It's said so often it's become a cliche: "opposites attract." And yet, this is one of those cliches which appears to be true. We all know couples where one is extroverted, the other introverted; one is artistic and spontaneous, the other grounded and practical; one is a spender, the other a saver; etc. etc. We look at these couples, especially the ones who are fighting bitterly about their differences, and wonder what made them hook up in the first place.
The answer is hinted at in Genesis 2:8, translated in the King James as "It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him." But what this translation does is smooth out a Hebrew phrase into something that made sense to the people of the time, and it has become commonly accepted even though it is actually not accurate.
The Hebrew phrase describing the creation of Eve is "ezer kenegdo", which translates as "a helper as opposed to him." Now I understand how this might not make sense to many people, but to me as a couples therapist it makes much deeper sense than the traditional translation. In the traditional translation, Eve is seen as Adam's helper, like a dental assistant ever ready with just the right tool for the situation. In the exact Hebrew, Eve is created because Adam alone is not a good thing -- he needs someone to oppose him in order to help him. Like opposing sides of an arch which when leaned against each other give each other the strength to uphold the descending forces, Adam and Eve, through their opposition to each other, strengthen each other.
It is a truism that we fall in love with someone for a particular quality, and then we want to divorce them for it afterwards. Or as one of my teachers put it, we hire our spouse to do something, and then we want to fire them for doing it. David marries Sara because she’s down to earth and responsible and he feels safe with her. Sara marries David because he’s artistic, spontaneous and very fun to be with. A few years into their marriage David can’t stand Sara because she’s always worried about money and squelches any opportunities for fun. Sara can’t stand David because he’s irresponsible and she feels she has another child to raise along with their newborn baby.
I would propose that David and Sara are being an “ezer kenegdo” for each other. What is required for each of them to claim their wholeness is that they stop trying to change the other and start trying to become their full selves. David would need to clear out whatever Peter Pan fantasies are keeping him from acting like a fully responsible adult. Sara would need to learn to trust life and herself long enough to let go of her control and let her own creativity and spontaneity out.
In next week's posting I will look at another quote, from Genesis 1:27:
“And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”
Do you have a question about your marriage or relationship? Ask Josh in the comments below or email him at email@example.com.
Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a couples therapist based in Pleasant Hill, CA. Visit his website at joshgressel.com.