Life is a series of finding comfort in each new self that we become. Some people seem to shift from one thing to the next very quickly, while others can find something that feels right to them and stick with it for so long that it becomes a part of their identity. Veganism, clean eating, doomsday prepping, gardening, living with zero waste, the list goes on and on. A lot of times, something will spark this transformation. With me, it’s usually a documentary that will change my behavior. The most recent one was Seaspiracy, a documentary about the environmental impact of commercial fishing. Of course, all of these media presented concepts are largely inflated to invoke emotion and, in effect, action by the viewer. And if you simply google Seaspiracy, you will be bombarded with expert opinions who accuse the movie of misrepresentation. But nonetheless, there is a shift in my brain and in the way people think about the world around them when we are presented with information that challenges our world as we understood it. The shock of thinking about something so significant, that we never even knew we should question, sticks with us like a traumatic shake to our existence.
With marriage comes a lot of expectations. We are friends with our partner and no matter how much we desire to “not care what anyone thinks about us”, we can be truly effected by the opinion of our partner. So effected, in fact, that I have heard people who have been divorced for over a decade emotionally express to me the painful words that their ex told them so long ago. “He told me I was too fat to love.” “She said I would never amount to anything.” Those words can sit with us for a lifetime. Our spouse is supposed to be our biggest fan, after all. They chose us, so it’s not unwarranted to expect them love us more than anyone else in the world. So when we personally shift into a new state of mind that feels important, it can feel really personal if our partner doesn’t shift with us. For example, a husband begins a vegan journey, and the more he reads about processed foods and meats, becomes involved in forums and groups of people who share their opinions on clean eating, the more he is convinced that living by this philosophy is the only way to be a responsible parent and adult. Fear begins to drive the motivation to change his lifestyle and the lifestyle of his family. But after trying for a couple of months, his wife is not on board. It’s just not as important to her to live this way, and she misses her old lifestyle. She really enjoyed drive through food on occasion; both the convenience and the taste. She also doesn’t view it as an important part of parenting, and she yearns to experience the excitement of giving her young child a kid’s meal with a toy in it, too create those same fond memories she has of childhood. But because his world is now bent to this lifestyle, he forbids her from feeding their child such unhealthy food, even on rare occasions. The husband’s fear and deep-seated belief leaves no room for compromise.
It’s easy to conclude that the husband is simply too controlling, that it’s not okay to attempt to control how another person eats and feeds their own child. And I do believe that it’s not okay to try to control another person. But it’s important to understand that so much of this control stems from a subject I come back to again and again; self love. The husband is in a vulnerable position. He has chosen an unconventional lifestyle, and has faced push-back from society when establishing this for his children. When his wife doesn’t agree with what he views as a crucial life choice, he feels undermined. Because he has made this lifestyle a part of his identity, he is offended that his wife doesn’t embrace it. In not embracing veganism, it feels like she is not embracing him.
If the husband can reframe the way he chooses this lifestyle for himself, he can completely eliminate the control he feels he needs to maintain over the family. By loving himself, he feels completely confident in his own choices. He is intelligent and competent, and he has made the best choice for him. He’s open to new ideas, but criticism doesn’t shake him, and he doesn’t feel confrontational or argumentative, because he knows that every individual is free to make their own choices based on what’s important to them. He can express to his wife that he feels that for her own health and for the sake of a long life with him, he hopes she will try it out. So, just like in the original story, she does because she is flattered to be so loved and valued. But when she decides it’s not for her, the husband is okay with it because he still feels that he’s made the best choice for himself. He doesn’t become frustrated when he finds out that she’s had drive-through food during the week, because it has absolutely nothing to do with him. By loving himself enough, he neglects to take things personally. After all, she isn’t eating food she enjoys to hurt him, she’s just making herself happy. And by accepting that this lifestyle is personal to his own peace, and by acknowledging that his wife is also a capable and loving parent, he leaves room for compromise with their children. He agrees that once or twice a week, the wife can feel free to take the child to get donuts or a happy meal and the wife is happy with this compromise.
Self love is truly the answer. When we are confident in our choices, we don’t feel a need to control the world around us. When we are happy with who we are, we don’t need to second guess what we do or seek validation from the outside. We value ourselves and respect what we feel is important. It doesn’t matter how others feel about it as long as we aren’t hurting anyone. And by loving ourselves, we don’t want to hurt anyone. We want our spouse to feel as loved and valued as we do, so we don’t feel comfortable telling them that they are inadequate. When we feel loved from within, we are ready to let that love pour out to those around us. We can let go of the things we have let define who we are, forgive ourselves for any choices we have made out of fear, and simply love and be loved. This is the ultimate path to a happy life.