Dwight and I met in 1993, four years after my mother died and three years after my father agreed to give up his parental rights. We married three years later. I’ve spent the last seven years deconstructing how these events (and others) impacted how I’ve functioned in relationship. Now, I’m ready to share some of it with you.
#1: I married out of fear. When I married Dwight, I legitimately believed no one else in the world was going to love me. NO ONE! Given my history of abandonment by all primary caregivers (i.e., biological and adoptive parents), this is not strange. I had a sense that if my parents couldn’t even stick around, then why would anyone else? I (unconsciously) thought that if this man, who I perceived as perfect, wanted to marry me, then I’d better say yes and speed to my “happily ever after.” This isn’t to say I didn’t love him. It’s just that I had a feeling that this was my last chance ever at being loved. I entered our marriage as a scared little girl, and I maintained that fear for at least eighteen years.
#2: I thought being married could replace the love I should’ve had for myself. My husband once said, “I love you more than you love yourself.” That’s deep. I didn’t even know what he was talking about. It sounded ridiculous. But he was right. My self-worth was so low that I (unconsciously) thought marrying him would solve my abandonment issues. I thought marriage could save me from that bottom-of-the-barrel feeling. Life doesn’t work that way, though. If you feel sad and dejected, once you get married, then you’ll just feel sad and dejected with a partner alongside you. And even though misery loves company, the company doesn’t love misery, especially when he didn’t ask for it. The only way to improve self-worth is to acknowledge your importance sans external validation. Worth doesn’t have to be earned. Self-worth is a birthright.
#3: I thought being married meant melding identities. I wrote about this here, but it’s worth reiterating. When Dwight and I were first in relationship, I was already dealing with the common identity issues associated with being an adoptee. I’d dissolved this already shaky sense of self and replaced it with his likes and desires. I thought I had to be someone else to maintain my husband’s love. This is unhealthy. It’s important for two people to have a clear sense of who they are and what they like prior to becoming a union. And afterwards, it’s just as important to maintain separate identities. At this point, I remind people that my husband and I are not Bobbsey twins; we do not do everything together. If you see me out and about by myself, it’s because that’s what I preferred at the time. Our separate actions have nothing to do with the love we share or the years we have.
There is a difference between how my personal issues affected our marriage and how much I love Dwight. One has nothing to do with the other. When we first met, there was an undeniable sense that we were supposed to be together. We both felt and still feel it; it’s kind of like a magnetic pull. It’s just that when you don’t resolve trauma prior to marrying, then you end up resolving it while you’re married. It’s not an impossible feat, but there will be negative consequences for one or both people.
Seek therapy. Get to know yourself. Then, commit. In an ideal world, that’s how healthy relationships would be created and maintained. But I also know we’re far from living in an idyllic society. And if we each waited for perfect wholeness in ourselves or another being, we’d probably remain by ourselves forever. Sounds contradictory, right? It is. Ultimately, I’d advise new couples to do their best to be healthy versions of themselves, while holding space for the one another to grow. That’s what we ended up doing, and we’ve been married for twenty-five years.
- Monday Notes: 3 Ways Unresolved Trauma Showed Up In My 25-Year Marriage
- *Monday Notes: Doctors and Meds
- Monday Notes: BOTH/AND
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- Monday Notes: A Confession on My 25th Year of Teaching
Post-script: I’ve got 3 more ways, but I gotta leave material for the memoir 💁🏽♀️