Learning to prioritize your own needs: Relationship advice from a divorced & remarried Offbeat Bride

Guest post by Kate Smith
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You Grow Girl plant marker from Etsy seller SimpleStamp

Hello! My name is Kate. Long-time reader, first-time guest blogger here at Offbeat Bride. Ten years ago I got married. Five years ago I got divorced. The time in between was… messy. The time since has been clarifying! And it is from that vantage point that every so often I feel like maybe I've picked up a thing or two that someone else might find useful.

This is why, when a post went up on Facebook asking for advice for a bride-to-be stressing on whether her bridesmaids were a slackin', I found myself waxing poetic in the comments section. I had thoughts!

“Bride take the reins,” I cried, “Make your own priorities a reality!”

And then, “Wait, also do you truly desire a row of identical, immaculate up-dos? Because if not it's okay to let it go!”

And then finally, “Oh jeez! Learning how to prioritize your own stuff and make space and all that is really essential to cohabitation that isn't just so, so hard…” The advice seemed to resonate. So here I am to offer some more.

Learning about relationships from fictional romances

I, like most people, grew up with real-world relationship examples that ran the gamut from aspirational to traumatizing. And I, like many of us, instead chose to focus on the more consistent and positive visions provided by fictional romance.

This may not have led me to have the most realistic expectations for surviving a marriage, let alone thriving in one.

I often say that I successfully failed at my relationship with my ex-husband. I firmly believe that some people are deeply and truly unsuited to life together, no matter how much wisdom or gentleness they apply. And as my marriage fell slowly (and then very quickly) apart, I lacked much understanding that, while it could not have saved us, might have allowed for a more graceful exit. As it was, we ended things with animosity and totality that really drove home that after over a decade of shared living, we had come to really dislike each other.

And so here I am. Content and happy in a different sort of life and keen to share some thoughts. May they be helpful to others when they are in need.

Lives don't magically intertwine

Growing up, one of the myths I picked up about relationships (and especially marriage) was the idea that when people really love and care for each other, their lives will magically intertwine and they will come to hold a shared set of goals and priorities.

I'm sure on some level I knew that this would require letting go on each side, but I imagined it like a growth spurt — perhaps not entirely painless, but completely natural and out of one's hands.

For me, that growth spurt never happened. Nor had it seemed to for my spouse. Despite the years already spent living together, despite whatever magic lies inherent in the pageantry and ceremony of a wedding — there we were, husband and wife, still just two adults with drastically different ideas on how to do, well, pretty much everything.

And if we couldn't agree on how things were done, we definitely lacked common ground on which were most important. It festered.

Two different lenses: either/or OR both/and

I was conditioned to see things as either/or, this versus that. In my relationship, I could only place us in opposition. One of us was right and therefore justified, the other wrong and at best misguided. I think he felt much the same. Common interest, shared memory, even love can't compete against deepening resentment and misunderstanding.

What I was lacking was the power of seeing the world through the lens of both/and.

What we had missed was that a healthy relationship isn't necessarily all sameness, missing pieces coming together to form one thing. What I think I know now?

A healthy relationship is about creating safe and respectful space for each partner to prioritize their own needs.

You don't have to have identical goals, composite visions, and mirrored habits.

You need the opportunity to do things in the way that actually works. You need to be able to respectfully communicate what that means for you and have that understood. You need to figure out what boundaries are necessary for this and how to kindly enforce them. I'm not saying it's easy. Or comfortable. Or natural. I'm saying I think it's worth it.

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LOADS OF FUN rug available here

So, a concrete example

Let's talk about laundry, that Sisyphean task that we all tend to have differing opinions about. (What makes a proper load? How do you fold? Is ironing required? Does anything really have to be hand washed?)

You and your person don't agree about laundry, but what do you do?

  • Option A – Take on the equally unending task of attempting to indoctrinate your partner to your clearly superior method with growing distaste and frustration.
  • Option B – Do your own laundry and let them do theirs. Your clothes are washed as they should be. So are theirs. You can continue to enjoy each other.
  • Option C – Work on letting go of this one. There is no absolute truth to laundry beyond that sometimes it needs doing. So, you know, just let it get done.

Here's a thing I believe to be deeply true: There isn't any sort of proper way.

There's how you were raised to do it. There's how fictional characters do it and the way you guess your neighbors do it and the stories of how it's done by the distant other. There's ways that feel comfortable and ways that feel hard. There's familiar. There's accessible.

But there isn't one right way.

The right way is the way it works best for you while causing the least harm.

And it's going to be different for everyone.

A companion truth: Everything is not for everyone. It doesn't need to be. The world is no poorer for it and neither are we. What can lessen the human experience is when we feel the need to diminish those places/things that are not ours.

It can be so easy when we see something “not for us” to try to make it our own through negative interaction. “I'm not in that parade, but what if I rain on it?”, we say. We forget the divine right to march to our own drums, to be a joyful parade of one. We miss the authentic, healthy connections we can find when we broadcast our own frequencies. There is always someone listening.

I wrap with this – Many of us were raised with the Golden Rule. Treat others as you want to be treated. It's not bad, certainly better than a lot of alternatives, but it's also built on that basic untruth of the one right way. Really, what works for us may be the worst for someone else. The kids these days seem to get it though and have what I've heard called the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they want to be treated. I'm on board. Learning to share my needs and to listen to the needs of those I share life with. Learning to make and maintain a safe space where everyone can do their laundry just right.

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