Why a “You Complete Me” Romance Is Incomplete

Exploring one of the most common myths of love.

An excited couple comes into my office, walking close together and holding hands. They sit on the couch as close as two people can sit and still be occupying two separate spaces. Then they tell me how they met and fell in love. They have set the date and are planning their wedding. Would I, they wonder, officiate? I get out my calendar, and we talk about the date and what they are expecting from me in this process. I find out if they have scheduled their required premarital-counseling sessions and have filled out all the forms for the use of our church sanctuary. 

Then I ask the big question: “Why do you want to get married?”

For some reason, this question catches the couple off-guard. They are in love. Why would anyone need more reasons than that? But I press for something deeper, and eventually one of them risks an answer. 

“I need her,” he will say. “She makes me complete.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” the bride-to-be echoes. “It’s as if I wasn’t a whole person until I met him.”

The Rocky theory of love

This is what I call "the Rocky theory of love." In the movie Rocky (yes, I am old enough to have seen Rocky when it was first shown in theaters), Paulie asks Rocky what the boxer sees in Paulie’s sister, Adrian. “She fills gaps,” Rocky says. “She’s got gaps. I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.”

But two wounded people, no matter how much they love each other, do not make a healthy marriage. Two wounded people make a hospital. Over and over, broken people enter into all kinds of relationships looking for the other party to make them whole. These assumptions, which have their origins in childhood or adolescence, are that another person will somehow fill a hole in one’s heart.

It rarely works out, since the other people are looking for people to fill the gaps in their lives as well. The insistence on getting the need met puts so much pressure on the relationship that it often breaks down. Everyone wants to be taken care of, but few of us are interested in taking care of someone else. When the pursuit of being “made complete” is carried into marriage, disappointment is sure to follow. No matter how committed people are in a relationship, they can’t provide the healing their partner needs.

Relationships from “yes”

But what happens if we approach a relationship not from a sense of need but from a sense of our “yes”? That is, what if we came into a relationship seeking to understand how we could best serve the other person? What if we didn’t expect the other person to fill gaps or needs in our lives? What if the other person was free to be who he or she is, on the same basis that we have been liberated to be who we are in Christ?

A few years ago, I was talking to my wife about our relationship and the idea of needing each other. Neither of us liked that word. Fact is, neither one of us needs the other. If one of us were to die, the other would go on living. We would grieve. We would hurt. But we would still live without having the other in our life.

While we decided we didn’t need each other, we were happy to admit that we really want each other. We like being together, and things are better when we can share them. There has never been any question about this. We could survive alone, without each other. But we far prefer to go through life together. Maybe this doesn’t sound particularly romantic; it might not meet the definition of “smitten soulmates.” But being wanted is a lot more fun than being needed.

If I were “needed,” I would be responsible for providing something in Jeannie’s life. But ultimately, Jeannie is responsible for her own life, as I am responsible for mine. It’s not possible for her to make me happy. She can’t give my life meaning. She can only share who she is. She gives me love because she chooses to, not because I demand it.

Love of this type comes out of the overflow of Christ’s love in us. Love like this makes no demands. It is given the same way Jesus gives His love to us—freely. I give my love to my wife because I choose to do so. I give it with no demand that she reciprocate. She knows her “yes,” and I know mine. Again, this may not sound like soft music and a moonlit stroll, but living out of the “yes” of our own identities means we are free to love the other for the other’s sake, without looking for compensation. It’s as close to the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 as I have ever come.

To love like Christ

No one can meet my needs but Christ. To ask my wife or anyone else to meet them is to ask people to do what only God can do. If we lived according to this truth, how would it transform our understanding of relationships? Relationships are transformed for the better when we love without expecting anything in return. We don’t have to manipulate the other person to get our needs met. We can let them be who they are. We can celebrate with their successes and grieve with their losses without jealousy or possessiveness. Out of the overflow of His own life, Jesus loved the people He encountered. Because He is complete in Himself, He can extend Himself even when His love isn’t returned. Christlike love, unlike the myth of the soulmate or the starry-eyed fluttering of the heart in romance, exists for the sake of the other.

Can you imagine what a marriage would look like if it was based on the kind of generous love that expects nothing in return?

When you know your “yes”—knowing you are treasured by the Father and have been called to a Kingdom purpose—then you can be free to love the other without any selfish motives or hidden agendas. Both partners are free to be who they are, knowing that they don’t have to earn the other’s love.

Excerpted from The Gospel of Yes by Mike Glenn Copyright © 2012 by Mike Glenn. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

13 Comments

85,538

Erin L Lamb commented…

Wonderful article! Thanks for sharing.

85,538

Han Min commented…

Hi Jay,
I think on closer look, the nature of love is altruistic - in the sense that love is its own reward. For example, I give my girlfriend a flower because I want to tell her I love her. I hope she likes it but I don't know for sure. Regardless, I want her to have the flower. If she likes it, it makes me more joyful, if she doesn't, I would be sad, but it doesn't change the fact that I have already given her the flower. I would not regard the flower as a waste of time. In the same way, God gave Christ for us, *then* asked us to follow Him. He did not say "follow me, and I will die to forgive your sins", but "I have already acted to forgive your sins and redeem you. Would you like to receive it?". This is why we have freedom to be ourselves in Christ, because we do not fear losing what He has freely given without strings attached. I don't have the time (and it's not immediately relevant) to go into the other half of it about living right, though.

About your last point - how do people of other faith experience true love...you can't really love until you have God's love - I have to say that you may need to check your assumptions. Each faith has a different assumption about the nature of man. As Christians, we believe that Man is fundamentally broken and fallen. By nature, because of sin, we are *all* incapable - read: all, by nature, incapable - of perfect love. I don't mean that we can't love well, or that we are incorrigibly selfish; in fact, I know many people outside the church who are far more generous than many christians and show love far more sincerely than most christians do. However, Christians believe that sin makes perfection in love impossible for all - there is a touch of selfishness at some level in everyone. This is the very reason that it was necessary for God to send Christ to die for us - to redeem our natures and restore our capacity for true, perfect, selfless love. Through His work on the cross, and the Holy Spirit given to us, we learn to love once again, using God's own expression of love in Christ as a guiding model. We are still learning, and hence even Christians don't love perfectly all the time. I'm not a christian because I'm good. I'm a christian because I know I need help.

Now, this is all from a christian perspective, which I believe to be true. Another faith will understand humans, and hence love, differently, but you must decide which is true.

85,538

Greggs commented…

I definitely agree that some people rush into relationships desperately looking for someone to make them feel better because on their own they are immature, un-reflective, and not stable emotionally--they are "needy" in the worst sense of the word. Relationships formed on the foundation of each other's character flaws and "gaps" are not ideal, and set people up for heartbreak as they come to find that another broken human will never be able to "fill gaps" the way they hoped.

Something has been bothering me though, lately. In Christian circles it has become all too common to hear the message of this article. It would seem that this unhealthy "you complete me" syndrome is the biggest foul and biggest threat to modern relationships. This kind of article has people nodding their heads up and down saying, "Yeah! Being needy is bad, you shouldn't need anyone! You should be 100% ok, just you and God." The heart behind this response is the attitude that scares me about our generation. I believe this attitude has been influenced more by western individualism and pop-psychology than a scriptural understanding of the basis of human relationships.

When Adam was alone with God in the garden, he was lonely. There was a big "gap" in his life, and it had nothing to do with a character flaw, or the fact that God wasn't enough. Fact is, he needed a woman to complete what it meant to be human. God recognized this, saying "it isn't good for the man to be alone." Our generation is marrying later and later, entertaining increasingly selfish lives centered around career and play, rejecting the true joy that can be found in selflessly being used to "complete" another human being in the most beautiful way--the way Eve completed Adam. All the while, here we are all chanting in unison about the danger of actually needing another human being. I contend that our individualism, judging eyes, and selfishness are a much greater threat to marriage.

I agree with what the author says, completely. We need to be healthy and secure in relationship with God, and not looking to a human to provide what only he can. But can we humbly acknowledge that we do, in fact, need our spouse? Need is not a four letter word...uh

85,538

Anonymous commented…

I used to think the same about wanting and needing, but I have grown to think it's good if we need each other.Becausemales and females needeach other, we bring different things to the table. God made us this way. I want to be with someone that adds to my life, that I need AND want. I want them to see that they can fill a human need of companionship in me, though I am entirely complete alone.

85,538

Rix Banga commented…

I've been in a relationship for 12 years (6 years married) and this is spot on!

I think it's a perspective that not many people have but brings health to a relationship. Although a couplecan help, encourage and support each other through brokenness, it's ultimately a gap only God can fill.

Great post.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In