As you’ve probably heard, women tend to offer other women LOTS of ideas around The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands (as Dr. Laura Schlessinger) would say. Cook this. Wear that. Don’t say this, certainly not at that time. Some of the advice is useful and a lot of it… isn’t. Good news is: YOU always get to decide which is which.
Listen in this week as I draw on my feminist coaching instructor, Kara Lowentheil’s, work to explore how socialization could be keeping you from creating the marriage dynamic you really deserve.
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‘s Up, Bees?!
Ever heard that you teach others how to treat you by the way you treat yourself?
Another way of saying the same thing is: what you’ll allow is what you’ll get.
I think it’s true.
Left to their own devices, humans tend to be focused on meeting their own needs – our brains are wired that way to ensure our survival.
Especially in organized religions and other pro-social groups, we’re taught to suppress the natural desire to self-serve in favor of serving the greater good.
None of that is inherently good or bad.
It’s just that everything exists on an continuum and the closer you get to either end of any continuum, the less healthy things get.
In this case, one end of the continuum is complete selfishness with no thought given to the welfare of anyone else.
Since you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably not all the way to that end.
The other end is complete selflessness where every resource is spent meeting the needs of other people with no thought at all given to your own needs.
You’re probably not all the way to that end, either.
You probably shuffle pretty close to it sometimes.
Most women do.
It’s really easy for us to get so caught up caring for everyone else, that we run out of energy before we get around to caring for ourselves.
So let’s start wiggling that tendency right now.
Grab a pen (unless you’re driving) and jot down some notes on this mini sociology lesson, courtesy of my Feminist coaching instructor – Kara Lowentheil.
We’re gonna use her work to shine a light on possible reasons why we tend to put ourselves last.
Please know that none of this is absolute or universal
most of us have heard messages like:
1 – Your value is dependent on what you accomplish and how much you get done
2 – Your value is determined by how much you do for other people
3 – Your value is determined by what other people think of you and if they are pleased
*this is particularly true when considering whether your husband is pleased with you BECAUSE for many, many years, a husband’s approval actually did determine lots of things about his wife’s freedom… this is less the case now, but there are often still traces of that message in the way women sometimes speak to each other about what she’s supposed to do to “keep him happy”
4 – Other people’s needs and desires are always “more important” than yours
*and by extension… valuing your time over what others want makes you rude and selfish – none of us want to be seen as rude or selfish (because, remember… we sometimes believe that our value is determined by what other people think of us) – so we do things we don’t want to do and become resentful because we say yes when what we really mean is no
5 – It’s important be pleasant and agreeable and that means making the most of what
you have and not wanting for anything more
6 – You don’t deserve time to yourself unless “everything” is done
*which of course… it never is
My grandmother, who grew up during the Great Depression, used to say: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
Anyone listening hear similar things from women you loved and respected as you were growing up?
Because of messages like these, it can be easy to assume that it’s “better” to not want anything or to be “low maintenance” or to “not be a burden” and “not put anyone out.”
Sounds lovely. Really.
And it probably works out sometimes.
Other times it really, really doesn’t.
Because believing it’s “better” to not want anything or to be “low maintenance” will most likely have you behaving in a way that teaches other people – most specifically husband – that It’s okay to neglect your needs.
Not because anyone is actively trying to be neglectful.
Just because you’ve been taught to not need anything and husband is following your lead.
Because you teach others how to treat you by the way you treat yourself.
If you’re always putting yourself last and rarely speaking up for what you need, the people around you will learn that that’s the natural order of things.
They’ll take their cues from you.
You – like most people – take your cues from passively ingested social rules like: “It’s better to be agreeable.”
Maybe it is.
But maybe not.
And maybe it’s possible to disagree or speak up in an agreeable way.
The point is – the more you know WHY you’re doing what you’re doing, the easier it’ll be to consciously choose what you want to teach people about how to treat you.
I think you deserve to be treated well. Always.
Not necessarily treated better than anyone else in your life – but certainly not worse.
Because I’m so passionate on this point, the very first thing I invite new Bees do in the Defying Gravity Revolution is compile a list of 25 things they really, really want.
The wants can be big or small, silly or serious.
They only have to make sense to the woman writing them.
Anything goes. Really.
Could be a Gucci bag. Or a brownie that doesn’t have to be shared. A nap. Silk sheets. A trip to Mexico. To never shovel snow again. To binge a favorite show uninterrupted on a Saturday afternoon.
Whatever the Bee wants, she jots it down.
Three years ago, that list would have felt like an impossible task for me.
I used to be the girl who genuinely thought I didn’t want anything. Whether consciously or not, I guess I thought it was better somehow to not.
I was a frugal person – to be sure – and I still am in some ways.
Some of that was a character trait I still like about myself. I want to be thrifty and decisive. I’m not into clutter.
Some of that came from messages I’d internalized about what it meant to be “good”.
It’s important be pleasant and agreeable and that means making the most of what you have and not wanting for anything.
You don’t deserve time to yourself unless “everything” is done.
So it’s totally okay if writing out a list of things YOU want seems like a new and strange activity.
And if it doesn’t – that’s great too.
We can all start where we are to examine what we allow ourselves to want and why we’ve decided on that.
Think back to the last time you either
stopped yourself from doing something you wanted to do
you did do something that you didn’t want to
Got that moment at the forefront of your brain?
Okay – keep that fresh in your mind as we run through my personal example together.
One thing I’ve been wanting for a while is to renovate my house and yard.
I KNEW that’s what I wanted, but I kinda slow pedaled making appointments with contractors at first.
Because I was operating on the assumption that “other people’s needs are more important than mine” and I was waiting for my husband to feel comfortable with the process.
He’s a bit of a SLOW decision maker (he might not agree with that assessment, but that’s my opinion) and I was sorta subconsciously forcing myself to wait on him to take the initiative and “approve” each step of the project.
Which was only one of the many options available to me.
Back to you – what’s the reason that you stopped yourself when you wanted to move forward or forced yourself to move forward when you didn’t really want to?
What did you think would happen if you told the truth about what you wanted and actually acted on your want?
No judgement here. Because judgement makes the truth go hiding. Which won’t help you at all.
We’re just getting curious – so you can get to know yourself better.
When I noticed that I was holding back until my husband felt more comfortable (all the while feeling really uncomfortable myself), I decided to have a conversation with him about what I wanted and why that was important to me.
The first one did not go well. It was short and loud and ended in no forward progress on the goal.
At that point, I spent a half day feeling sorry for myself and blaming him for making it impossible to have what I need.
Because I’m a human.
I’m also a Master Certified Life Coach AND a full fledged Bee (the kind with wings, not the kind that rhymes with witch)
So… I eventually decided to reload the conversation.
First step – consider what might be going on for him.
Because we’ve been together over 20 years, I know he’s a bit of a skittish decision maker – especially when large sums of money are involved and there are multiple options at play.
He’s probably thinking: should we renovate? or just move?
All the various scenarios that could ever come in to play are rumbling around in his head so he’s not ready to make a decision.
So when I restarted the conversation, I started off with my theory and checked in with him.
Here’s how that sounded: “I know you might be thinking about how best to leverage our resources. Here’s what I think about that… what do you think…?”
I also made a point to be super clear about what was important to me and why by directly saying:
“I don’t want to wait a long time to make this decision because we’ve already lived here 10 years and our kids are getting old enough now to have friends over and we both know that what we’ve got needs a face lift.”
It was uncomfortable, but not unbearable.
I heard him. I heard me. We went back and forth.
I felt my rule about “being agreeable and going with other people’s needs” raise its little hand.
It wanted to interrupt.
I told it that I see it and note it and shhhh.
After that conversation, we ended up starting the financing and as of today – we are deep into remodeling.
It wasn’t smooth or easy. But it WAS worth it.
Because I want the rule to be that my voice matters too.
Not at the expense of his – of course – that’s why the conversation went on for a long time over a couple days.
I wanted BOTH of us to be okay with the plan and I was willing to do the challenging work of hanging with it til we landed there.
How bout you?
What are YOU willing to try to create the thing you really really want?
Might take some uncomfortable conversations. Maybe several of them.
Might require you to really examine your desires and see if there are multiple ways to get them met (little hint: there always are)
Getting what you want might call on you to be honest and vulnerable – which sometimes feels worse before it feels better.
And here’s a little hack to help you through.
Imagine that I hopped in a time machine and flew to the future where I see, with my own eyes, that you get exactly what you want.
Then, I fly back to today to tell you that you that I’ve seen the end and it all works out exactly as you want it to.
I wouldn’t lie about that.
Check in with how it feels to KNOW that you get what you want.
I’m guessing it feels less stressful than wondering how it’ll all turn out.
I would assume that you’d be willing to try more and bigger things to get there if you KNEW for sure that you’d arrive exactly where you want to be.
I imagine that you wouldn’t make bumps in the road mean very much if you KNEW that it was all going to work out in the end.
What do you think?
Now… sometimes you’ll take inventory of the thing you did or didn’t do and you’ll discover you like your reason.
For example, I don’t love jumping on the trampoline with my kids.
BUT… I will sometimes because they want me to and I want to have fun memories with them.
In those cases, I’m operating from the belief that I can opt in or out – and opting in or out means nothing about me.
I’m also operating from the belief that sometimes I want to put my kids needs above my own.
I see myself doing it and I decide to on purpose.
In those cases, I like the limits I’m putting on myself because I WANT to play with my kids more than I want to keep my feet on solid ground.
That’s not always the choice I make, but it sometimes is.
And I make it purposefully either way.
You can too. Which brings us back to the moment YOU’VE been thinking about this whole time.
Here’s what I know about that moment where you DID the thing you didn’t want to do or DIDN’T do the thing you wanted to do:
If you’re not putting yourself in a position where you can lose something, you’re not playing a game you can win anything.
What that means is, if I’m not willing to have possibly uncomfortable conversations with my husband about the house and yard makeover – conversations where I might fail to get what I want – it won’t be possible for me to achieve my goal because I’m not showing up to put it on the table.
I know this.
And sometimes I don’t come to the table.
I do my best to notice when I’m not and get to work figuring out why.
There are lots of reasons – many of which probably stem from bridal shower suggestions or baby shower advice like:
1. Marriage is a lot of work
2. It’s all about the compromise
3. Plus various suggestions that imply it’s a wife’s job to keep her husband happy
a. Use this recipe, wear this slinky thing, definitely don’t say THIS, certainly not at THAT time
Our mamas and aunties and grannies meant well. They said all of that stuff because they wanted us to be happy and successful in our marriages. They genuinely thought what they were saying would help us along the way.
Use their advice if it feels good when you do.
And if it doesn’t, consider the idea that you can love on granny for what she offered you AND disagree with her on some points.
Doesn’t mean anything about you or her.
Simply means that you’re taking what she said and adapting it to the kind of life you want to live – the kind of marriage you want to have.
Check. You. Out.
Choose courage, Bee and keep on flying!