Marinate in the Compliments

bestself divorce healing Mar 23, 2021

As someone who has been through her fair share of relationships as an adult, it’s easy to think that I’m just not that good at being in a relationship. If you count my college boyfriend, who, to be fair, I was very much in love with at age 19, I’ve had five major relationships in the last two and a half decades of my adult life. Exhausting!

As my recent boyfriend and I broke up last month, I had a moment where I thought to myself that I should just give up. We dated for almost two years, he’s the best person I know, and still we couldn’t make it work. This breakup was particularly terrible because neither one of us could point at the other person with blame. We simply didn’t want the same things in life and realized we had fundamental ideological differences in how we see the world. We both wanted to be friends more than we would ever want to get married or commit to each other as partners.

I’m accustomed to relationships ending after a massive betrayal - lies, affairs, secret debt, etc - but this breakup was acutely painful as I couldn’t point to anything of the sort on either side. I should just give up on trying to be relationships. I’m just not good at it.

I’m sure you’ve had this internal talk-track, too!

Going through divorce and breakups stirs the emotions so deeply inside of us, we have to be careful what we let bubble to the top. Is is a fair conclusion that since I’ve been in and out of committed, loving relationships five times in my adult life that I will continue this pattern for the rest of my life? It’s easy to conclude that, especially on my lowest of days. If I’m being rational, of course this isn’t true.

I know many women who have had more than five loving, committed relationships before finding the person that they will settle in with and truly find a healthy, equitable relationship. My mission is to encourage women everywhere never to give up, not on finding someone new, but on finding themselves. True happiness is possible when it comes from within each of us. And when you’re glowing from the inside out, you will attract in a partner who comes along and enhances that happiness in ways beyond your wildest dreams.

So, how do I maintain faith in myself when it’s easy to see myself as a failure in relationships? It’s not easy, but here’s what I do: MARINATE IN THE COMPLIMENTS. Let me explain what I mean through two short examples.

After my marriage ended three years ago, I was with my brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, my aunt, and my parents out in the suburbs in the backyard on a hot Summer Saturday afternoon. The kids played in the yard in an inflatable pool as the adults sat up on the deck chatting. Even though we were enjoying a picturesque afternoon, the loss related to my marriage was palpable to all of us and I think on that day we needed to talk about it a bit.

Now, the end of my marriage was hard for my family too, mostly because they had come to love my stepkids as part of our family. It’s a loss I can’t really understand even now, as I don’t know all of the emotions my 5-year-old nephew must have gone through when he lost three cousins, or how my mom felt having to say goodbye to three grandkids.

On that afternoon my dad gave me one of the most significant, unexpected compliments of my life. I still think about this when I feel down. He said to me, “Andrea, you went all in with him and his kids. And I know not too long in the future you will go all in with someone else … and that’s what makes you my beautiful daughter. You know how to go all in with people.” He choked up for a moment before he said that’s what makes me his beautiful daughter.

I still can’t talk about that without getting emotional. I never saw myself that way before. Before my dad said that to me, my internal talk-track was something more like, “Andrea you’re an idiot and you always pick the wrong men.” What a beautiful compliment to hear from my dad, someone who knows me so well.

My other compliment was completely unexpected, and very significant to me. My grandma and I were very close all throughout my life. I went on trips with her, I stayed with her in the summers at her house in Ohio to have special time together. She’s fallen ill with dementia now so we can’t have the same relationship we once did.

My mom gave me this compliment three years ago, in the beginning of my marriage falling apart, at the time when we all knew there was no way to fix things and that I would once again be divorced. My mom told me that my grandma always said, of all her grandkids that I would end up with the best husband. I have no idea what the context was for this conversation but I asked my mom why on earth Grandma would have ever said that. My mom relayed, “Honey, it’s because she thinks so highly of you, she knows you deserve the very best man out there to share your life with.”

I had no idea my grandma felt that way or ever said that to my mom. To me, this compliment is really significant because I never knew my grandma or my mom felt that way. My mom said it to me as though it was common knowledge and she’s felt that way for years. It was almost like they assumed I felt strongly enough about myself and therefore didn’t need to say it.

I remember thinking that I wish I would have known that earlier in life. And now, as I’ve processed, I realize I don’t need to hear that from anyone else. I have marinated in that compliment enough for it to be part of the way I think about myself.

Now, going “all in” or “ended up with the very best” may not be things you relate to, but remember they struck a chord with me. Think about the things you have heard from friends and family that you know are indisputable about yourself. When your internal talk-track starts down a critical path, marinate in those compliments instead. Reflect on what they mean to you. Write in a journal, “Being a person who _____ means ….” and just free write for at least 25 minutes without editing.

Imagine having that journal entry a week, a month, a year from now when you really need it. How wonderful to see yourself through a positive lens when you need it most.

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