christian scriptures teach that God’s intention in marriage is that “the two shall be one.”  I don’t think that means the “he” and “she” disappear, but I do think that it means that there should be a rich and robust sense of “we”—a mutually meaningful sense of “us.”

My hope is that, during this new year, both those of you who are newly married and those of you who have been married for decades, will take the time to move beyond “he” or “she” and strengthen that strong, tender, affectionate, and irreplaceable thing that is “we.”

Gary Robbins is the pastor of Greene Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Roanoke.  Visit them on the web at: www.gmumc.org.

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