Embrace your Less than Perfect Life and Find a Happier Marriage
Perhaps the worst thing anyone ever came up with is the idea we can "have it at all" -- the idea that we can be perfect partners, parents, lovers, friends, and employees. We can do it all and can do it all without help, support, and complaining, all the while looking like a supermodel. The idea that we can be all things to all people sets us up from the start to fail -- the eternal quest for more money, more affirmation, and to "have it all", is frankly, exhausting. In my experience as a divorce attorney, this leads to two very tough problems to overcome, resentment and disappointment, as life is less than perfect, sometimes culminating in a trip to my office.
I know someone who is beautiful, smart and ridiculously talented. She does it "all" and recently moved into a beautiful new home, all the while planning a big family party within a week's time. Of course, she will do it all herself, she always does. But can she really "have it all"? Absolutely not, there will be a cost. She will give up time to enjoy all the people who came to share the day. She will give up the opportunity to see, and maybe snap a photo, of a moment that will never come again. She will miss out on a conversation that may have made her laugh. She will unwittingly cause unnecessary stress on those she loves, as she is less available with her time and her patience. Ultimately, we do and continue to do until we collapse physically and emotionally, and it takes a toll on our relationships. The secret is no one really wants or expects us to do it all, no one cares if we have a little help, leave a bed unmade or dinner is take-out. When eternal gratitude is not forthcoming, we get upset, our feelings are hurt, and our relationships suffer. Perfection takes time, time at the gym, time at the office, time to clean the house, time volunteering for yet another school event. The end result is you run out of time to be the "perfect" partner. The good news is, most people embrace a little imperfection in us when we finally learn to embrace it ourselves. Life without perfection is easier and less stressful for everyone. Happy marriages are not perfect, just two people who are more accepting of life's imperfection. So how do we stop the perfection madness? How do we embrace the mess of life and have happier relationships? Here are few ways to try.
1. Give yourself a break. Really, because beating yourself up is no fun for you, or anyone else watching. Most of the perfection quest is internal, what we think people expect of us. In reality, no one expects us to do it all. We have to make choices everyday, precisely because we can't "have it all." We can have many amazing, fulfilling things, but each will take its place in the importance of the moment and involve sacrificing something else. Why are we so afraid to let people see we are less than perfect? Once you stop beating yourself up, others will actually appreciate that they too are allowed to be less than perfect. Others will hold you to more reasonable standards, and you may even forgive a screw-up, or two, by your spouse, your children, or your friends. Just do the best you can because it is all anyone can do. Most of the time, your best is better than you think.
2. Ignore the Joneses, they are screwed up too! In a world full of "reality" TV, where no scene is shot without full makeup and false eyelashes are grocery store attire (wait, no one actually goes to the grocery store, their assistant does that!), it is easy to get caught up in the idea that everyone else has it easier and better. They are thinner, sexier, richer, smarter, and the list goes on. Things are not always as they appear. There is no amount of money, fame or beauty that can insulate you from this less than perfect life. People all share the experience of grief, loss, stress, anxiety, sickness, death, disappointment, and divorce (theirs or someone they love). Just because someone's pain is different, does not make it less than yours or easier to handle, no matter how it appears. Appreciate the imperfection of life for everyone, and you will begin to accept your own mess with a little more dignity.
3. Get some perspective. Watch the evening news, walk the mall, or glance around the DMV. No one gets to "have it all", but what we do have, for the most part, is pretty good. Appreciate your messy, imperfect life. We should be striving for perspective, not perfection. Perspective keeps people out of my office by making them generally happier and more appreciative of what they do have. Looking for perfection is the death knell of so many marriages and often, the reason people give up when their relationship is anything less than this "I can have it all" ideal.
4. Value time above all else. Being 'perfect', and attempting the illusion of having it all, costs us precious time. No matter how much money you have, you can't buy more time. The older we get, the more we appreciate this reality, as we are inevitably faced with loss and the realization that our time here is finite. To be able to appreciate a moment in time without worrying it is not perfect, is a gift and helps us prioritize what really matters.
5. Surround yourself with people who support your imperfect self. Let's face it, there are people who know us as lawyers, doctors, mothers, fathers, employees, and then there are those that really know us, and surprisingly, love us anyway. These are the people who give us permission to screw up, forgive us, and sometimes even admire our ability to overcome our mistakes. These are the people who remind us it is okay not to be perfect, we are lovable in our imperfection.
6. Be authentic, not perfect. You will be amazed at how many people share your same troubles in life, who have insecurities and experience self-doubt. They wonder if they are good enough as spouses, parents, or at their job. To be honest with others about your struggles, makes you real, and real, is likable. This includes your spouse, be vulnerable to let them see you need help sometimes. If you are perfect, you don't need anything or anyone and everyone needs to be needed. The great thing about marriage is you can fill in each other's skill set.
Some days I am a great lawyer, completely focused and dedicated to the cause. That same day I may be a crappy mother who is short on patience and time. Other days, I am a focused mom, enjoying a sweet moment with my children that will never come again. There are days life balances better than others, but every day is a compromise and a challenge to have reasonable expectations of myself and others (especially my husband). You can't "have it all", but you can have a lot. We need to recognize that sometimes that is enough.