I married young, fresh out of college. It wasn't until after my divorce, much later in life, that I fully realized all of the things that I lost during 23 years of marriage.
1. I quit my career.
He who brings home the paycheck makes the rules. I allowed myself to be placed on an allowance with checkbook "pop quizzes." Even beyond losing my income, I lost the self-esteem that came from my career, as well as that part of my identity -- as I was a well-trained and skilled physical therapist.
2. I lost touch with my friends.
It was "follow-the-leader" time. I let him decide who, what, when and where.
3. I lost my voice.
I wanted to go along to get along. I said yes when I wanted to say no. I didn't want confrontation. Silence and compliance became my norm. It worked for a while, especially for him. All appeared fine on the surface, but in the end I rebelled. I should have been honest and put up with my husband being unhappy sometimes.
4. I lost my self-confidence and gave into my fears.
Afraid of rejection, humiliation and being alone, I didn't tell him what I wanted emotionally or sexually or anything. I didn't negotiate for what I wanted. Instead, I snuck things. Acting like a child, I was treated like a child.
5. I lost parts of myself and settled for a one-dimensional life.
If I didn't see myself as an equal, how could he? The truth is... the role of a subservient wife probably wasn't enough and probably never would have been under the best of circumstances. (See below.)
6. I lost my honor and had an affair.
By having an affair, I wore the scarlet letter. I became the bad wife who needed to repent. I lost all power and negotiating leverage in the relationship. As hurtful as it was to my husband, it was self-destructive too. Having affairs compromised my values, went against my moral code, and broke my marriage vows.
These losses are related, of course. People who feel trapped or unhappy in their marriages often act out by having affairs. As I alluded to above, it's a form of rebellion against authority or constraints. If I had felt empowered to express my unhappiness verbally, discuss the problems in the marriage, and make the changes to my life and marriage that I needed to be happy and fulfilled, I probably would not have had an affair.
Very importantly, all of these losses are highly dependent on both cultural and individual beliefs and personalities. If my ex-husband had been a feminist with an egalitarian view of the role of women in society and relationships, and if the surrounding family and culture didn't promote female subservience, things would have been quite different!
Conversely, if he was a traditional, socially conservative, close-minded, patriarchal, controlling, or chauvinistic type of man, I would not have been able to negotiate much or make necessary changes to my relationship, regardless of how much power I had. Perhaps my only alternative would have been to exercise my power to leave a bad marriage much earlier.
A good or ideal marriage can enhance a woman's power. A good husband encourages his wife to have and develop her own independent identity, self-esteem, social network, career, hobbies and life!
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