"Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed." --Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us can probably agree that self awareness can bring a needed sense of peace after enduring life altering and traumatic events such as divorce. What isn’t often discussed is that self awareness (of sorts) can sometimes lead TO the end of (usually unhealthy) relationships or divorce. Sometimes you have to make a choice, and it can be a very difficult one.
Do we better ourselves and lose our comfort? Or is ignorance bliss? When we begin to notice why we do and feel certain things that may not be so pleasant, or we start to see patterns in our behavior that have negative outcomes, it is not unreasonable to think that we may then decide to change our behavior, set boundaries, or not expose ourselves to certain situations.
I’ve been spending some time visiting an old friend these past few days. She’s one of the most aware people I know. Talk about doing work on yourself! Over the past five years this woman has made discovery through individual therapy, group therapy, marriage counseling. She’s read self help books, taken workshops from the best of the best, even gone back to school to take classes in psychology. She’s dug deep, done real work-much of which has been painful and hard.
I have loved Katie from the beginning, but in recent years our relationship has grown infinitely deeper, and the changes she’s made have not been a small part of that. She used to be much more focused on appearance, and spent a lot of time and money to look and play the part of beautiful wife and fun mother, possibly at the cost of those actual relationships. As many young women, we try to be the best we can, but we don’t always know how to get there, let alone what “the best” really means. We follow false leads, look to new hairstyles, workout regimens, diets, our kids and their achievements, to fill a void and take us down the road toward self improvement.
Katie worked hard, in mostly futile ways, to improve the inside from changing the out. It took a huge catalyst, but she finally found the right door, and the world opened to her. One step in the right direction, led to another, and she continues in a positive direction. The road has not been smooth, nor without bumps and dips, but there’s no question that it trends upward.
She has changed so much since the early days. She really likes herself, she has hope for the future, she’s faced some serious obstacles and come out on top. She is so much more herself and real and truly comfortable in her skin, flaws and all. (Of course, I see fewer flaws now than before, but from her vantage, she has had to accept many.)
In order to even embark on this amazing journey, Katie had to face one of her biggest fears. It’s probably the fear that prevents many of us from fully embracing self awareness and following that path. Underneath all of the glitz and beauty of her life, she must have known on some level that being real with herself and, in fact, becoming her BEST self, might jeopardize the beautiful, delicate structure of her marriage. This would be a test of its foundation. And I have to say, I see this often in long term relationships of all sorts, not just marriage. When one person decides to get better, healthy, the other often feels threatened and the relationship breaks down.
I can’t say with certainty that this is exactly what happened in Katie’s case. I don’t know if he was threatened, jealous, simply turned off by who she had become. Maybe she wasn’t fun anymore; maybe she pushed him too hard, asked for answers to tough questions. Perhaps it was that she stopped accepting his abuse and narcissistic behaviors. Whatever the reasons, the end result was divorce. She signed the papers a couple of months ago, moved out of town to start fresh. She was excited, settled, finally calm and clear headed.
Days after the papers were signed, her ex went public with a fairly serious relationship, and what should be a time of happiness, freedom and hope for Katie’s beautiful future has become muddied. She is finding herself regretful and self doubting at times. She’s even questioning her part in the divorce and perhaps what she could have done differently. This is very normal.
I’m going to venture out there and make a completely unsubstantiated or researched claim…I will bet that many, if not most, women have some period of regret, doubt, urge to swim back to the safe shore they worked up the courage to leave. This won’t last long in the scheme of life, and when they are finding themselves swimming strong, exploring different lands, and finally past that painful first year or two (I know it sounds like a lot, but just give yourself a break!), the light will shine brighter than you ever realized.
Sometimes when we improve in some areas, others will suffer, and these trade offs are choices that we have to make. In Katie’s case, she is the only one who can decide which direction she should go, but if she were to ever ask my opinion, I would tell her to trust all those years of self improvement. Losing a marriage and family is huge price to pay, but if that relationship was built on a healthy foundation, I know that it would never have crumbled.