Sunday, February 20, 2011

Unhappily Married? Get an "I" Exam.

Because you're not what I would have you be,
I blind myself to who, in truth, you are.
~Madeleine L'Engle

For most of my marriage, I pretended that I didn't expect my husband to change, when I really did. I lived in perpetual disappointment that he was not what I expected. I was resistant to the idea of accepting him for who he was. I did not yet understand the concept of being grateful for the gifts he brought to the marriage.

Please understand, none of this was my husband's fault.

In fact, when it comes to being disappointed, it is rarely anyone else's fault. Disappointment is that area that lies between my expectations and reality. The higher the expectations, the greater the disappointment. This is not to say that we abandon accountability for fulfilling our duty in relationships. That is a different blog post.

This post is about insisting MY standard be met and choosing to be petulant, self-righteous or vindictive when anyone else does not meet my standard. In common terms, "It's my way or the highway" or "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes. We make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions, especially selfish ones. ~Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Ouch. Why is it so hard to see our own selfishness? Because of the mask. I not only wore a mask about who my spouse was, I also wore a mask about who I was. I read Madeleine L'Engle's quote again, applying it to myself, rather than another:

Because (I'm) not what I would have (me) be,
I blind myself to who, in truth, (I am).
~Madeleine L'Engle

Much of my unhappiness I blamed on others. Not recognizing that I held an impossibly high standard for myself, I was doomed to a life of disappointment. It is very difficult for most of us to accept personal responsibility and our natural inclination is to look for someone to blame. Don't we like that quote: "How can I soar like an eagle when I'm surrounded by turkeys?" Yeah, I'd be in a way different place if it weren't for everyone else holding me back.


Maturity has opened my eyes to the necessity of personal accountability first and foremost, being who I am, accepting who I am and loving who I am, without depending on praise or blame to prop up my self-image. It also involves accepting my mistakes and imperfections, making amends where necessary and seeking to let go of those things that are tripping me up.

In her latest book, "The Gifts of Imperfection," researcher and Ph.D. Brené Brown writes about the importance of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be in order to embrace who we actually are. Drawn from a decade of research, Ms. Brown affirms that this is the path to a whole-hearted life.

I longed to know these things as a newly married bride. So if you're disappointed with your spouse, perhaps you are like I was until only recently, blaming your spouse instead of looking at yourself. But be encouraged, you will find much good there.

As a jump start to your de-masking, let me share a summary of Brené Brown's guideposts to a whole-hearted and joyful life:

  1. Cultivate authenticity: let go of what people think.
  2. Cultivate self-compassion: stop expecting perfection from yourself.
  3. Cultivate a resilient spirit: stop numbing (drugs, busyness, shopping, food, etc.) and let go of the idea that you are powerless. You aren't.
  4. Cultivate gratitude and joy: let go of scarcity and fear.
  5. Cultivate intuition and trusting faith: let go of your need for certainty.
  6. Cultivate creativity: let go of comparison
  7. Cultivate play and rest: let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.
  8. Cultivate calm and stillness: let go of anxiety as a lifestyle.
  9. Cultivate meaningful work: let go of self-doubt and "supposed-to."
  10. Cultivate laughter, song and dance: let go of being cool and "always in control."

Please understand, this is not some self-help guru writing about what she thinks will make you happy. This is a woman with a Ph.D. in social work writing about what she learned in ten years of research on shame and vulnerability. And how her life was destroyed and rebuilt in the process. She says, "The way to a wholehearted life is to make the conscious choice to believe... to believe in yourself and the possibility of living a different life," ...whether anyone else changes or not.

She concludes, "Living a wholehearted life is not like trying to reach a destination. These guideposts...are not a to-do list that we check off. It's life work. It's soul work. Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do."

Gifts like courage and compassion only work when they are exercised every day. This story is about the lifelong journey from "What will people think?" to "I am enough."

How does that apply to marriage?

I'll let Brené say it:
For me, believing was seeing. I believed first (that I was enough), and only then was I able to see how we can truly change ourselves, our families, and our communities. We just have to find the courage to live and love with our whole hearts.

If you want to learn more, read the book: The Gifts of Imperfection, available here.

No comments:

Post a Comment