I am a wife, mother, stepmother, sister, friend among other things. I assure you I did not plan on being married three times, having three children a decade apart from each marriage, including a five-year-old at age 50. I assure you that it was not a part of “my plan” to marry a man with two children, and to have an ex wife in our daily lives. I assure you I did not plan on bankruptcy and losing my home, I assure you it was not “my plan” to move ten times in 25 years and starting over so often. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined how my life would turn out! Overall, however, I wouldn’t change a thing. (well, maybe one or two things)
Did I mention that I am a psychotherapist? I have been practicing for over 22 years so along with my personal story, my advice comes from decades of counseling women, who, among other things, have difficulty accepting how their lives have turned out. In my clinical practice, many women come to me in distress, either with depression or anxiety and an inability to move forward after a failed marriage or the end of a relationship and say to me, “This is not what I signed up for,” “This was not my choice,” “My life did not work out as I planned.” Many say: “I was supposed to be married by now,” or “I was not supposed to be divorced,” or “I did not choose to be a single mom” or “I was supposed to be happy.” Part of my role is to encourage women to look inward and to help them see the patterns in their lives and the role they play in the way their life turns out. I know this may sound harsh, yet it is true—and necessary—if one is to heal.
A crucial part of one’s healing is to change how one thinks about a situation and about life itself. Even though many women take action to get out of a toxic relationship, or an unhappy marriage, they often remain a “victim” of the “life that happened to them,” or the life they think they “did not choose.”
So often, women stay stuck in the beginning stages of the healing process because, even though they are no longer a victim of mistreatment in a relationship, the way they think about the relationship or it’s end, or the person they were in the relationship with, is what keeps them a victim.
I realize that some women reading this will be unnerved. I am proposing that women change the way they think about life, about men, about marriage, about themselves. I challenge all women to hear this single statement (and I say this as gently as I can): If the life you end up with is not the life you planned the problem is not with life, it is with the plan!
Don’t get me wrong; I am a planner. I like to make lists and check off my accomplishments. I am not talking about setting personal goals and accomplishing them. It is when your “plan” involves a plan for another person, that it becomes unhealthy. As women, we are taught to find our Prince Charming, our Knight in Shining Armor; what pressure this is on any man to live up to that! Not to mention the fact that they do not exist! When a woman expects a man to provide her happiness, she puts herself in a victim state. A man cannot cure your depression; he cannot “complete” you. A man cannot heal your childhood wounds. Expecting him to be the mother or father you never had creates the breeding ground for resentment on both sides.
Sometimes, women are so caught up in “the plan” to get the man or keep the man who they’ve decided is key to their happiness that they abandon themselves. Often, we know someone is not right for us, or the man we are with tells us he thinks you are not right for each other, yet we refuse to let go of our plan and become determined to win him back. We may stay in a city we know is not where we want to live, or even move to a city for our partner. We may have children we did not necessarily see ourselves having, knowing if we say no to parenthood it would be a deal breaker. We may accept not having children of our own because our partner already has children and does not want to have more. There are so many ways women may abandon themselves in order to stay in a relationship but and when it doesn’t end up as planned, they blame their former partner or husband for not being different. Not taking responsibility for our choices and being angry that the object of our affection did not “measure up” keeps women victims! Healing begins the day we take responsibility for our choices. This may happen months, even years after we leave that toxic relationship or marriage, yet only then can we begin our own healing.
Author Marianne Williamson puts it beautifully in A Return To Love, where she talks about how women often see a relationship as the key to their happiness: “Love that is given to get something isn’t love. So when people say, “I’ve loved too much,” what they really mean is they didn’t get the return on an investment or demand.” When we hold men hostage to our plan and our expectations, this is not love. Love is the ability to accept if someone does not want the same thing in life as we do; love is the ability to let him go! When we use the word love and we use a relationship to serve our own purpose, we re-inforce our own neediness.
So, if the life you end up with is not the life you planned, look inward. Chances are there are aspects of “the plan” that were rooted in a void needing to be healed instead of filled. If you are boldly honest with yourself, you bought into what so many women do: expecting the man, the marriage, the dream of a perfect family—husband, two kids, dog, house, etc.—to heal the void. This is an unfair and impossible expectation. On some level, many women still find comfort in not taking responsibility for their choices and believing that their circumstances in life were not a result of the choices they made. This belief must change in order for true, authentic healing to begin.