It always amazes me how much we complicate things, how we make things unnecessarily difficult. I’m completely guilty of this so I’m not pointing fingers. But being in a state of flow and genuinely accepting things as they are makes me wonder why we ever settle for anything less. Why do we feel connected one moment and then allow ourselves to buy into the same drama almost immediately?
I started thinking about my relationship and I know there were many times I lost my mind because things simply weren’t going my way—more importantly they weren’t going according to my expectations. I’ve been with my husband for 18 years and believe me we have had more than our share of ups and downs. Nearly every incident that we fought about or caused some sort of discord between us could have been handled with more grace simply by taking a step back and letting go of the expectation of how it “should” have been.
Love isn’t about being right and it doesn’t care about who has more of what. Love is about an unconditional acceptance of an individual for who they are. It isn’t setting expectations and saying “If you don’t adhere to this it means you don’t love me.” Love isn’t about molding someone into a version of themselves you think they should be. I did that for so many years in my relationship with my husband and with my friends as well if I’m totally honest. I realized earlier this summer, just before our 18th anniversary that I often didn’t allow my husband to just be who he is. There were many reasons for this, all of them around fear and control—I won’t get into all of that here—and I realized that if I wanted to make my relationship work then I had to readjust my approach.
My husband and I became an item when we were fairly young. Old enough to be considered adults but not mature enough to know what life was really about let alone who we really were. It’s only now that I can honestly say that I fell in love with his potential over who he really is. That broke my heart because I KNOW that my husband IS an amazing person. Charismatic, smart, outgoing, and easygoing—everyone loves him. I love those traits about him as well but I focused so much of my energy on making him more of what I thought he should be. I wanted him to be working for the same things I wanted and I never gave a damn about asking him what he really wanted. After so many incidents we had with each other, I let a lot of animosity build up and I felt he owed it to me to be the person I wanted him to be and to get me the things that I thought would work for our relationship.
As I’ve spent more and more time doing some soul searching, I’ve realized that this isn’t the way to make any relationship work. I also realized that so many of the traits I was critical of my husband for I also exhibited myself. Not having a defined direction, spending money, laziness…I wasn’t free of those behaviors either. I wanted to actually do something about it. I wanted to be a better person and I wanted to change my life. That meant honestly examining who I am, my motives, what I wanted to do with my life, and to stop making excuses for not going after what I wanted to do with my life.
Now, that isn’t to say that some changes weren’t definitely needed on my husband’s part as well. But I had to accept that the only thing I could change in the entire situation was my behavior and my rigid expectations. And more importantly, I had to define what it was that I really wanted in my life. All I could do at that point was lay out my findings to my husband and see if we were still on the same page.
It was a painful process because I had to break down the image of who I thought I was. I had convinced myself that I WAS absolutely this person and I had to achieve a certain goal and obtain certain things to make it worthwhile. As I broke that down I realized that I was virtually none of that. It was terrifying. You spend a lifetime “knowing” who you are and in a moment you feel like your whole world has been taken out from underneath you. But it was a willing sacrifice to make because I gave up an image, an idea, for reality. I learned that I could allow myself to be who I was and that the first relationship that I needed to be real about (totally honest) was my relationship with myself.
As I continue to work on my relationship with myself, things evolve in my marriage as well. I have a clearer idea of what I will and will not tolerate and I don’t hold onto the fear of being alone because my sense of identity isn’t tied to my marriage. That was an amazing feeling. It has created more bumps in my marriage because my husband had to get used to the idea that I was changing just as much as I had to get used to the idea that I needed to accept him for who he is and not who I thought he should be (no matter how much potential I see in him). At the same time, it makes things easier because the boundaries are clear.
Love isn’t one thing and it is almost always different than what we think it is. I am fortunate enough to have known many different kinds of love in my life (daughter, grand-daughter, sister, cousin, friend, wife, mother) and I consider myself privileged to have the support I do. But it is a weight off of my shoulders to define my own identity and not build my persona around who people think I am. It helped me rebuild my foundation. Sometimes when we are trying to move forward we need to just stop and stabilize where we are starting from. When it comes to love and relationships, that means starting with completely accepting and loving ourselves first.