How to Be Your Authentic Self in a Difficult Marriage

Many prospective clients are unsure of whether they need individual or marriage counseling. Some have told me they don’t know themselves within their marriages. It’s a common complaint from those who have been married for decades. I must say, I hear it most from women in the “empty nest” stage of life. As a result, here’s how to be your authentic self in a difficult marriage.

First of all, we need to identify our terms. 1. Difficult marriage and 2. Authentic self.

What is a Difficult Marriage?

There is a difference between “difficult” and “destructive” marriages. In addition, different seasons of marriage will manifest in ways that make us question whether or not we are in a toxic relationship. We question what is normal difficulty verses destructive difficulty.

For example, it’s “normal” for marital satisfaction to decrease within the first year of having a baby. New adjustments and roles are being established. A couple transitions from being husband and wife to mom and dad. They are discovering new roles and identities.

Think of “healthy difficulties” as revealing core values with accompanying ways to grow and grow up. Our thoughts, beliefs, and reasonings are designed to mature. Remaining stuck in an earlier mode of life can groom a marriage to become destructive.

One way to know if you are growing is to ask yourself. “What would I say to my younger self?” If you’re in your 50’s and you still think like a 22 year old, there’s a problem.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman identify four horsemen as predictors of divorce. They are:

  1. Accusation
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Stonewalling
  4. Contempt

Throughout my years of counseling couples, I now identify a fifth horsemen. That is isolation. I describe more about this in my book, “Beyond Messy Relationships.”

Remaining stuck in an earlier mode of life can groom a marriage to become destructive. Click To Tweet

Now, let’s define the “authentic self.”

What is the Authentic Self?

This seems more like a philosophical question with various dimensions. For the sake of this article, let’s think of authenticity as the true self. My conservative Christian upbringing made me think that the self is selfish and needs to die. But I believe the “false self” is the ego-centric selfish part that we need to shed. It includes false beliefs, arrogance, manipulation and a host of other malices.

On the other hand, our authentic self is who God designed us to be. It includes our giftedness and a filling of our souls with forgiveness, love, joy, peace, and patience. And of course, authenticity emerges through our human struggles in ways we can become clear about our dignity, value, and worthiness. We are able to accept both our depravity and dignity and know that we’re deeply loved.

How to Be Your Authentic Self Through Difficulties

Of course, we are on a courageous journey toward our authentic self. As a result, the difficulties in our marriages give us these three necessary ingredients for this first stage of awareness.

Awareness of Perspective

Our brains are designed with “mirror neurons.” Here’s an excerpt from chapter 20 of “Beyond Messy Relationships.”

Our mirror neurons trigger reciprocal interactions in relationships. When we smile at babies, they smile back at us. When others are kind to us, we’re kind to them. If we think negative thoughts without verbalizing, the mirror neurons of others sense the tension. Of course, we can’t read each other’s minds. But we can be aware of how mirror neurons pick up “metacommunications.” Nonverbal messages include body language, muscle tension in the face, gestures, and even dilation in our eyes.

Think of your marriage as a mirror reflecting what’s impossible for you to see on your own. If you and your spouse are flat mirrors to each other, you’re able to respect and love each other in spite of the other’s quirks, irritations, and character flaws. Rather than attitudes of judgement, you’ll reflect the good will of the other. It’s opportunity for growing our character and becoming more aware.

On the other hand, if one spouse reflects a distorted mirror to the other, then we get unrealistic views of ourselves. For example, critical attitudes, put-downs, and shaming give us a concentrated negative view of ourselves. Our authentic self is assaulted and we believe we’re not worthy. Remember the mirrors at amusement parks?

Awareness of Power

No one knows your needs better than you. This includes physical, emotional, spiritual and mental needs. Don’t expect your spouse to do for you what only you can do for yourself. In other words, you are responsible for being your own advocate.

It’s important to emphasis that self care is never selfish. Even if others accuse you of being so. Again, no one can feel your emotions or think your thoughts. We need to let go of unrealistic expectations and people-pleasing “black holes.”

No one knows your needs better than you. . . .Don't expect your spouse to do for you what only you can do for yourself. Click To Tweet

Learn to trust your body and your heart. This is a God-given responsibility. We cannot do for others what only we can do for ourselves. Too many women especially, take on too much.

Awareness of Purpose

When we grow in our perspective and begin to shed the “false self,” our purpose becomes more clear.

Of course, whether your marriage is “difficult” or “destructive,” don’t hesitate to surround yourself with flat mirrored friendships. It may begin with an individual counseling session. Or you may want to confide to a trust-worthy friend.

Whether you’re seeking individual or marriage counseling, keep in mind that your authentic self if worth the journey.

Your Next Steps. . .

Share this article with your spouse or a trusted friend and begin the dialogue

Schedule your free 20 minute consultation

Three Mistakes to Avoid in the New Year.

Many of us feel relief with the start of 2020. And it’s not only a New Year, but a new decade! To start out right, there’s three mistakes to avoid in the New Year. Maybe you’re like many leaders I know who reflect and write down their goals. Or, you might be relieved to just say “good-bye” to 2019.

Wherever you are, all of us want to start the year out right. And of course, we want to avoid mistakes.

Here’s three mistakes to avoid in the New Year. Those include: ignoring regrets, ignoring accomplishments, and ignoring vision.

Mistake # 1 – Ignoring Regrets

As much as we try to admit that we don’t have regrets, really, all of us do.

My writing coach, Marion Roach Smith said to me several times, “Judy, it’s not what you did. It’s what you did with it.” This wise advice was more than therapy to me as I wrote my memoir, Beyond Messy Relationships.

A universal part of our humanity is both the light and shadows of our authentic selves. When we don’t admit our “shadows” (which includes poor choices, judgements, and regrets) we will subconsciously be driven by them. In other words, we’ll easily judge others because we clearly see their “shadows.” But we’re blinded by our own. And those closest to us are mirrors to the blind spots in our lives. When they reflect our “shadows”, we get reactive.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. — George Santayana Click To Tweet

What do we do with our regrets instead? After all, none of us like the feelings that come when facing them.

1. Examine life lessons.

There’s purpose in all our human struggles. Our lives are worthy of examining. The “bad” feelings are temporary messengers to the soul. I believe it’s God’s way of showing us how to live a full and abundant life. Let’s listen to the feelings of our humaness.

None of our feelings are designed to be permanent. They’re meant to flow with the rhythm of life. Plus there’s life lessons waiting to be discovered.

2. Extract the learning.

The messiness of life helps us discover our values and need for growth. There are patterns. A good way to notice patterns of our messiness is through journal-writing. Writing our experiences, thoughts, and feelings brings clarity.

Fresh learning comes through admitting the regrets. Then we can experience the feelings and messages we need for wisdom. The journey through our past wasn’t meant to be forgotten. Our life experiences have meaning and valuable lessons for us.

Mistake # 2 – Ignoring Accomplishments

It doesn’t matter if you’re a high-achiever, or you’ve endured a season of darkness in 2019. Rather, it’s vital that you don’t ignore your accomplishments. It’s common for my clients (or any of us) to be the last to notice our own growth.

Why is that? I’m glad you asked. It’s likely a combination of these four factors.

1. We focus on comparing ourselves with others.
2. We all have blind spots that keep us from seeing what others see in us.
3. Those closest to us focus on what we’ve not done.
4. The negative harsh critic in our heads convinces us to ignore accomplishments. By the way, the human brain has a natural negative bias.

Here’s how we can shift to acknowledge accomplishments.

It’s important to hang out with friends who know us well enough to show us our resilience and bravery. When we don’t have a positive social network, the right therapist can realistically bring affirmation, honor the struggle, and enlighten us.

The lessons of 2019 are catalysts for transformation in 2020. Click To Tweet

Mistake # 3 – Ignoring Vision

Last year, I took the time to find pictures and create a “vision board.” One was a picture of my book, Beyond Messy Relationships. Another was of me and my husband looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. I posted those and other pictures on my computer screen and planners. They were daily reminders of what I wanted 2019 to be.

Our choice of focus makes a difference. We all have God-given imaginations that are powerful. Guided meditations can be positive affirmations for our mental health and well-being.

How do we get a vision that’s bigger than our reality right now?

1. Expand the imagination of our ideal life.

In the book, Living Forward, authors Hyatt and Harkavy give us structure for creating a life plan. There’s more resources to expand the imagination and intentionally plan for 2020.

2. Experience communities and friendships that honor our growth.

We’re like the five people we hang out with the most. Take inventory of the quality of relationships you have now. Be intentional to nurture yourself and others through positive groups, mentors and friends.

3. Explore what you do best.

Our self awareness increases through relationships. Be intentional to allow relationships to reveal your giftedness and talents. Dan Miller’s weekly Eagerprenuer Mastermind group helped me envision what’s possible. My mentor, Shannon Ethridge, continues to enlighten me in ways I’m unable to see on my own.

As for me, I’m thankful that my book became top finalist for Best Memoir with Author Academy Awards. Although, 2019, I do regret being so scattered, and disorganized without a clearer plan for getting this powerful message out more. Yet, these experiences have given me a clearer vision and purpose for 2020.

Now that 2020 has begun, it’s time for all of us to move forward and avoid the mistakes. Instead, be willing to gain life lessons, envision accomplishments, and envision your best year ever.

And don’t ever forget that your life is valuable and worthy of living well. In addition, your past doesn’t define you. Instead, it has wisdom for you. And most of all, you can be better than ever in 2020 as we start a new year and a new decade.

Your Next Steps . . .

Schedule your Life Plan Consultation

Check out Resources for a DIY Life Plan

Are You Hanging Out With the Right Friends?

It was an awesome time in Franklin, Tennessee with new friends who traveled there from across the United States and Canada. It was my first face-to-face group event from Dan Miller’s Eaglepreneur group. Not only did we experience camaraderie, but it spurred a question we all need to ask. “Are you hanging out with the right friends?”

As we develop relationships with others, there are three qualities to look for: courage, curiosity, and calling.

The right friends are courageous

Since writing “Beyond Messy Relationships” I’ve been more aware of what resonates. I’ve been encouraged by most acquaintances, family, and friends. But there are a few who’ve left me feeling discouraged.

Of course, not all who’ve known me over the years are target readers for my book, Beyond Messy Relationships. Yet, it was a message I had to write. It was risky to be vulnerable. To practice what I’ve written motivates me to take deep breaths of AIR: Awareness, Intentionality, and Risks.

The group I met with in Franklin are not perfect people. But they are courageous friends. Our being together and hearing each other’s stories encouraged us all to be courageous.

The right friends are curious

We met at The Sanctuary, what Dan and Joanne Miller have named their dwelling. I was compelled to read Joanne’s book, “Creating a Haven of Peace.” Of course, I was curious about her’s and Dan’s 51+ year marriage. How did they create magnetic peace in their home? Why did others gravitate to this couple?

Everyone has a story. And it’s easy to make assumptions and make up stories in our minds about others. But when we take the time to be curious, we connect. And we become more aware of ourselves. We allow others into our lives and create sacred space between us.

When we take the time to be curious, we connect. Click To Tweet

Curiosity is the opposite of judgments and assumptions. It’s a remarkable gift to ourselves and others when we take deep breaths of AIR with attitudes of curiosity.

The right friends tune in to their calling

My new friend, Teresa McCloy is an Enneagram expert. After our Eaglepreneur group event, I participated in her Real Life Process Retreat. When I heard her story, I was touched by her clear calling. Figuratively, she breathes life into others and helps business owners tune into their purpose and calling.

Are you hanging out with the right friends? Or a better question might be this. Are you the right friend with attitudes of courage, curiosity, and calling?

Be aware, intentional and risk growing toward curiosity, courage, and calling. Click To Tweet

Your friendships may not be from across the United States and Canada. It doesn’t matter whether our friends are local or long-distance. But it does matter that we are aware, intentional, and take risks of growth. (Notice the acronym AIR?)

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

Your next step:

Sign up for the first three chapters of “Beyond Messy Relationships: Divine Invitations To Your Authentic Self”

Getting Unstuck For a Dynamic 2018

 

Getting unstuck for a dynamic 2018 enables fresh energy and motivation. It clears away subconscious negativity and makes room to live fully in the present. It allows us to have a clear vision for meaningful goals.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. — George Santayana Click To Tweet

Getting Unstuck: Wisdom From Technology

For example, an unfinished past is like issues I had with my iPad. All of a sudden a small white pinwheel in the middle of a blank screen kept going around in a rhythmic fading/returning circle over and over again. I tried clicking a combination of buttons hoping to turn it off and reboot. Nothing worked. It was slowly draining the battery and becoming useless at a time I needed it most.

Since I was traveling, I found the nearest service store. After the technician asked a few questions and clicked the home screen button twice, he showed me the hidden apps running in the background. Many were duplicates several times over.

“Oh, I didn’t know those were there,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Every time you open an app on the iPad, you’ll need to swipe it away when you’re finished.”

He showed me how to swipe each of those no-longer-needed apps away. Once I did that, my iPad worked fine.

Getting Unstuck: The Apps of our Lives

Our lack of awareness about the unfinished business of our past is like those apps taking up valuable energy. It’s human nature to move toward pleasure and away from pain. But our pain and pleasure is meant to flow in and out of our lives. Yet our obsession with avoidance keeps us from taking inventory of what’s slowing us down or keeping us stuck.

A daily inventory can be as automatic as brushing our teeth. For example, a practice such as praying The Daily Examine Prayer or writing in a Five Minute Gratitude Journal are great ways to swipe away those apps. Weekly and quarterly inventories may include participating in your place of worship or gathering with an accountability group. I’ve known some happily married couples ask each other things like, “How full is your love tank today?”

In addition to daily and weekly inventories, consider quarterly reflections. I’ve taken spiritual and personal retreats every 90 days for several years. It’s a time to be aware and reflect on the previous 90 days and be intentional for the next 90 days.

When clients go through a series of counseling sessions with me, I encourage them to schedule “booster sessions.” We can maintain our relationship health like we do our dental hygiene as we visit our dentist for six-month cleanings and yearly X-rays.

With a practice of regular inventory, we gain wisdom, awareness, and movement. As a result, we get unstuck.

The lessons of 2017 are catalysts for transformation in 2018. Click To Tweet

The journey through our past wasn’t meant to be forgotten. Our life experiences have meaning and valuable lessons for us.

Getting Unstuck: Deeper and Freer

Getting unstuck means going deeper and becoming freer. Therefore, a small percentage of people actually accomplish their New Year’s goals.

When we don’t take inventory and learn from the past, those who know us best experience us as moody, irritable, and cynical. Consequently, we’re easily triggered. The criticism/defensiveness patterns are like synchronized dance steps in the Tango of our marriages.

It’s the subconscious disappointments, anger, trauma and grief that keep us frozen. In addition, we forget even the highlights of the previous year. We don’t take time to celebrate and we miss valuable lessons.

Is it any wonder why most don’t bother to take inventory of their past year or plan for change in the New Year? The apps running in the background are blinding us from from fresh beginnings. Our unfinished past takes up wasted energy and slows us down. 

Let’s take inventory of the good, bad, and ugly of our lives.

When we share our unfinished past with a professional counselor, compassionate minister, or a wise friend, we begin to notice the lessons. We make room for the present when we swipe away the unnecessary apps of our lives.

Your Next Step to getting unstuck

  1. Consider a daily practice of the The Daily Examine Prayer or a Five Minute Gratitude Journal
  2. Schedule a free 20 minute consultation 
  3. Ask about the Professional Women’s Focus Group

Professional Women’s Focus Group

Join me for a live Q & A webcam call about a 90-day plan for online group accountability, focus and clarity. For other free resources, go to judycounselor.com.