“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.” ~Anaïs Nin
It’s hard to admit I haven’t been happy. It’s hard to admit with all the abundance I have in my life I am still not at peace or as happy as I expected. I don’t have the full-time professor job. I don’t have my skinny jeans on lately. I don’t have the money to invest in my hobbies because I don’t have a full-time job. I don’t have a true partnership in marriage lately. The only thing I’ve had is plenty of free time, which is just asking for trouble because you can get into too much reflection and lose yourself. I searched outside for answers to finding more happiness and more direction in life: books, therapists, friends, and family. What I’m learning is our voice can get drowned out by this outside chatter. This journal is an attempt to find my own way and feel authentic in my choices.
Again, this is a work in progress. These have been in my head and I am using this space to work these ideas out, thus some might not be fully formed. While I thought I understood there may be some happily ever afters but also a dark side to marriage as well, some of us might not even be aware of our expectations of marriage or of our partner till we actually experience these down times and reflect upon them. Below are a few of my illuminations from this time.
1. It’s 70% about you and your security/peace/happiness with yourself.
Make yourself happy first:
But with that time I have learned you must make yourself happy first, then it will naturally make your relationships better. Women are shocked to hear this. Even if you aren’t, it’s hard to break the cultural and social training that tells women to be self-sacrificing and helpful to others in order to find true happiness. This is an absolute farce. This is not how it works. You aren’t half a circle waiting for your spouse to complete you. Make yourself happy first in finding meaningful work, hobbies, and relationships (beyond dating/husbands). Spend time just being you – without having to fit into one of the roles that women are nudged into by society. Spend time alone, find your true likes and dislikes. Work on your psychological self to break free of patterns that no longer serve you.
Ideally, you and your partner want to be two circles that collide in fluid movement, constantly moving, constantly growing with a foundation of love – more like the infinity sign, which refers to a quantity without bound or end.
Make yourself: Decide who you want to be before just going with traditional expectations
For women, when they have been taught roles like wife and mother are the most important and not taught that finding your unique purpose where your heart, mind, and spirit connect and it feels meaningful to you, how can we be complete before entering into these roles? (And this does not mean that you can’t find your purpose in the roles of wife or mother. Just like anything else, hopefully you’ve had time to analyze your life trajectory without having these roles thrust upon you.)
First, we must strive to be happy in who we are without these roles, otherwise you are setting your self up to be unfulfilled. It is no one’s responsibility to make you happy other than yourself. You will not find deep meaningful happiness in taking care of another person unless it’s a baby who naturally needs our help – and even this help varies with age.
Sometimes without us knowing, women are taught to be the mother of her spouse. We move from hottie (that’s how we got our husband in the first place), to wife (where love just oozes out of us), to mother (where we have to control all aspects of what he wears to his lunch everyday), to what? What role is after that? All we are left with is outward definitions of ourselves. When we catch on to this switching of roles, we are so out of whack we don’t know what to do next. Which next role makes us who we really are?
What if you decided not to label yourself these descriptions and just found what makes you you is your certain personality traits, your viewpoints, your dreams? It’s very easy to limit our selection to these labels and for women, very much accepted in our society. We adopt them and find these stick even when we’ve said we don’t want to be them.
How does this work when you are a military spouse – that is when your support network, your job, your friends constantly change? This is delicate territory. You must make yourself try new things to meet new people. And the job thing, well just be prepared it will never be what you want it to if you are married to the military – unless you are a freelancer.
Expect to change and expect your partner will to:
Your purpose in life evolves, thus how you relate to others in your ever-evolving perspective will change as well. I remember hearing a story about a young Native American girl and her mother. She asked her mother for advice on her wedding night. The mother held her future son-in-law’s picture up and ripped it apart. She told her daughter she is not marrying an image of a person but the actual person – who will change, who will not stay that image in her mind.
Don’t put your spouse in a box – having too many expectations on what a husband or wife should be or look like. Or, in other words, don’t put limits on yourself or your spouse and what their behavior should be. You cannot control another person and you shouldn’t be embarrassed by your partner if he/she does something you wouldn’t. Let them be his/her own person. If others judge you based on your spouse, it’s their problem. You be content with knowing you allow a person to be free.
This reminds us to keep focus on each one of our unique attempts at happiness as these roles like mother or wife, once achieved, like all things, will grow and change from day to day. Your choice in achieving or acquiring these roles should not define your life trajectory. Recognize a role is only one aspect of who we are. We are not limited to being these, but should remain constantly developing ourselves outside this role.
The problem for me is, I don’t even really know what I’m looking for in life right now. That’s what’s hard for me. I don’t know where to go next with what I want to do. I’ve been a wife – check in the box. I’ve been a dog mom – check in the box. I’ve been a teacher – check in the box. Now, I guess I’m just trying out new things to see what I like and what I don’t.
Reduce your perfectionism:
Where in your life do you have time to play? Where in your life do things get messy and just happen without your attempt at perfection? As soon as we eliminate free play time, the grip gets tighter on us and self-expression mutes. The pendulum swings to the opposite side and perhaps your relationship becomes messy and drama-filled in order to counter the all-encompassing perfection in your life elsewhere. (We also do this with food.) Understanding that we don’t have to be super mom like Kelly Ripa – a mother of three, wife, talk show host, and still has time to do laundry and bake, you can take the pressure off of yourself and enjoy life more. Just because the supermom is projected as the end all be all for women in most media, remember to be gentle on yourself. Who judges you if you don’t meet this standard? Are you your harshest critic? And if people do judge you from the outside, it’s their problem not yours. Be content with your messy side. Show personal compassion.
Reduce your self-righteousness:
Two people can have opposite views but throw the self-righteousness away. I understand you can be utterly passionate about what you “know” to be true in your experience, but ultimately, this is a limiting behavior. One has to be willing to be open to other’s views and also balance that will self-expression and authenticity for themselves. This is a tricky balance and one that I am still working on. Look at arguments as a dance instead of arguments are war, with someone losing and someone winning. Both partners can gracefully express their souls.
2. It’s 30% about them.
Your partner has to be willing to put the time in as well. Don’t agree to life with someone just because it feels right to fulfill the role of marriage as part of your identity.
You must choose a partner who is on the same page with you. For me, this page is someone introspective and willing to be open to change as well.
Again, you can’t change a person or his behavior; you can only change your reaction to it. Thinking that nagging or criticizing will motivate others may work sometimes, but it drains you of precious energy. However, you must set appropriate boundaries and communicate these to your partner. If he doesn’t do his share, you should be willing to move on.
3. Jealousy has the opposite affect that you want it to.
A writer from TinyBuddha’s blog has some good advice on the jealousy:
Being anything less than happy for others was blocking my own chance at success and happiness.
Like attracts like, so by ruminating in the idea that you don’t have what someone else does have, you’re simply attracting more of what you’re feeling: lack. This means you are actually pushing away the very things you’re craving.
Yet, if you are able to celebrate in the successes of others, you are sending a very clear message to the universe: “I’ll have some of that too, please!”
It all comes down to the energy of the emotions you’re carrying. Frowning on another person’s good fortune doesn’t feel good; therefore, it can’t be creating good things. Feeling excited for someone feels good; therefore, it can help create more good things, for you and for them.
Know you can be jealous of your partner’s success or happiness. This relates back to illumination one. You can’t be happy for others if you are not happy with yourself. It may be hard to celebrate your partner’s good fortune and support him when you aren’t proud of where your life is. Counter this feeling with the advice above: make yourself happy first. However, know there are times when you might not be where you want in life. Understand there is always a lesson in tribulation. Resentment/jealousy are not “wrong” emotions. They are emotions given to us for a reason. Become aware of these, but then do the work of searching yourself for clues to why you feel these.
4. It’s your responsibility to cherish love.
To cherish means to PROTECT and CARE for someone lovingly. Preserve is the best active verb, I believe, to understand the labor involved in cherishing love. Preservation of love means keeping it in its original state, to maintain and keep alive, and to keep safe. By using the word WORK, we are actually setting ourselves up for a false dichotomy: marriage = hard work while love = naturally easy. By conceptually enforcing marriage is hard work we are, in effect, making the opposite of that job – falling in love – as easy. The more we rage against the hard work side, the more we actually impose the hard work on ourselves.
For some reason, part of the human condition is to rebel against restrictions. Once we say something is difficult, taxing, and strenuous, we have too much pressure on ourselves, and we naturally deflect from doing it. Words make thoughts. Thoughts make beliefs. Beliefs make actions. Actions make our life. So, by changing our language from marriage is hard work to marriage is ________ (you pick one that works for you). For me, marriage is not one thing. It changes week by week, so remember to not get stuck in one belief for too long for you might not encourage growth.
I like “greeting card holidays” because they do remind us to slow down and remember that love and family need to be held dear. This is a message we need to be open to. While some might complain they don’t need a business to motivate them to spend money for no special reason beyond consumerism, we move to fast in this world today, concentrating on what to buy next instead of being grateful for what we already have.
Try not to be absolute in your reasoning. Yes, partly these holidays are motivated by marketing, but also they prompt us to slow down and appreciate what goodness our life consists of before we rush out to buy more “happiness.” If the promotion of buying things irritates you, don’t buy things on these holidays. Make your own card, write your own love letter, or do something special that know your partner desires. In the end though, these days are important to cherishing your ever evolving love. But again, remember to make your own holidays and certain rituals that keep you and your spouse reminded of how special love really is. There are tons of people still out there lonely and looking for someone they can appreciate and who can add to their lives. If you already have that person, count your blessings.
Part of me wishes I could close on a hopeful note. Regardless of the logical side I’ve been working on here, most of me can’t pull to that side of my heart where sometimes it’s just good to give in to love again. This time has been utter confusion and sadness as I mourn for the uncomplicated, and well naive, love of my youth.
In keeping with that line of logical reasoning, we know every day is a chance to add to our “laborious mosaic” of identity – specifically, how our identities intersect with our marriage. Every day we can enhance our opportunities to cherish our lives and the love in our lives with the art of reflection and awareness. Now I’m just hoping my heart will follow.