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.
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.