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:
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