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Having just celebrated 33 years of marriage, I’m amazed at how this year feels.
How at peace I am after so many years of rebelling against the institution of marriage, and against my marriage in particular. There was a time when the increasing number of years we spent together started feeling like a sticky trap.
My sense of entrapment came to my awareness right around our 20th anniversary—just as my parents’ marriage imploded after more than 40 years.
After many years of witnessing my parents suffer together, seeing them thrive once on their own opened the floodgates of doubt and gave me the permission to question everything that seemed unquestionable before.
When I saw my mother—the woman who taught me by example to sacrifice personal happiness to keep the family intact no matter what—tell me how happy and at peace she finally felt on her own, the world as I knew it was shattered.
My parents were both in their 60s when they split up. Their choices felt to me then like an irrevocable waste of a life. It left me questioning: Why bother? Why suffer? Why hold on?
I was determined not to repeat my mother’s fate.
At that time, in my mid 40s, I was just becoming aware of how depleted and disenchanted I’d become in my relationship and even motherhood, as my three daughters were transforming into teens. I promised myself to leave before it was too late.
I became intolerant of the whole institution of marriage. I saw it as a tool of patriarchy, designed to keep everyone in their assigned roles—a prison of sorts. Moreover, I felt duped by fake promises of happiness.
I was at once rebelling and feeling stuck, paralyzed to move beyond the status quo. The only options modeled to me were to stay and be miserable or to leave and be free.
Now I know that the expectation of a spouse to be the deliverer of solutions for our needs or feelings of happiness and fulfillment leads to inevitable disappointments. I also learned that there is no single formula for what makes us happy in partnership. Each of us is unique and messy and human, each with our own stories, traumas, and inherited familial dysfunction.
More than 10 years later, I see that I was not meant to repeat my parents’ predicament. Nor was it my role to correct their mistakes. I wasn’t born to perpetuate the dysfunctional patterns I’ve inherited from my ancestors. I did not know, the good girl that I always strived to be, that I am actually the black sheep in my family, here to disrupt the way things have always been done before.
Determined to free myself to pursue my personal happiness, today I have come full circle and found the elusive freedom within my relationship, not outside of it. My freedom did not come from breaking out from the perceived prison of my marriage. I found my freedom (and the resulting happiness) within myself, when I was able to connect to my inner voice and innate power.
Each relationship is a laboratory for growth, providing opportunities to learn about who we are, unlearn what we thought we knew about love, and re-evaluate what is meaningful and valuable to us personally. Knee-deep in the 21st century, we are learning that one-size-fits-all formula for happiness and success we’ve inherited just doesn’t work for us anymore.
It’s become popular to end a relationship when we are unhappy. It is usually viewed as an empowered act. And it’s true that to disrupt the status quo requires enormous courage and self-respect! And yet, I also find that leaving too soon can be an escape from the discomfort of our own relating patterns, that we then recreate with someone else.
I observe and believe that many people leave their relationships too soon and do not take advantage of the lessons that could be learned from their partner and the relationship.
By staying, I not only confronted deep-seated beliefs, wounds, and patterns within me that haven’t served me for many years, I also found depth and beauty in commitment, once I redefined what it means for me.
Among the most unexpected revelations of my journey was that the shackles I perceived as imposed on me from outside, whether by my husband or by the institution of marriage, were actually my own self-imposed internal pressures. Once staying became a choice I made consciously from the state of freedom and empowerment, I focused my energy on making my relationship work for me. This then led to mastering plenty of new vital skills: from regulating my nervous system post-triggers to learning how to communicate non-violently, so that I speak in a way that increases my chances of being heard.
I was also able to see that my parents stayed in a miserable marriage not “for the children” as they liked to say. No, they simply stayed in what was familiar, no matter how unsatisfactory, because they were afraid of what was lurking in the unknown. And the unknown included their own feelings of worthiness, deserving, and self-respect. Products of their environment and many generations of trauma, my parents did not even know what love felt like. Staying “for the children” was a respectable but flimsy excuse, and a very toxic message to us, their children.
Given my history, I do not value longevity or preach staying in relationships above all else. I value growth. I value finding ways to transform the relationship we are already in. As always, that’s assuming your relationship is not abusive to the point of negating your spirit and destroying you.
To transform a relationship, we have to start with facing ourselves and our pain, frustration, resentments, beliefs, expectations, and relating patterns. This is an incredibly courageous act as well. Arguably, a more courageous first step toward transforming the way we feel than leaving. Then, if we decide to leave after we’ve confronted our self and all the ways in which we’ve co-created current relationship, we do it with awareness and from a place of completion, not avoidance.
Life did not give me an easy way out. What I resisted for many years became a blessing, in hindsight. After a few attempts of banging on closed doors, which after a time revealed themselves only as a sweet-smelling escape, I had to go into the purgatory of facing myself instead.
As a result, my marriage became the perfect incubator where I could meet the real me, understand and heal my wounds, get clear on what I value in my life, and grow as a mother, a wife, a woman, a human being.
Thirty-three years together.
I no longer rebel against these numbers. What I experience now is awe. The journey here has been transfiguring.
We celebrated privately, just the two of us. We celebrated how far we’ve come, looking at ourselves through the mirror of this relationship.
Among the newfound gifts for me was learning to see my husband not as an enemy or a reason for my pain, but as a team member, a divine intervention, as someone who is actually here for me, as we continue learning to navigate this life and its ups and downs together.
The rigor of a long-term union can bring out negative feelings and attitudes which reflect societal trends. Once conscious and exposed, our wounded masculine and feminine energies can become the basis for transformation—individually and collectively.
I observe that many of us are becoming ready to shed the old, inherited attitudes and heal the lingering wounds between men and women. We are invited and challenged to create new conditions, new standards, new moral values, and to re-define for ourselves what marriage and commitment may mean to each one of us.
There is no single formula for happiness in partnership. I hope you are inspired to find the formula that works for you.
Learn how to redefine your relationship challenges by prioritizing your relationship with yourself. Contact me for a free introductory conversation.