Finding the right balance between separateness and togetherness is a huge issue for couples to negotiate. Like two porcupines, couples often edge themselves forward trying to draw closer only to prick one another and edge themselves backwards again. We are eternally trying to find the right balance between separateness and togetherness. The right space that feels comfortable, a space that both individuals in the relationship can tolerate.
I wondered whether there’s a couple relationship in the Bible that can help us think about this dance between edging closer and then withdrawing again. After some reflection, the story of Queen Esther and King Xerxes came to mind. What an interesting couple, and what and interesting start to their marriage. We know that Esther was recognised for her beauty, and she was brought before King Xerxes and he was so delighted with her that he set the royal crown on her head. Much rejoicing and feasting followed.
Sometimes it’s the superficial things early on in marriage, that draw us to our spouse, that attract us. But once married we hear that King Xerxes brought another selection of beautiful girls into the palace. We can only imagine what Queen Esther may have thought. The disappointment, perhaps a sense of betrayal. Perhaps questioning herself, ‘I’m not enough’. So following the initial closeness we see distance entering the relationship. Queen Esther accepts this as she has little control in their relationship. But when she finds out about the plot to kill her people the Jews by the prime minister Haman, she is faced with the dilemma of whether to speak up and approach her husband for help.
Queen Esther’s revelations
Sometimes in order to move beyond the initial attraction or superficial knowledge of our spouse, we need to decide whether we can take the risk and reveal more of ourselves. This is the journey that we see Queen Esther undertake. For she too has kept her distance. Not in the same way as King Xerxes, but she has kept her distance by withholding aspects of herself. She has not told him that she is a Jewess. This information is not known, it’s a secret.
She needs to take the risk of revealing more of herself in order to connect with her husband. For him to fully know her, hear her needs and rescue her people. She bravely makes the decision to approach the king. Even ‘… though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.’ (Esther 4:16)
Pursuing our partner and quality time
So she invites the king to dine with her at a banquet. Then after the first banquet she invites him to dine with her again. Here, the parallel for the modern-day couple may be the initiation of date nights and attempts to have quality time together in order to deepen the connection and open up space for connection again.
During the second banquet Queen Esther eventually reveals that she is a Jewess and Haman’s plot to kill the Jews. King Xerxes responds by making the decision to rescue Queen Esther and her people. Haman is hanged for his plot. In the case of Queen Esther and King Xerxes their dance of separateness and togetherness was negotiated over time. Like the image to the two porcupines in the picture hugging, they were able to come together, embrace, and know one another more deeply. That is the hope for us in our marriage too.
Personally, I would be interested to have had an update on Queen Esther and King’s Xerxes’ relationship – one year, five years or ten years on. Did that closeness remain or did cyclical issues around separateness and togetherness resurface? With one or both of them coming close and then withdrawing. Did they both make choices that created distance again? We can only wonder.
In our relationship, we too may be like Queen Esther and King’s Xerxes. After the initial honeymoon period in marriage, other interests or passions may creep in. Perhaps not an affair, but our passions or energy may get placed into hobbies, work, a preoccupation with our health, looks or weight, pornography, technology or other addictions – there are so many things that can capture our gaze and turn our attention away from our spouse and create distance.
Unlike Queen Esther we may not be brave enough or motivated enough to create the space for date nights and opportunities for deeper intimacy. We may supress the desire to get to know our spouse on a deeper level. And we may not be brave enough to reveal more of ourselves to our partner, fearing like Queen Esther that they may be displeased. Or that may not really want to know us or hear our intimate thoughts. We may convince ourselves that it’s important not to bother our partner with our wants or desires. But from this position we create distance, and our partner cannot really know us. Just as King Xerxes didn’t know Queen Esther’s true identity as a Jewess.
Emmanuel ‘God with us’
We can be encouraged by the example of our God being a God that always desires to be close to us. So much so that he sent his son Jesus to be with us in human form on earth. There was no other way that God could have been so close to us and indeed one of Jesus’ names is Emmanuel, meaning ‘God with us’.
I’m reminded of the Bible verse which can be our hope for our marriage too: ‘Come close to God, and God will come close to you….’ (James 4:8). Help this to be a reality for our marriage God as we jointly seek to find one another and draw closer.