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“I gave you the best years of my life!”
My mother, in tears, was screaming to my father.
This memory flooded my nervous system just as I was about to scream these same words to my own husband.
The words got stuck in my throat: I was repeating everything that I’d judged about my mother. No matter how I resisted becoming her, I reproduced the same dynamic in my own relationship, giving to it “the best years of my life.”
Unlike my mother, who felt a victim and blamed my father for all of her unhappiness, I have recently understood something that astonished me and freed me at the same time: no one actually forces us to give our lives away. We do it on our own!
As women, we systematically put other people before ourselves. We readily sacrifice and shape-shift for love, having been taught that true love means you “stand by your man through thick and thin,” and “till death do us part.” We do it voluntarily and with great enthusiasm. As a result, relationships became places of self-abandonment for women, where we often lose our voice, our identity, and our sense of self.
“I used to say: if he cheats on me he wasn’t mine to begin with. But that was before I really gave 100 percent of myself. It’s just so painful to be the one who is ‘left’,” a reader wrote to me in response to my latest article.
Our partners don’t have to cheat on us. We do that to ourselves.
We betray ourselves when we give our life away to others. It’s not normal, it’s not healthy, it’s not natural. What is natural is to value our own life and to want to take care of ourselves and our own well-being. Many of us grow up with a deep sense of unworthiness and the need to be validated by a man via a committed relationship. We then compete with other women to “snag a man” and then live in fear because, as another reader cautions: “Unfortunately there are women—and plenty of them—that are out there actively looking to steal a married man!”
Torn between gratitude for being “chosen” and fear that our man may “get stolen,” we proceed to give them “the best years of our lives.”
We give too much to our relationships.
By giving 100 percent of ourselves to others we essentially devalue our lives. So, what really hurts so much when we are the ones “left,” is the fact that we have left ourselves long ago.
Toni Morrison said it best: “You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.”
Can we learn not to give 100 percent of ourselves to others? Can we allow ourselves to keep some for us? Let us give 50 percent, it’s healthier. The only person to whom we should give the best years of our lives—which really includes all of our lives, as every age, every year, every moment of being alive is precious—is to ourselves. We are worthy of our own protection and nourishment.
Women are waking up to the fact that the way we’ve been doing relationships has created all sorts of dysfunction. It’s time to start clearing inherited survival mechanisms and ancestral trauma passed on to us through our maternal lineage. The inter-generational fears have held us locked in societal compliance programs for centuries through suppression of our intuitive senses, extinguishing of our essence, and the breach of our innate sovereignty.
We are here to thrive, not survive. Healthy conscious relationships are among the greatest gifts in life. A balanced and nourishing relationship with ourselves is a prerequisite for the success of all of our other relationships.
Selfishness is not a bad word, despite what we have been taught. It means we care about our own well-being and feel worthy of our own attention and care. It also means we will do what brings us vitality, gets our juices flowing, and actually makes us excited about life. Of course, being selfish means we’ll be pleasing ourselves, while those who criticize us for being selfish would rather we please them.
The old paradigm was all about unworthiness and fear of survival, where women tolerated abuse for illusory safety. The focus was on being in a relationship and the longevity of it. Values such as depth of emotional connection, safety to be yourself, freedom for self-expression, and support of mutual growth were rarely considered.
In the new paradigm, we want more from our relationships, but it also means that we must learn to show up in new ways. Learn to de-condition from inherited limiting beliefs. We must address and heal our fears and anxieties. Decide what gender roles mean to us, and learn to communicate our values and request help. And understand who we are, become emotionally mature, and learn to navigate life from personal integrity.
I am learning to put myself first. My partner second. My relationship third.
By putting myself first, I give from an overflow. I make sure my own cup is so full that love moves freely within me, and spills out on everyone who comes into my life. Then I can stay aligned with my truth, without fearing the withdrawal of affection from the other.
When our cup is empty, yet we continue to give 100 percent, we start betraying ourselves, which leads to resenting others. We become a martyr, acting from attachment and fear, rather than love. When our boundaries are not clear and we do not put ourselves first, we start exaggerating or shrinking our requests, trying to manipulate an outcome.
Why do I put my partner before the relationship?
As I learn to respect myself: my needs for self-care, for space, to see friends, to take time to pursue my own work and interests, I realize that my partner has needs, too, and should take time to fulfill them. In this way, both partners’ sovereignty is protected, while each is responsible for taking care of their own needs. The partners honor each other’s separateness and are compelled to continuously nourish the partnership if they want it to last, taking nothing for granted. The relationship becomes a container they’ve designed according to their own best interests, values, and wishes, not because of societal pressure or any guilt.
Two independent, happy, full people in a relationship, unchained. If they separate, there will be no heart wounds from ripped out chains.
That is why I put relationship last.
A relationship should be a structure to support and contain two full and sovereign beings. It is where we come together to interact and share, have fun, and build something. And it only works as long as both people want to be part of it, and are willing to contribute equal effort to make it thrive. We do not put up with toxic or questionable behavior from our partner out of attachment to the relationship. We don’t martyr ourselves for its longevity.
Of course, putting relationship last is against our conditioning: we’ve been brought up on the belief that relationship is more important than the people who form it. As a result, many of us watched our parents betray themselves, override their own needs, even accept abuse and tolerate toxicity, in a misguided pursuit to preserve the relationship at all costs. This paradigm—under the guise of benefiting the children—has produced so much suffering, that it must be revised and redefined.
In a healthy relationship, each partner shows up 50 percent. Because when we give more than 50 percent, we are starting to push, to force an outcome, to depend on our expectations being satisfied, to want something in return.
If you are giving more than 50 percent in your relationship—stop, lean back to your 50 percent. When we remain at 50 percent we invite and make room for our partners to contribute to it. We can make bold requests and communicate our desires. In order to remain in our inner equilibrium, we learn to express our wishes with no expectations of the outcome.
When we learn to detach from the outcome, the need to control or manipulate dissipates. We learn to accept what is, surrendering to the truth of the present moment. From that place of cool calmness, we can make choices that are aligned with our personal values and preferences, free from the pressures or expectations to remain together “forever.”
When we know how to fill our own cup—and free the other from that responsibility—even when something goes wrong with the relationship, we are still full, still safe, still here with our love intact within.
If we want healthy relationships and to be valued within them, we must remember who we are: sovereign, free, separate, worthy, whole. When we value ourselves and our own lives, it sets the tone for everyone else.
Contact me for a free introductory session to learn to love yourself like you always wanted others to love you.