Last Friday (Good Friday in the U.S.), I had the privilege of marrying a man whose presence has really deepened my understanding of what it means to love myself. That might not have been the sentence you were expecting. You might have expected me to talk about how amazing he is, how he’s my soul mate, my best friend, etc. And those things are true, but that’s not what I want to highlight in this piece.
What I want to talk about is how relationships of all kinds are just mirrors reflecting our own internal dialogue and narratives. And I say that with tremendous care, because I know for a fact that marriage is NOT the be it, end all of romantic achievement. It doesn’t mean that I’m better or more advanced in the area of love (of self or another). I’m by no means asking you to look to me as an example or role model. The reality is, I still carry a lot of pain from old wounds which are still healing. I still occasionally doubt my worthiness, or my ability & willingness to trust my own vulnerability to another imperfect human being.
Like a lot of people, my journey in romantic love has been heartbreakingly messy and disappointing, with long stretches of low roads, but also some mighty peaks. I’ve had to forgive myself over and over again, and release the shame of making poor choices out of fear and low self-esteem. I’ve grown tremendously. I remember spending several months in therapy after a hurtful breakup, working through a severe distrust in men, and hugging my inner child for all the times she felt lonely. I kept a list of men I knew who were kind, loving, and self-aware, to help reframe my belief that all men were harmful. Navigating my triggers has been like traversing a land mine of old wounds begging for attention. I spent countless hours writing affirmations around being lovable and worthy, sometimes tears smearing the ink on the page. I abstained from sex and dating for 2 years as I delved into what it feels like to be with myself in the way I longed for another to be with me.
I learned how to be gracious with myself, even when I felt crazy, fat, ugly, stupid, etc. I cultivated a loving and compassionate inner voice, which grew stronger and stronger with time. My biggest fear in romantic relationships was around rejection. I am very sensitive, especially around my healing, and I feared no one would have the patience to deal with someone still unraveling knots of trauma. So I had to learn how to give myself that kind of patience and unconditional kindness. The men who had been inconsiderate of my emotions were just mirroring my own inconsideration, impatience and non-acceptance towards myself.
Then I met my now husband, and he treated me with the same kindness, grace and compassion I learned to cultivate for myself. People are so quick to assume his presence is the reason for my growth. While his presence has definitely facilitated a lot of growth, I owe my SELF the credit for laying the groundwork for where I am today and also for my future. He’s a part of it, but not the reason for it. He is just a reflection of the work I began years ago.
I use our relationship as an indicator of how I am treating myself. Whatever I am experiencing is just a reflection of where I am emotionally. When I’m being kind to myself, my experience is kindness. When I’m being hard on myself, my experience is that I’m a burden and “in the way.” My experience of how he shows up is just a mirror for how I show up for myself. And that’s what I mean when I say his presence has deepened my understanding of what it means to love myself. You see, now more than ever, I realize the importance of tending to my own garden of joy. It’s my job to water the flowers, pull the weeds, till the soil, etc. It’s like stepping into someone’s home and realizing it is immaculate. You’re very careful not to dirty anything or leave any kind of mess behind because it will absolutely be attributed to you. But when you step into someone’s messy home, you might not be as inclined to clean up after yourself. It’s the same with us.
It’s my job to keep my inner environment in tip top shape, not his. If I’m unhappy, I need to own that regardless of what external force I believe is causing it. And having this level of responsibility for myself led to a relationship with a responsible man who takes extremely good care of his things. When I realized to what degree he cares for his own belongings, I knew I’d be in good hands. Since day one he has treated me with the utmost respect, and that’s because I respect myself. And that’s my commitment to my husband for the rest of my life–staying committed to myself, my joy, my health, my happiness, my purpose, and my capacity to love myself–all of which will be reflected in our relationship. I said as much in my wedding vows, excerpted here:
I vow to continue striving to be the best version of me I can be in every way, by continuing to learn and grow in love, trust, acceptance and grace. These are all things I promise to continue practicing giving to myself, so that I can continue to love you from the overflow of an abundant supply within me. You can count on me to be honest and gracious with myself, so that it can be reflected in our marriage.