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

Peace

How To Really Give The Best Simple Presents

As we reflect “peace on earth and goodwill toward men,” I’ve wondered how to really give the best simple presents. There’s three things to consider as we prepare for Christmas. They are ways to honor this sacred time and give the gift of ourselves. Memories and expectations along with our perspectives can interfere with our gift-giving. Loving eye contact along with a prayer for peace enhances the best simple present we can give.

Memories and Expectations of The Best Simple Presents 

Memories of Christmas pasts and expectations of friends and family can be overwhelming. As a child it’s easy to believe Santa comes down the chimney and brings presents. But, as adults we learn to guard ourselves against pain. Our beliefs turn to distrust, negativity, and avoidance where there’s perceived danger. And sometimes, we’re up against not just perceived, but real emotional harm. The wonder of life no longer seems wonderful as we move through relationships.

Let’s remind ourselves of the phrase “good will toward men.” Of course, we interpret “men” as all human kind. In this special season, we celebrate the coming of Christ.  And let’s ask ourselves, what does that really mean?

Perspective Gives Us The Best Simple Presents

What if we could see the childlike soul of the person who holds discomfort in us? We may see a wounded, betrayed, hurt little boy or girl. Can we be open to see the substance of their being and look beyond their manipulation or rejection of us? If so, could we see their good will?  If we could see their pain out of their own unhealed wounds, we could relate with compassion.

Loving Eye Contact Accompanies The Best Simple Presents

It’s not easy to make loving eye contact. Nor is it easy to believe in the goodwill of those who cause us pain. Yet, if we choose to hold onto our childlike faith, we can grow beyond our own woundedness. As a result, we allow the love of Christ and His healing touch on our own lives. We can give the best simple present of ourselves. Our souls are filled when we’re at peace with the life-giving meaning of “goodwill to men.”

An Attitude of Peace Makes The Best Simple Present

This prayer brought tears to my eyes more than once in my reflections of Christmas. May it touch your heart as you celebrate this sacred time!

Peace Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, union;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console:

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love:

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to

eternal life.

– attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi

Feature Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Soulmate

How To Be a Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul

It’s a continual process to balance how to be a soulmate without losing your soul. It takes attitude changes and pressurized reality to learn how to balance between “we” and “me.”

When we travel by plane, we’re used to hearing the flight attendant’s safety instructions. He or she usually says something like this.

“If there’s a loss of cabin pressure, the panels above your seat will open, and oxygen masks will drop down. . . Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.”

If we attempt to help others before adjusting our own mask, we may end up passing out. Then we can’t help anyone. We need to take that same advice for our relationships.

We need to care for our own soul-needs before attempting to care for others. Click To Tweet

It takes attitude changes to be a soulmate

Marriages are like a pressurized cabin at various times. They are not so even-keeled. We experience turbulence and high altitudes. Storms and fair weather affect our differences. Our ears pop. The ride gets rough. We’re required to stay in our seats with seatbelt securely fastened at times.

Early on in romance, our differences are exciting, novel, and energizing. After marriage, and sometimes before, our differences can become outright annoying. That’s when they can escalate into major conflicts.

Other life transitions expose the soul storms of a marriage. Raising children, career development, loss, and core differences create turbulence in life. But we can get beyond messy marriages.

Many Christian couples vow, “The two of us are one.” It doesn’t take long to realize one or both are subconsciously saying things like this.

We two are one. And yes, I’m the one.

Or, in a patriarchal or what some consider a “biblical” marriage, a bride may live her life like this.

We two are one. And, yes, he’s the one.

As years go by, both lose opportunities to develop their character. They lose their individual selves as well as the relationship. One of them becomes invisible. The other one gets caught up in self-delusions. Neither has insights into their own souls.

Neither one attempts to adjust their own oxygen mask. They’re too busy trying to improve, fix, or help the other. They become bitter, resentful, angry and resistant. Their world gets smaller. They become stuck. Or, figuratively, they pass out.

Life transitions expose the soul storms of a marriage. Raising children, career development, loss, and core differences create turbulence in life. Click To Tweet

It takes pressurized reality to be a soulmate

It takes two to honor each other and respect one another’s differences. And it still takes two to do that in a relationship. Here’s points to consider.

  1. Conflict is necessary for personal and relationship awareness.
  2. Don’t avoid it or run from it.
  3. Don’t criticize your partner or try to win them over to your side.
  4. Instead, be open. Listen to understand. There are more than two ways to resolve a conflict.
  5. Seek counseling or outside help to resolve resolvable conflicts. And to adjust to unresolvable conflicts.

World-renown researcher, Dr. John Gottman, gives us clarity. Sixty-nine percent of happily married couples have unresolved conflict. The difference between the “masters” and the “disasters” are this. The “masters” are the ones who adjust and accept their partner’s differences. The “disasters” allow perpetual resentment and negativity to grow.

Here are ideas on how to adjust our own soul mask

  1. Do breathe deeply when you feel reactive, irritable, angry, or triggered by your spouse. Slow down. You’ll get clarity when you do.
  2. Be curious about what’s going on inside of you. Ask yourself, “What’s unfinished in my life? Why did this situation or comment make me feel this way? What is the meaning I created from that interaction?”
  3. To increase self-awareness, reflect on this question: “How is my spouse experiencing me?”
  4. See your spouse as a gift from God. When you do, you can develop an attitude of thankfulness. You’ll nurture your soul and grow your character. Be willing to accept your spouses’ issues as helping yoube more understanding.
It takes two to honor each other and respect one another’s differences. Click To Tweet

The cabin pressure of your marriage will change. Those oxygen masks will drop. Always adjust yours first. Balance the “we” and “me” in romance and marriage. Your beautiful life is worth keeping your soul intact.

I’m writing more on the steps for balancing the “we” and “me” in romance and marriage. So, let’s stay in touch in the meantime.

For now, sign up for updates and preview on my new book

Beyond Messy Marriages: Divine Invitations Toward Your Authentic Self

 

Feature Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash