I was unhappy. Steve was unhappy. I began to feel afraid. We were unhappy so I must be doing something wrong. I was certain I could do better and try harder. I’m a pleaser. I want to make others happy—sometimes to a fault. I want to make my husband happy, my kids happy, my friends happy, heck I even want to make the cashier at the grocery store happy. I’ve long believed if I could make others happy, they would love me.

Steve and I fell in love. Initially we were just friends, hanging out in groups with other friends.  But as we spent time together I saw his integrity, insight and compassion. Once I saw his heart, I fell hard. I knew he was a good man. We dated for a few months, had a short engagement and said our marriage vows with confidence. I was determined to be the best wife I could be. I believed with all my heart, I would make him happy and he would love me.

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We’ve walked through some of the most difficult things two people can face; losing a job, depression and having a child with a severe disability. Through these storms our friendship has been a strong foundation. Inevitably though, when two flawed people spend an extended amount of time together, conflict happens. Things get rocky. And for us, things began to get very rocky.

We weren’t connecting. I was unhappy. He was unhappy. My fear was paralyzing me. I believed if Steve was unhappy he would stop loving me. I believed if Steve was unhappy it was my fault. I believed I could control his moods and emotions. I was certain I could do better and try harder. I kept a mental list of the ways I could please him. I put his needs before mine and tried to think of my own needs less. I tried to control our marriage, avoiding conflict at any cost. The more I tried to please him, the more I lost myself. Steve didn’t want a wife who lived to please him, he wanted the strong, confident woman he married. My fear of losing his love was putting walls between us. The harder I tried to make him happy the more frustrated and discouraged I became. I falsely believed if I focused more on him and less on myself I could heal our marriage.

I went from unhappiness to exhaustion and desperate sadness. No matter how hard I tried, nothing changed. I was reaching a breaking point, so I decided to risk it all and tell Steve how desperate I felt. He had no idea I was so deeply unhappy.  I’d been trying to save our marriage on my own—and I was losing myself in the process. We met with a therapist and both shared honestly and openly. She helped {and continues to help} us work through our blind spots. We began listening to each other more. I began to say what I wanted instead of trying to please him all the time. I started taking better care of myself and cutting things out of my schedule. I stopped trying to be everything to everyone and began to focus on being me—even if it meant rejection. I needed to be me, not knowing if Steve would love that person.

And something miraculous happened. It wasn’t easy or magical but it was truly amazing. Together, with tears and humility we began breaking down walls. Together we grew closer. Together we shared more, we listened more. Together we stopped casting judgement and being defensive. We set aside our fear of losing each other and began choosing to stay together.

I believe there are cycles within a marriage; we give all we have but love still breaks down. In the breakdown both partners have a choice: go through the pain and fear of reconnecting or continue to pull away. If in our brokenness we can be humble and honest, a new love begins where the old love left off. Love is risky. Showing up is risky. But a healthy marriage consists of two people, each showing up and being their truest self. Two people who adore each other despite their flaws and imperfections.

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Slowly but surely I’m learning I can’t make someone else happy. I’m working daily to overcome false beliefs that I can control another person’s moods and feelings. I can only control my own emotions and my own actions. Caring for my own heart enables me to love better.  An ignored heart loves incompletely, a nurtured heart loves deeply. I want to be in a marriage where instead of avoiding conflict, we engage honestly, work hard, daily choosing to be together. When love breaks down, we begin again. I’m still a recovering people pleaser but I’m growing. I’m learning to feel my feelings and stop managing other people’s feelings. I’m beginning to understand love isn’t based on emotions or changing circumstances. Love isn’t one sided. Love thrives when two people choose kindness, patience and forgiveness.

Being me is risky, but losing myself is even riskier. Brave love is risky and beautiful.

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