Dear younger self,
I’m writing to explain what marriage really means because I remember all too well your fairytale ideology that marriage is about a beautiful wedding, then fast forward to your happily ever after.
With that said, I’m not writing as a warning. I’m writing more as an opportunity—merely think of me as your sponsor. Because you’re definitely a hopeless romantic.
Your dreams of a man riding in on a white horse, or a knight in shining armor, are figments of an animated imagination and I just want to take some time to talk to you about what’s real.
I want to let you in on a secret, if you will. A moment in time, to give you a gift, the gift of a second chance.
You are still so young, at only 22 years old. And here you already have a small beautiful child, own your home, and you have a wonderful man who hasn’t quite discovered how great either of you are just yet. You should feel proud and accomplished. I know when I look back I’m definitely proud of you.
Nevertheless, I specifically want to talk about fear. You see, although you survived a lot of abuse and neglect, you’re traumatized. Your traumas have caused significant damage and created a space for constant anxieties to thrive. Anxieties like your fear of being a victim, a fear of someone thinking they can take you away, and other fears, like your fear of intimacy, of getting in trouble or making mistakes, of not knowing enough information or being looked at as incompetent. And mainly, your fear of simply not being good enough to be loved.
I know you. Probably better than anyone really knows you. I know how hard you try to be perfect. I know how hard you work to be accepted. How much you feel you don’t and can’t possibly fit in anywhere, with anyone. And I know you think that if you achieve genuine happiness it means that you have reached the end of your life. But you don’t have to be afraid. I’ve begun to discover that you can be accepted and you are more than lovable.
As I write this, I realize now that you are just starting out on the first path of many that will lead you on a journey into a life that brims with love and hardship, joy and sadness, peace and war, as well as abundance and strife. Your life will be wrought with moments of destitution and incredible successes. And I wouldn’t have you change any of it (except please buy Amazon stock and change your Sam’s Club membership to Costco, trust me, Sam’s Club will fail us). You will learn so much from the experiences that living this life will teach you.
I would also encourage you, as your sponsor, to ditch your unhealthy addictions earlier. You should see life through the eyes of someone who chooses to actually live. Find life in every breath. Leave behind the acts of fear that cause you to bury yourself and hide away all that is great in you.
Now, about the young man you have chosen. He is going to be amazing. You were right to be attracted to his high levels of intelligence, and his cautious, careful approach to tasks. And that great sense of humor. You will laugh every day of your life. He will hold you close when you feel lost and afraid. He will trust your guidance and seek your counsel. He will treasure you.
But it will take some time. You will both have to learn to grow up and embrace the art of communication. You will find an amazing woman, Julie Gottman, who will introduce you to techniques that will enable you to overcome so many marital obstacles. You’ll learn principles about communicating and methods for dealing with conflict that you’ll even align with your body of work. Trust me, these tools will prove invaluable.
Your marriage will become a beacon of hope for couples around the world. But it will take time. Time that can be shortened if you heed many words and remember this letter, starting today, your wedding day. You can be so much more if you start by shedding the heavy, unsightly cloak of fear.
Your story needs to be heard through the ears of faith and not through fear. Fear prematurely ends stories. It changes the narrative and demands surrender. It turns heroes into cowards and strength into weakness. It both clouds and casts judgment. It slowly takes away the essence of who you really are. It highlights scarcity and inflates the balloon of false pride. You are not what you’ve been through. Your truth and destiny lie in the places you will go and the people whose lives you will touch. So continue to go far and shine bright. Dream often. And fear not.
In this letter, I want you to recognize that you are going to have a beautiful family, a legacy of serving others, and a connection to your husband that’s absolutely unbreakable. But your life will really begin when you can begin to see yourself as a whole. Know that life is not just about what you know or have learned, it’s about how well you learn how to live. Do it fearlessly, for there is life in every breath.
So with that said, here are a few things I’ve learned about love and life over the last 23 years of marriage.
Never stop dreaming together
Talk openly about your goals for the future, and always support your husband’s dreams. Be curious, creative, and explore your entrepreneurial spirit.
Take better care of your health
Eat better and get into a fitness program or routine. Stop complaining and taking your amazing body for granted. Spend less time worrying about how you wish you looked and spend more time loving yourself.
Spend less time yelling
You can be heard the loudest in moments of silence.
Enjoy spending time with yourself
I didn’t discover this until I was in my forties. I missed all that time just enjoying who I was and dreaming about who I’d be.
Keep your childlike twinkle in your eye
It will serve you well and keep you and others laughing. You are funny—stay that way.
Spend more time in the moment with your children
They really do grow up fast. Parenting isn’t a race, it’s a journey. It doesn’t end when they’re 18. It will challenge you in different ways, but you’ll never get their little inquisitive minds back, so enjoy it while you can.
Always spend time talking to your husband
It gives you both so much life. Have patience for teachable moments and keep laughing, it really is medicine for the heart.
Keep making space for passion and intimacy
Keep being intriguing and spontaneous. These moments keep you both connected.
Challenge yourself often
Don’t sit in the same place, be different, choose different. Regular is your enemy.
Trust the process
Everything good and bad happens for a reason, even when you don’t understand why. Keep believing and trusting in the process. There’s always another side and a way to go through.
Please take these words with you, always. And, I love you.
Originally appeared on The Gottman Institute.
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