Nothing that we go through in life is a mistake.
It’s a point I make a lot, and for very good reason. We all go through tough times, and yes—bad things do happen to good people. In these moments, the natural inclination is for us to see ourselves as the victim. We wonder, “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?” or “WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS?” And then slowly but surely, it starts to pick away at our self-worth, and ultimately how we perceive ourselves. We start making compromises we wouldn’t otherwise make. We forget our own worth and start looking to others to validate us.
photo by Katie Rain
When we are in these situations, it’s really hard to see the bigger picture, and to believe that every experience, whether positive or negative, comes into our life to teach us some kind of lesson; to shape who we are; to teach someone else; to be an example; to give us strength; and to fight for things worth fighting for.
That’s how I like to look at a very messy and very painful divorce I went through at a young age. I was married at age 19, moved from LA to New York City immediately after a large, Armenian-style lavish wedding, leaving my friends and family behind. Almost immediately after we arrived in Manhattan, I felt controlled by another person.
I was spoken down to, daily, and treated more like a servant than a wife. This marriage wasn’t a partnership; not even close to 50/50…I’d say more like 95/5. I felt trapped, alone, and pressured to drop my career aspiration to go to law school. But I didn’t want to. At the time, I was a student at NYU and I wanted to go to law school, and he wanted me to stay home and start a family. After months of fighting and making zero progress, I came to a very important revelation – I HAD MADE A HUGE MISTAKE.
I thought I was in love, but I wasn’t. I thought this person and I were on the same page about our values, but we clearly weren’t. I thought this person loved and respected that I had career ambitions, aspirations and THINGS I wanted to accomplish in life independent of my partner. And I thought this person would put me, his wife, first. The reality is, NOPE. None of these things were true, and while I’m not sitting here and saying I am totally innocent, the fact of the matter is that when I announced I was leaving, things turned UGLY. REAL FAST.
I’ll spare you the details, but if you are curious, I’m happy to sit down with you one day over a cup of matcha and tell you ALL about it. I will tell you this. When I made the decision to leave, I was locked out of my home and had to get the police to let me back in to my home to gather my belongings. I moved out and was forced to live in a hotel for six months until I graduated from NYU. My parents had to rescue me numerous times by coming to NYC, my hair was falling out in clumps in the shower from the stress of it all, my eating disorders were at an all time peak from the stress, I was frail and so thin, and I carried around so much guilt because my father spent his hard-earned retirement money keeping me afloat financially until I graduated from NYU and could move back home to Los Angeles to heal, mentally and physically.
But although I was treated like dog shit by another person, I never once regretted my decision to leave, even though that meant ugly rumors about me circulated. I couldn’t see above the clouds at the time, but I did have a firm conviction that there was some reason WHY this happened to me.
It wasn’t until years later, when I met my husband, that I finally realized – OH SHIT. OKAY, so this is why I had to go through that experience. BECAUSE HAD I NOT GONE THROUGH THAT TIME IN MY LIFE, I WOULD NOT BE IN THE RELATIONSHIP I AM TODAY. I would have walked away when shit got hard.
So guess what? Looking back, my divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me. Nope, my marriage is not perfect by any means. But I’ll tell you something, had I not gone through this divorce, I wouldn’t be married to the man I’m married to now – I would have walked away when the going got tough. Because let’s face it, unless you are in a relationship with a god of sorts, relationships, even great ones, are hard as hell.
Here are my learnings — enjoy!
If anyone tells you that they have the perfect relationship or that they never fight/disagree with their significant other, they are lying. Guaranteed. You and your partner grew up differently, came from different parents, and even if you have similar interests, you came from different upbringings and think about things differently. So unless you are with a person who’s a total pushover (or maybe that’s you?) and he/she/you don’t share his/her/your POV, you are bound to fight. The key is learning HOW to fight, and how to fight well. For me, that means checking my ego at the door. I’m not great at it, and sometimes I need a reminder. But once the ego is checked at the door and my heart is vulnerably open, I am in a calmer place to discuss a situation, versus emotional, irrational outbursts. Do I still do that too? YEP, I’m human. No shame in my game. It’s about doing your best. The point is, if you get into a relationship and think about running away because you are fighting, even if frequently, you are always going to be running. IF YOU LOVE YOUR PARTNER, AND THERE IS MUTUAL RESPECT, THEN LEARN HOW TO FIGHT, AND FIGHT WELL.
I know you are probably thinking that I’m off my rocker saying this, because in the midst of turmoil, we oftentimes feel weak, self-conscious, and oftentimes even embarrassed. Think about it. Say that you are going through extreme financial hardship. During those times, you feel weak and helpless. But it also makes you strong, and to do whatever you need to do in order to provide; and when you overcome it, you feel on top of the world. When it came to my marriage, that tough time ultimately gave me strength, courage, and self-respect, and gave me a voice to stand up for myself, and to know what I want and don’t want. I became a more confident and more well-rounded, happier person.
You have to complete yourself, and look to another person to add to an already complete you. When I look back, I got married because I was unhappy living at home and I thought that this person would make me happy. What I learned, though, is that even if this person was my dream person, if I wasn’t happy or fulfilled myself, then it wouldn’t have worked anyway. After I got divorced, I worked hard AT LOVING MYSELF for almost 10 years, before I felt complete enough to be in a committed relationship. Again, I’m not trying to paint a perfect picture here. I have bad days; I do sometimes feel sorry for myself and want my partner to make me happy. But he cannot do that for me. He can support me, listen to me, and be a sounding board, but he cannot make me a complete person. The takeaway? Do what ever you need to do to take steps towards loving yourself.
At the time, my friends started getting married (early), and I thought it was exactly what I should be doing too. Don’t get into a relationship because others are doing it. Enter a relationship on your own time and on your own terms. You’ll be a much better partner for it.
I remember the best advice that my mom gave me when I was thinking about leaving my ex-husband. She said, “Nicole, I have two questions – do you love him? And does he respect you? If the answer to both of those questions is ‘yes,’ then you need to go home and make it work because relationships are hard.” I knew very clearly that the answer to both questions was ‘no.’ But if I did love him, and he did not respect me, then that wouldn’t have worked either. In my current relationship, I know that I both love my husband and he respects me. So when we start annoying each other, or fighting, or get so mad at one another that we even threaten to walk away, I always come back to those two things. Yes, I love him, and yes he respects me. And it’s mutual. So remember, while you need love as the basis for everything, there also needs to be RESPECT.