Searching for Identity after Marriage and Motherhood
- 2007 31 Jul
Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Dear Dr. David,
I am a sixty-five year old woman, married to a strong Christian man. My problem is that for years I’ve lived my life for him, and for our three children. I’ve been active in the church, a devoted mother and wife, and now find that I don’t know myself. I have forgotten what I feel about things, don’t feel respected by my husband, and even feel lost in church. I don’t know what I like, and only have a vague sense about what I don’t like. I feel lost. I wonder if there are other women who find that they’ve given years of their lives away, only to wake up many years later with regrets. Do you have any suggestions for me now? ~ Lost
Your story is surprisingly familiar. Women, as you well know, have been taught by our culture and the church to be nurturers, children-bearers and supportive wives. There is nothing wrong with these roles, unless they occur to the exclusion of developing and nurturing themselves. Many, like yourself, find that they have given, and given, and then find themselves “numb” rather than feeling alive and excited about life.
I do have some suggestions for you.
First, it’s time to nurture yourself. We’ve gotten confused about self-nurturance and selfishness. Selfishness is caring exclusively about your own interest without regard for others. Self-nurturance is about caring for yourself as you care for others, and so you can effectively care about others. It’s time to consider what brings you joy and delight and participate in some of those things.
Second, embark on a journey of self-discovery. Since you’ve forgotten what you like and dislike, and perhaps even what brings you joy, you may have to go on an adventure or two. You can explore possibilities to rekindle curiosity and enthusiasm, such as visiting your local museum or library, walk in the park or take a long bus ride. Experiment with different activities to get the creative juices flowing again.
Third, guard against losing yourself in others. While there is certainly a biblical place for meeting others needs, we’re never to do that to the exclusion of self-care, or when others should be meeting their own needs. It’s critical that you learn the difference. Practicing setting healthy boundaries will be important work.
Finally, participate in group/ or individual counseling to assist you in rediscovering yourself. You probably cannot do this work alone, and need a guide to help you in this journey. A trained professional will help you determine if you’re clinically depressed and ways to overcome codependency. I also encourage you to read my book, When Pleasing Others is Hurting You, dealing specifically with codependency.
Also, bear in mind that your years of sacrifice and devotion are not wasted. Sometimes our weaknesses are intertwined with our strengths. Your willingness to serve others is a quality that God can use for good. Perhaps begin reclaiming your identity by acknowledging that you are a person with a deep-seated sense of service to others – a quality that, with a more balanced approach, could develop into a virtue.
Dear Dr. David:
I have often been told that I'm "too picky". My response to that has always been that I have a right to be picky. I didn't just want a husband, but a husband that I believed God had for me. I've always said I'd rather be alone than tied to the wrong person for the rest of my life, but it's still painful to face what's left of my life alone, when all I've ever really wanted was someone to share my life with. I've even prayed long and hard to have the desire taken away, but those prayers also go unheeded.
I am 45 years old and know that I am blessed in many ways, and am grateful for so much. However, after all these years, I have seen that pouring my heart out to God has been meaningless. He is still God and worthy of praise, but "Daddy" has let me down, and I can't seem to get past that. It's too late for me. Why are others more deserving than I?
I guess my point is that, while I'm sure your article on Settling for Less Than the Best was uplifting to many people, I don't think I'm alone in feeling that it's only a reminder that I've been left out in the cold. I know you must help many people, but there's no cure for this. ~ Too Late
I hear your profound discouragement. It is very tempting, when our prayers are not answered in the way we’d like, to become discouraged and doubt God.
I’ve often felt that discouragement is like being in a really, really bad mood, and a bad mood is a time when things get twisted in our minds. We tend to distort the truth, magnify the problem and twist facts. Difficult things become impossible; troubling situations become horrible; sad situations become depressing; possibilities become closed to us. You seem to be in that emotional and spiritual space.
My challenge for you is to practice, once again, opening your mind to possibilities. While it’s possible that God has decided to not answer your request for a loving husband, the answer is probably more practical than that. It is far more likely that you are sabotaging your efforts in some way. Having worked with countless men and women searching for love, I’m aware that there are dozens of “mistakes” people make that thwart their intended efforts at finding the love of their life. While you may firmly believe you’re doing everything right, and are completely ready for love, this may not be the case.
I was surprised to read that at 45 you feel that it’s too late for you to find a loving husband. This is an example of your profound discouragement, while the facts of the matter are that with the right counsel and direction, you still have many opportunities for love. Finding love, however, is both an art and a science—you need to understand what it takes to find love, make sure you’re completely ready for love, take the appropriate actions, and then make certain your spiritual house is in order as well.
I want to remind you that Abba Father has not abandoned or forgotten about you. You are His precious daughter, and He certainly wants to bless you.
Remember His words: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened.” (Matthew 7: 7-8)
Finally, consider getting some counseling for help with your discouragement. While it’s okay to feel discouragement, it’s critical not to get stuck in discouragement. We also need to listen to our discouragement to see if we need to make an adjustment in our direction. It can be a fruitful time to listen to God as well. I hope you’ll explore ways to get back in the game—and play it to win!!
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.