So many marriage myths, so little time. I often feel like I need to be the James Randi of relationship misperceptions. One of the biggest beliefs about relationships is that losing yourself is one of the requisite side effects of commitment. I’m here to tell you that if you give up who you are, your relationship is doomed to failure.
It is essential for your personal happiness to honor who you are and what’s important to you. If you are unhappy or resentful, it is impossible for your relationship to be happy. The least happy partner becomes the weak link in the relationship chain.
A while ago I read a blog post about the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. It grabbed me because each of those stated regrets can apply directly to your marriage as well. The first stated regret is one that really relates to marriage or any committed relationship.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret and feeds directly into the challenge marriage presents. How can you take two totally different people and expect them to both hold onto their true selves and meld together to form an intimate relationship? The simple answer is that you can’t NOT be who you are. Even the best actors of all time only maintain character for a set period. Not honoring who you are is unsustainable if you want to feel fulfilled at the end of your life.
As my clients will tell you, “should” is my least favorite word in the entire English language. I would abolish it if I could. “Should” means someone else–your mother, your boss, your partner, society–wants you to do something. The question you need to ask is, does that “should” fit with who you are and how you want to be in the world? If it does, you will already be doing those activities and behaviors regardless of someone else’s “should”. If it doesn’t, then you will only make yourself miserable in the long run by complying to another’s view of you. This includes your spouse.
The problem many people have is that they have invited the “Great They” into their homes as permanent guests. “They” say I need to make this amount of money. “They” say the holidays must be spent with family. “They” say I have to go to college. “They” say. “They” say. “They” say. If I ever meet these people, I’m going to smack them and ask who put them in charge?
As long as you are willing to accept the consequences of your decisions, start questioning “They” and all the “shoulds” they bring to your life.
To get back to your marriage, this does not mean that you don’t pay attention to those people in your life that you love and care about, especially your partner. If you want them to stay in your life, you need to be willing to listen to their viewpoints and accommodate to their needs. This does not mean you stop being who you are. Just because your partner ‘expects’ you to do something, doesn’t mean you have to.
Having real discussions about what’s acceptable to both of you, and only agreeing when you truly do, is the cornerstone of honoring who you are and what your partner needs from you at the same time. It is only when these overlap that true fulfillment in the relationship can occur.
Neither of you can stop being who you are. It is not a requirement of marriage that you do. If you try, you will sow the seeds of resentment that will eventually destroy the relationship. The goal needs to be to make room for each other when you can and accept the reasonable boundaries you both need in place when you can’t.
The trick to a happy, successful marriage is to discover and celebrate where these two processes overlap. It takes courage to hold fast to who you are when others want you to be different. Your true partner will honor you when you can honor yourself. It won’t always be smooth sailing, but if you can accept each other, the journey will be worth it.
A version of this post was previously published on TheHeroHusbandProject and is republished here with permission from the author.
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