This is the first post of Lessons on Marriage, which will no doubt become a regular series as I continue to figure this thing out. 

Last week, I was at the gym for my weekly training session. After a particularly difficult and some-what failed circuit of upper body exercises, the following conversation happened:

Trainer: What is that? Why are you shaking your head?
Me: I feel pathetic.
Trainer: Why do you feel pathetic?
Me: Because… I feel fat.
Trainer: Why do you feel fat?
Me: (Another headshake) Because I’m unfit.
Trainer: Ok, fat and unfit are two completely different things. Don’t confuse the two. I am putting you through intense workouts that are going to push you. When you’re here, you’re here to work hard and get stronger. Don’t think about the negatives, because as soon as you do, your commitment is going to drop and all of a sudden, yeah, things are going to feel even harder.

She spoke to me in a way that I would have spoken to a friend that was getting down on themselves. Her reply wasn’t the classic, “You’re not fat!” that I hear from my well-meaning family, friends, and dear husband, instead, she was firm. It was the “cut the crap” attitude that I would have used to encourage a teammate. It was about time I got a dose of my own medicine.

While I’m finally getting back into the habit of taking care of my body, I have also (finally) put my mental and emotional health as a top priority in my life. While I have pledged 100% authenticity and honesty, some things are, in fact, too personal to be published on the internet. So I’ll catch you up to speed this way: After a decade of learned habits and coping methods manifesting in my life after severe bullying (age 10-13), it all came to a final moment of pure self-destruction. But the funny thing about marriage is that it’s not just self-destruction anymore. My actions, behaviors, emotions– everything about me– directly impacts my husband, our relationship, and the life we have together.

So after years of not wanting to talk, I knew it was time to see a therapist.

I was tired, so tired, of falling into the same patterns and tendencies, feeling like poor behavior and negative thoughts were simply who I was. But here’s what I’ve learned: the seemingly strong traits I possess (first to speak my mind, first to let my temper flare on the soccer field) are all reactionary. Something happens, I feel a strong emotion, and I react in whichever way I learned was best during my pre-teen years of self-preservation. Not exactly appropriate behavior for a young adult, huh?

Lessons on Marriage
Caleb lets me think I’m leading when he’s really the one who keeps us steady.

I have it in me to be the kind and gentle person I want to be. I’ve seen it in myself and I know others have, too, based on comments like, “Why can’t you be like this all the time?” Well, because I was harboring old feelings of shame, embarrassment, resentment, and confusion without even knowing it, that’s why. Talking about painful, decade-old memories and crying on my therapist’s couch for the millionth time in just five sessions has been, well, therapeutic. Not even Caleb knew to what extent the bullying had affected me. But how could he? I never talked about it and when I did, I brushed it off as “not a big deal.” And that’s what I had been telling myself for years. Years! I never allowed myself to acknowledge that it was, in fact, a big deal and was terribly difficult. I never owned up to it and let myself heal. I just kept getting older, hoping and waiting for it to go away on its own.

Asked a year ago what kind of effect those three years in grade school had on me, I would have said something along the lines of, “It sucked at the time, but going away to high school changed all that.” Now? I know it’s an integral part of who I am. Whether I like it or not, those were some big, formative years in my life that have forever shaped how I deal with a multitude of scenarios. Owning that pain has given me a degree of control in my life that I never thought I would have.

I will always be me– passionate (for better or worse), impatient, unwilling to “put up with crap.” But I’m also loyal, sympathetic, and sweet. I am finished with letting something that happened so long ago continue to govern my behavior. Because, as I said, it’s not only me anymore. I have an incredibly patient life partner who deserves a healthy, happy, and uncompromisingly mature wife with whom to grow.

I think I’m finally getting there.