Catherine Shanahan's Deep Nutrition asserts that what our mothers ate even before they were pregnant with us affects how our bodies grow and our capacity for health. Likewise, the model for relationships that our caretakers provided when we were children affects how capable we are of forming adult relationships: how comfortable we are with intimacy, how we communicate, how we express emotion, how we handle conflict.
If we're lucky, our mothers ate well and took excellent care of their bodies for decades before they gave birth to us. If we're lucky, our parents modeled healthy arguing, respectful expression of emotion and a deep capacity for loving intimacy.
Most of us weren't that lucky.
I'm thinking of the ways I connected with my husband when we were actively married (we're now separated and are waiting to divorce), and I'm disappointed by the lack of depth and trust I reached. In my childhood, my primary experiences of love and intimacy were fraught with abuse, neglect and lack of respect. I learned to distrust the people I needed the most and I learned to fear the people who loved me most. My mother was my source of both greatest affection and worst terror. It's awful to have to return to the person who hurt you for comfort. It does not contribute to healthy relationship patterns.
But I've done my best. I began therapy at the age of 22 and never stopped. I've focused on healing my childhood wounds and re-learning how to interact with others in friendship and love. By the time I got married at the age of 41, I had conquered enough of my demons that I willingly cemented my life to that of another. I took the plunge.
How deep I was able to go in that plunge was up to me. I take responsibility for my performance as a wife, but I refrain from beating myself up for how much I sucked at it. My husband certainly had his part in our marriage, but I'll leave him to make his own public statement and focus on me. I was hampered by what I thought marriage was supposed to be. For better and for worse, my five married years were the best I could do.
During my marriage, I did the following to try to be the best person possible: individual talk therapy, anti-depressants, exercise, meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, group therapy, psychiatric support, journalling, self-education, Ayurvedic treatment, time with friends, learning self-soothing techniques and being careful with my sleeping and eating habits. I didn't know how else to improve myself as a wife, and yet I never connected with my husband in critical ways, ways that solidify a friendship and feed a marriage. My understanding of intimacy left great gaps between us. I thought I was doing it right, but now I see the ways I really wasn't capable of building the foundation of a true partnership because I just hadn't learned those skills at the critical age when I needed to.
Apparently you can spend decades going to therapy, reading relationship books, building your self-esteem and focusing on love, but still not reach the level of trust and openness necessary for a healthy marriage (obviously the partner has their role as well, but I'm keeping the focus on me for now). It all depends on where you start and I started with quite a disadvantage. I've worked unusually hard on improving myself in every way I could think of since I was 22. Twenty-five years later, I'm realizing that as admirable as my self-improvement accomplishments are, they haven't gotten me to the point at which I know how to build a truly intimate, loving relationship. That's no one's fault, it's just how life works out sometimes, but it leaves me newly disappointed in how things that are beyond our control can affect us decades later.
I don't feel bad about this. I'm simply determined to keep building from here, looking for new ways to stretch myself, and I won't give up. I might or might not ever achieve the kind of intimacy that others enjoy, but I plan to die trying and for me that's a hopeful statement.