A while back I was interviewed by The Telegraph for their new weekly section in The Telegraph Magazine called ‘Change of Life’.
The interview was for a first-person feature about somebody who had experienced a significant life change in later years. Leaving my marriage after 37 aged 60 fell into this category.
The interviewer was keen to explore my marriage, why I finally decided to leave, what took me so long and what happened after I left.
But there was another question she asked which I thought was a really lovely one:
“What advice would you give to your younger self?”
Before I go into this, I would like to say that, as strange as this may sound, I wouldn’t want to change anything. Even though my marriage was a very unhappy one, the things I learned after I left (with the wisdom of hindsight) made it possible for me to build a wonderful life for myself and an amazing relationship with my husband Dave.
The Buddhists have a saying, “making poison into medicine.”
Having said that, if I’d known then what I know now, I might have shortened the learning process but I might not have met Dave.
Instead, I might have met someone else – and then Dave. I deeply believe that Dave and I were destined to meet when we did. We were ready for each other. Right or wrong, I do believe in timing.
As for the things I would have shared with my younger self, I came up with four:
Take time to get to know, like, trust and respect yourself
This is the most important advice I would give my younger self. And I would add, “do not look to other people to make you feel good about yourself. Learn to make yourself feel good about yourself.
Why is it so difficult to feel good about myself?
Most of us start handicapped by limiting beliefs about ourselves from a wide variety of sources – our parents, the education system, society, the media, even religion.
They tell us what we’re like:
“You’ll never amount to anything!”, “You can only attract a great person if you’re blond, tall and have a great figure!”
They tell us under what conditions we can be happy:
“You can only be happy if you have a good degree, a good and prestigious career and 2.4 children.”
And they also tell us who and how we can love:
“It’s not OK to love somebody of a different colour, race, nationality or sexuality.” “You can only marry someone within your culture, colour or religion or faith.” “Being gay is wrong!”.
And those messages get repeated again and again until we forget what we truly believe.
This is why you need to figure out what is really true for you – as I did.
How do I get to feel good about myself?
Start by getting to really know yourself. What matters to you? Who do you really like to hang out with? (clue: people who care and support you and, when you part company, you feel great), If you could choose, would you keep doing the same job you’re doing now? What makes you feel loved, appreciated?
These questions are just a start.
Don’t play the victim
You play the victim when you blame another person for your unhappiness or whenever things go wrong.
Instead of focusing on the things that irritate you about them – be it a friend who’s always late no matter how often you tell them, somebody who makes promises then forgets, a partner who makes their career more important than you – remember nobody is all bad nor all good, not even you! (I know, that’s hard to believe)
Remember also that you’re not responsible for the other person’s behaviour. You are, however, responsible for how you respond, for example when they treat you unkindly or take you for granted. This includes being responsible for staying in a relationship where this person acts consistently in unacceptable ways.
Having said that, going on the counter-attack or retreating into sulky silence (as I used to do) only makes things worse – and it doesn’t even work!
A more productive way would be to take a deep breath and see if you can respond more positively by which I mean calmly tell them that what they said or did was hurtful. Did they intend to hurt you or was it unintentional?
Remember, you’re not a doormat and if you (wrongly) believe it’s important to keep the peace at all costs you will end up feeling angry, frustrated and resentful and your relationship will suffer anyway – or, if you are intent in hiding your true feelings, your health will suffer.
Left unspoken, resentments can eat away at your love for each other – partner or friend.
Figure out your personal boundaries – how you want to be treated but, more importantly, how you do NOT want to be treated.
Then make it clear to the other person when they cross the line. How will they know if you don’t tell them – without anger, resentment or blame.
Just tell them, “this isn’t right”, “this doesn’t work for me”, “no, I don’t like this.” Then add, “what I would like instead is – and tell them. This is why you need to know yourself.
But don’t do this for every little thing or they will stop hearing you.
The skill is learning to let them know how their behaviour made you feel in a way they can hear you without becoming defensive. And give them the space to be willing to make the changes you’ve asked for which you do by responding with patience, curiosity as to why they said or did what they did and empathy – none of which means that you condone their behaviour.
You might like to consider that, if you’d had the same background and experiences they had, you might react in the same way they do.
Having said all that, changing the way you communicate sounds simple but it’s not easy – as I found out. But I had the support of Alan, my life coach.
If you feel you could use some help please connect with me free – either call me on 07903 795027 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t rush into a relationship
What do I mean by that?
You feel grateful for someone’s interest in you.
You hate being on your own.
You haven’t given any thought about things like what matters to you, what makes you happy, what makes you feel good about yourself, what makes you feel loved? What interests do you enjoy? How do you like spending your free time? Are you happy in your work? What do you do to make somebody else’s life a little better, in other words, how do you contribute to ‘your’ world (the people in your life)? And so on.
Then ask all these questions to the person you’re interested in.
Build a life for yourself that makes you feel loved (by family and friends), learn new things just for fun, try out new things, e.g. as a volunteer.
From this space, you will then be much better placed to choose a life partner.
Good sex starts outside the bedroom
I would say to my younger self,
“When you like your sex partner, when you admire their good qualities, when you value and appreciate each other, when you make each other feel heard and understood, when you’re playful and enjoy a good laugh together – then sex becomes love-making and there’s truly nothing like it.”
That’s what I would say to my younger self.
What would you say to your younger self?