If I were to tell you that you cannot fully love another until you fully love yourself, I would not be telling you anything you have not already heard.

In the self-help community, it’s practically a cliche.

What remains elusive (at least for me) is: what does that MEAN, “love yourself?”  I WANT SOME OF THAT.

In my own marriage, the times where I have been impatient / unkind / nasty / judgmental towards my husband have been the times that I was being impatient / unkind / nasty / judgmental towards myself.

The times when my husband has told me that he could not feel my love for him have been the times when–for the love of all things good in this world–I could not feel my love for me, either.

After one particularly colorful disagreement with my beloved and exacting husband a few years ago (in which we both tested the limits of the “or for worse” clause of our wedding vows), I decided to hold my own feet to the fire.  While I could not change the trivial things that irritated me about him (LAWD knows I had tried), I AM in the driver’s seat when it comes to my own role in our relationship.

So I studied love.  I wanted to know how I could be better at it.

Most of the theories I read about love SOUNDED great and simple to me [who doesn't agree that "love is patient, love is kind?"], but the application of them was not.  Whenever my feelings were hurt or my pride was wounded, “patience” and “kindness” sounded GREEK to me.  “Go for the jugular or die trying”??  Now THAT I could embrace.

After several failed attempts at forcing patience and kindness down my own throat, I surrendered to the idea that maybe people ARE right when they say that self-love is the key.  Why not give that a crack?

I reasoned that a good first step towards self-love would be to correct all of the things I did not like about myself (including but not limited to my impatience, my speed to annoyance around certain people, my pridefulness, my indecisiveness, my illogical obsessive-compulsive tendencies, my meticulousness, my foolhardy commitment to avoiding of conflict, my depression even amidst blessings, etc.)

I spent countless hours and many dollars with an incredible therapist, digging deep into the places I did not want to go, up to my eyeballs in a “take no prisoners” self-improvement effort intended to make me “worthy” of love.

Ironically, while the ACT of seeing a therapist is very self-loving, the “because I’m not good enough” spirit with which I attacked it was not.  While I never want to be complacent about the parts of myself that need improvement, LOVING myself need not be about CHANGING myself.  Self-love is about ACCEPTING ourselves AS WE ARE.

“Oh,” said I.

In the absence of that insight, I read self-help books, attended seminars, studied the opinions of prominent philosophers, always searching for the one little idea that could make it all “click” for me.

And every time my therapist told me I had to work on self-love, I bounced my knee nervously and rolled my eyes at her.  I AM WORKING ON IT, can’t she see?  IF ONLY I COULD FIX ALL OF MY DAMN IMPERFECTIONS!!  Then, amidst completely unrelated events at the end of last year (another story for another day), I had an epiphany wherein I realized it’s very important that I open up about the challenges I have faced (and continue to actively evade) in regards to anxiety, depression, insecurity, OCD, etc.

I’ve made marked improvements in each of those areas, and if only I can rise above my discomforts in discussing those topics, then I am profoundly empowered to help others with similar struggles.

The life-lessons which are the only redeeming qualities of these challenges deserve to be SHARED, not hoarded, right?

[Reminds me of the lady who bough the Neiman Marcus chocolate-chip cookie recipe for $250, thinking it was $2.50. Legend has it, when she realized how much she had paid for the fortune, she resolved to share it with EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD so that her own expense could benefit as many people as possible.]

If I can speak about my own challenges as casually and commonly as they aught to be discussible, then maybe I can even start chipping away at the “shameful” and “taboo” nature of psychological work, paving a smoother path for future generations of highly sensitive people like myself.

The decision to “be an open book” on these matters came with an unexpected bonus.  As soon as I started “putting myself out there” and using my challenges to benefit OTHERS, I–almost immediately–gained the one piece of the puzzle I had been missing all along.

I gained self-acceptance.

With self-acceptance and self-love on my side, my relationship with my husband has never been stronger.  It really does get better every day.  (When I used to hear people say that, I thought they were full of sh-omething.  After all, how can you compete with the falling-in-love butterflies that come at the beginning of a relationship?)

Turns out, butterflies aint got nothin’ on enduring love.

But WAIT–there’s more!  Remember those things that I had so desperately tried to change about my husband?  As I made these shifts within myself, things began to change with him, too.  I do not know whether he met my willingness to “give” a little and has ACTUALLY made changes, or whether my own work has made it so that I don’t notice the trivial things with him as much (I suspect it’s both), but frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn WHY it’s happening.

All I know is that I am very, very happy.

[Holy smokes–a moment of clarity!!  Maybe my husband’s imperfections do not bother me as much anymore because I have accepted my OWN flaws and in doing so I have accepted his!  OMG that little morsel of insight is one more reason for me to love myself!]

So let’s whittle this brainstorm down to four basic tenets of marriage reflections, shall we?

  • To love my husband fully, I had to love myself fully.
  • To love myself fully, I had to accept myself.
  • To accept myself, I had to identify and come to terms with the things I hoped people would never find out about me.
  • To come to terms with the things I hoped people wouldn’t find out about me, I had to: 1)  tell people those things, and 2) use them to help others.

So.  Remember that little notecard in the beginning of this post?

My two cents of marriage advice is this:  To fully love your partner, achieve self-love first by identifying the things that you wish people would not find out about you, sharing them with people, and using those very characteristics to HELP someone else.

Worked for me, anyway!  And my GOODNESS, is it ever liberating!  (We’re only as sick as our secrets, they say.)

If you struggle with self-love, start there.

If all else fails, look at the “love is patient, love is kind” quote through new eyes.  Don’t view it as instructions for loving your partner.  View it as instructions for loving YOURSELF, and the partner part will come naturally.

I bet that was the way it was intended.

That’s my advice for a happy marriage.

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A Licensed Joyologist, Waxer of Philosophy, and Optimal Living Evangelist, Bethany Pearson O’Connor dreams that her own journey with learning to “Let It Shine” may assist YOU in unapologetically spiraling towards the greatness that is YOUR destiny, too.  If being “Authentically You” sounds scary to you (as it once did to her), then she prescribes a healthy dose of Gratitude, Humor, Loving Kindness, and Optimism…all of which are available for free on her Catching the Light blog.

Twitter:  @_catchinglight

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/CatchingTheLightwithBethanyLeePhotography

  1. Bethany says:

    Thank you so much for featuring my work again, Ian and Meg!!  So much love and light to you!!!  xoxox
     

  2. Bethany says:

    …I look forward to hearing from any readers who have questions or comments!  :)
     

  3. Joy says:

    wow! Very nice article about marriage. I am going to share this with my friend who also has challenges with his husband and she thinks that the problem is in her not on her husband.
    This article also provide new insight about “love is patient, love is kind”. Kudos to u Bethany. :)

  4. Angelique says:

    Thank you so much for this article.  I, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, who knows… the past is in the past) figured this out too late and my marriage ended.  And everyone kept telling me that, “you can’t love someone else, and you can’t receive love, until you learn to love yourself.” I had NO IDEA what they meant by that until recently.Through a couple of years of mindfulness meditation training and really learning to sit and listen to my emotions and STOP JUDGING myself so harshly for having those emotions, I learned to accept them as part of being human. I learned to face those beliefs about myself that weren’t true and start working through them….and am now sharing this knowledge with others.  Self-compassion is key, when you start accepting yourself, suddenly you start being so much more compassionate toward others and their struggles.  You approach everyone with a new sense of curiosity   Hmmm, I wonder what their struggle is; what are they suffering through? And, then it clicked.  I hope to find love again and know that I will, but this time with new love for myself and others.Thanks again for a beautiful post!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Great article Bethany! I have learned this very thing over the last 2 years, 4 really, but the first two I was unconsciously doing it. I realized, my now ex-husband, wasn’t going to grow (I didn’t say change, because I didn’t want him to change but to grow) and after 14 years of trying I finally figured out that it was not my responsibility to do the work for him. I ended the marriage when it turned not only from mental abuse but to physical on the kids. I attribute my last two years of living more consciously in connection with my soul, because of the man (Stanley Man) I live with now.  He is the perfect mirror for me, of what my soul is trying to get me to do, see and hear while here on my journey.I teach my clients that our husbands are mirrors to our inner self and you either like what you see and get to discovering you, your soul.  Or you run from it. The way most of us were raised, we run from that mirror.I was elated to read that you are using it to help others, because I am doing the same. I stopped hiding behind wedding planning a year ago and am stepping out to shine in working with couples getting married to establish a Marriage Foundation. The first piece to that foundation is Love thy own soul! With out this key piece you will never have a the marriage we have all dreamed about.

  6. cornflake girl says:

    Amazing! i’ve been struggling with self-love, always blaming my partner (and others) for my unhappiness. When things go great, however, the little fearful voice inside me convinces me that happiness won’t last and i am doomed to being unloved and betrayed, which has always been the story of my life. This leaves me very anxious and unhappy. i am in a gradual process of coming to terms with the (perceived) garbage within myself and my life, in an acceptance of who i am, which is a struggle, still. i am 25 and there’s a long way to go! Your article is very empowering and helpful. Thank you!

  7. Cheryl Hutchings says:

    Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for this.  I am 44, and for the first time this summer, I have had the realization that I can have my own thoughts, ideas, and feelings about things, and they can be my own, and not in alignment with those I love, and that is okay.  I am okay, just as I am, just as my thoughts are.  This post confirmed that I need to accept myself, unconditionally, so that I can love the most important people fully, unconditionally, and they can love me back. Accept.  Love.  Live in the light. Repeat!

  8. Alison says:

    Thanks for sharing!  I found this just at the time I needed to hear your message. I’ve been struggling with a deep depression for the last few weeks (every few months I am completely hopeless and despairing> I have suicidal thoughts, irrational fear and anxiety, no idea at all of my self worth) and I am just starting to come up to the surface again. As I normally do when I am beginning to feel well again, I try to catch up on lost time and work too hard…. but today I stopped and allowed myself to find your post. I have a loving husband who is  “patient and kind” (when he wants to be) and I am going to make it my new mission to go back to the start and begin to love myself again for his sake – for our sake. Thank you xxx

  9. ian says:

    Good for you Alison, what an honest and empowering message. You sound real, authentic, determined and hopeful. I know you will do it. Be well.

  10. Great advice: it goes right to the core of the issue. We tend to think that relationships are all about the other, be it the spouse or the children but it is really about the “wo/man in the mirror.” I wholeheartedly agree with what you expressed here. It has been my experience also too, with my husband and now four grown children. With the children too, our heart gets torn open, we love them, we care for them and one day, they fly out of the nest, leaving the wide opened heart to be filled by what love but ours? This is where self-love has to kick in , otherwise a great void and unhappiness, even depression can fill that space. From the children’s point of view, if we hold their presence hostage and make them feel guilty for leaving, then they too will get dragged down.So , as you expressed so well in your blog, we owe it to ourselves to give ourselves the gift of self-love. We , as well as those close to us, will be so much happier for it. We are then free to be and allow others to do the same. This is another wonderful gift to give! 

  11. I actually broke up with someone because I started to love myself. I realised that he was the same as I had been, so busy hiding who they really are that I didn’t really know him…and probably never really would until he learned to love himself.

  12. Beautiful, practical, simple advice. So many people who struggle with self-love don’t see that getting to the heart of the “imperfections” they are trying to hide from the world is what is limiting their growth. Shine a bright light on the shadows! Thank you for this lovely article. I’m sharing it with all my friends!

  13. Joy Chan says:

    Well said! Thanks for sharing this. What you’ve said is so true – too many people think that they have to change themselves in order to love themselves. They bring this attitude to others, thinking that others must also change in order to be loved. How freeing it is to learn to love yourself just the way you are, which then opens you up to loving others just the way they are. I love the point you made that accepting your own flaws enabled you to accept your husband’s. I also love how much happier it has made you, and how much it has improved your marriage. Keep it up :)

  14. Acceptance. Acceptance. Acceptance.  How often it frees us!

  15. yrfrdsteph says:

    Get passed secrecy, shame and  silence and it sums up this great article. Thank You