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I took my wedding ring off so I could think straight.
Taking off the ring helped me remember that I am always and inherently free.
I did not make an announcement about it. I did not mean it as a political statement.
This was a private event, intended to gain clarity about my own inner battle.
The ring on my finger was clouding my judgment.
Something that a few decades ago I was so proud to put on and wear, now became the symbol for everything that felt oppressive in my life.
I felt duped.
Just another victim of the unrealistic story about “happily ever after.”
Wasn’t I smarter than that?
I woke up in the middle of my life feeling stuck, shriveled up, and resentful. I was angry. I did everything I was supposed to: got married, had children, competed, sacrificed, consumed and achieved, nurtured and supported, but the happiness I was promised as a reward was not coming in any sustainable way.
I turned my anger against the system: the institution of marriage became my archenemy.
What I wasn’t able to see yet is that family life, with its conditions and rules that I now felt compelled to fight, wasn’t responsible for my unhappiness and disenchantment.
What I have been experiencing as outer limitations, pressure, and judgment was actually happening within me, through the insidious nature of my own conditioning. Unconsciously, I brought into my own life, marriage, and motherhood the same dysfunctional relating dynamic that has kept my parents so miserable in their own marriage. Lots of unwritten, never-discussed assumptions about what makes a good woman, a good mother, a good marriage, and a whole load of completely unrealistic expectations about where love and happiness come from.
After many years of playing by the rules, in my 40s I started noticing an increasing sense of doom. Marriage, parenting, and the whole structure of family life were suddenly revealed as a perpetuation of inter-generational dysfunction, violence and abuse, secrets and family shame that I have observed as a child in my family and was now seeing all around me.
As a mother, I saw how, together with the educational system, I became an unconscious tool to condition my children to become perfect addicts, consumers, and conformists to societal systems and family expectations.
The hyper-focus on mothering and perfection, in which I participated and observed all around me, stifled our capacity to think independently, to step into agency, and to exercise sovereignty as fully expressed and actualized beings.
I felt neutered and neutralized by the institution of marriage and parenting.
The promise of forever that felt so comforting all those decades ago now felt like a life sentence with no way out.
In traditional marriage, the roles were well defined. That gave clarity. No one really expected happiness from a marriage. Men always had other options for love and sex and did not expect that from a marriage. Women were told sex is a sin, then a duty, and were taught to be glad to be chosen.
Love, sex, and happiness in a marriage are relatively new expectations. And this is what puts so much pressure on it now, mostly due to women’s empowerment. As women become more self-sufficient, more self-aware, and feel more deserving of personal happiness, we no longer want to put up with oppression, hierarchy, inequality, expectations, obligations, even caregiving.
This is where I found myself roughly 10 years ago. The idea of marriage suddenly felt archaic, oppressive, and unnecessary.
At around the same time, after more than 40 years of holding on to their visibly unhappy marriage, my parents separated in their 60s. This violent tearing of the fabric of our family shook me to the core. Their choices felt so senseless: what a waste of a life! I felt determined that I would not wait until it was “too late” to break free.
Except I had no idea how to do that.
There was no precedent in my family for women making empowering decisions about their lives. And here I was—in full rebellion, screaming at the top of my lungs that I am free, but seeing no way to actually be free or what that even meant practically.
There were no visible chains that kept me stuck. The proverbial door was open. There were many times that I wanted to run away and found myself on the precipice of the unknown. Each time, I felt paralyzed to take the next step.
A mentor cautioned me not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
I only knew how to be free on my own or in compromise in a relationship.
I had no idea what it meant to be free and in a relationship.
Or what a commitment meant if not a prison issued from a decision by a younger version of myself.
My relationship with my husband became collateral damage. I was no longer relating to him. I was fighting the symbolic dragon of the system: all that kept me stifled, silenced, mute, trapped. I was fighting for so many generations of women and men—modern people stuck in outdated structures, too tight, too restricting, too unnatural.
My wedding ring represented the trap.
Once I took it off, it was easier to breathe. It gave me space to calmly consider what I was fighting for and what would even make me happy.
I observed hundreds of women in my coaching practice who felt stuck, disempowered, and resentful. What increased the sense of doom were “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” stories of women who felt like they broke free through divorce, only to come to the realization that it did not really feel like freedom. The pressures of single mothering and the fear of aging made them no less disempowered, often causing them to fall right back into the trap of needing to be chosen, by someone else now.
Many centuries of conditioning and disempowerment of women (and men!) colliding with the need to rise up and do things differently is what I see playing out in our relationships now. Except, no one has any idea how to do it. We keep expecting the new rules to be handed down to us, ignoring the fact that the keys to our happiness (whether we are in or without relationships) always lie within.
In my search to be free, I haven’t really been relating to my husband in years. Together with my wedding ring, he became the symbol of all that I felt kept me stuck. I treated him as the oppressor that he never was. In fact, all the suffering that I experienced in my relationship over the last few challenging years was largely self-inflicted.
I finally saw that I kept giving my power away to the person who simply did not have that power over me—even if he wanted to.
No one does.
The punishing authority, the pressure, the sense of obligation, the unending sense of not enough no matter how much we do is not “out there.” The most virulent critic, tyrant, and oppressor is within. Our insidious conditioning is stealthy and invisible, and quite debilitating for that reason: we keep on trying to change something on the outside. The work, however, is to free ourselves from our own inner patterns, interdictions, and limiting beliefs.
I’m still married, by the way.
I just redefined what that means to me. Mostly, I freed myself from other people’s “shoulds” about it. After 34 years, we are currently working on life together, version 3.0.
The outdated paradigm of relating we’ve inherited prioritizes the length of the relationship over the needs of each individual. It is an entirely broken framework, where no one cares about the health of the relationship, just the longevity.
After years of trying to free myself from the binds of the institution of marriage, today I see it more in need of a re-definition so that it can actually serve the people participating in it. I’m interested in freeing relationships from tradition and one-size-fits-all formulas for what constitutes a happy life. I would like to see people devise their own unique formula for relating, so that it actually supports them in their natural rhythm of change, growth, and evolution, rather than having to self-harm to uphold the institution.
What is helping me on my journey toward harmony in relating is de-conditioning from inherited beliefs about how it all should be, healing the attachment wounds of my inner child, learning to regulate my nervous system, and trying to match my emotional maturity to my biological age.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned on my relating journey:
>> The relationship we all need to master is our relationship with ourselves. It is the foundation for the health of all of our other relationships.
>> The elusive love that I spent my life seeking through sacrifice and self-denial will not be delivered by anyone on the outside.
>> My love is mine, resides within me, and access to it is in my own control.
>> My happiness is a product of my own physical, psychological, and emotional well-being.
>> Other people are not meant to make me happy or assure any kind of permanence or security in my life. This is my job.
Relationships are laboratories for experimentation, evolution, and growth.
We can be in a relationship and not get married.
We can be married and not live together.
We can love each other and decide not to pursue relationship.
We can want to marry and decide not to have children.
We can decide to live together and not be in a romantic relationship.
Basically, we can do whatever we want.
The one-size-fits-all formula for life we’ve inherited is unnatural and has caused us much harm.
Let each one of us determine what happiness in a relationship means to us. The government doesn’t need to get involved.
Learn how to remove blocks to love in your relationships. Contact me for a free introductory conversation.
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