I’ve been married for seventeen years. When I say that it sounds like it’s been a very long time (and probably by today’s standards it has). When you’ve been in a relationship for such a long time, it’s almost like you lose a part of what makes you a unique person. Maybe it’s not so much that you lose it, as it lies dormant for a period of time. To get along with other people, we tend to repress our feelings/words/actions in ways that we think will make the relationship go more smoothly. When you’re in an unhealthy relationship, the real you gets repressed even more. When we were first married (and even before that), I tucked away a lot of my personality because it rubbed my husband the wrong way. I realize now how very unhealthy and unwise that was, but at the time I was young and very inexperienced. I now know that if you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t appreciate your sense of humor, who is insecure when you choose to do things without them, with whom you can’t even be honest, that is no kind of relationship to even stay in.
It’s kind of sad that all of those years I had to walk on eggshells. I couldn’t exercise my sense of humor all that much because of his sensitivity; couldn’t make autonomous decisions because it might not be what he wanted; wasn’t free to spend time with the people I wanted to because he wanted all of my attention, and the list could go on. It took me years to do it, but eventually I started to find myself again. I got tired of the constant high-wire act of trying to please him and act in a way that would make as few ripples as possible.
And really, is that how we should act in a romantic relationship? When does it cross the line from being thoughtful of another person’s feelings and preferences, into giving up who you are because that is what they expect of you? It can be difficult to recognize when you’ve crossed that line because it’s sort of a slippery slope. You start by frequently conceding on the small issues, but it gradually gets bigger and bigger. One day you wake up and realize that you don’t even recognize yourself anymore and you’re not even sure of who you really are. How did my life end up like this?, you might ask yourself.
Now that I’m somewhat on the other side of that type of relationship, I find myself struggling to fully identify who I am as my own person. For so long I’ve identified myself as the wife of “X” and the mother of “A,B,C,D and E.” I’ll still remain the mother of my children, of course. I will no longer be the wife of “X” though, and that thought is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. No longer constrained or supported by the parameters of my marital relationship, I have to discover and develop my own support system and structure for dealing with life. Am I strong enough? Will I be able to make tough decisions on my own? Who will I confer with when I need someone else’s input? What are my individual values, hopes, dreams, goals? This new season in life will be one of exploration and self-discovery.
There’s a kind of wonder in entering this phase of life. Do I really get the chance to start over? Do I get to do things that are personally fulfilling without worrying about what someone else thinks? Can I really read a book, eat what I want, buy what I want, make the meal I want, watch the movie I want, listen to the music I want, take part in the holiday traditions I want, now that I’m on my own? Holy crap; that feels like a whole lot of freedom that I’ve been missing for a long time! It’s not even the big decisions that I’m most excited about.
I’m excited to sit down and watch a movie with my kids that I get to pick out. I’m excited to choose my own music when I go on a road trip. I’m excited to enjoy holiday traditions that are meaningful to me with only the company of my kids (and anyone else I darn well want to). I’m excited to get into my hobbies again. I’m excited to make my own spending decisions and not be strapped down by someone else’s spending habits. I’m excited to show my children what healthy relationships look like. I’m excited to see what I can accomplish by myself, without someone else pulling me down or using me up. I’m excited to show my children what a strong woman looks like and that there is dignity in expecting to be treated well. While I’m still scared of the future (because let’s face it, the unknown can be very scary), I’m more hopeful than scared. I see the potential — the blank slate — and I can’t wait to fill it in. I get to decide what my future will be and I will never hand that power over to another person again. I may choose to be in a relationship with someone, but I’ll hold onto my own reins, thank you very much.
It’s been a long road, but I’ve finally decided that if I’m not content with the direction and quality of my life, it’s in my hands to make the necessary changes. Complaining doesn’t change the reality of your situation. Have the courage to take your life in your own hands. Your contentment with your situation is largely under your own control.
I wish you joy in rediscovering yourself and your dreams,