Beth lay in the chaise lounge on her veranda hoping for a moment to herself. That thought alone caused the tears to stream down her face, again. Three years married and what had happened, she thought. She let her mind drift back to her dreams of being married to Carl: having their own home, decorating it the way they had enthusiastically discussed, camping and kayaking together on weekends, taking a couple's cooking course, sleeping late on Saturdays, and lazily making love on their private veranda . . ..
The phone rang. Beth wiped the tears from her eyes, took a deep sigh and reached for the phone. It was her mother, whose voice she had come to hate. "Beth dear, when you go to the market today, would you pick up my laundry? What time will Carl be here to mow the lawn? We've invited Aunt Carrie and her kids to your cookout tomorrow night so please pick up more steaks at the market. Oh, guess what I got you dear! You're going to love it. A new antique clock for your bedroom. It will match your new fixer-upper house that dad found for you. Your dad loves you. Hey, what do you think about taking cousin Fred with you when you go kayaking next week? You know, he's feeling a bit sad since he dropped out of school. I think it would do him a world of good . . .."
Beth knows she is letting her parents (and others) run her married life. She feels powerless to do anything about it. Carl resents it but he is no better. He too spends time trying to please his parents. And it doesn't stop there. Carl feels pressure to take their only vacation with co-workers who are insisting they join them on their sailboat. Neither he nor Beth loves the water, but how can he say no? Camping and kayaking are a fading dream.
What is happening to each of them-and to their marriage? They are living the dreams and values of others. What is the result of giving up their dreams? Carl has become more resentful and bitter and Beth's tears are more frequent than ever.
How can Beth and Carl rescue themselves and rescue their marriage? How can you do likewise? Some key tips:
Gaining independence: Being an adult means gaining independence from your parents and setting the terms for your own life. Choosing to live your life according to your parents', in-laws', or relatives' values over your partner devalues your partner. It also damages your independence and self-esteem.
Prioritizing your romantic relationship: In order for your relationship with your partner to become the highest value in your social life, that relationship has to get top priority. That doesn't mean that you don't enjoy your relationship with family, friends and co-workers. It does mean that you choose what time you devote to them according to your personal values and not the values of your parents or anyone else.
Protecting your privacy & setting respectful boundaries: You are not your parents' young kids or their indentured servants or a vehicle by which they get a "second chance" to live their own dreams. They have the right to design and control their own relationship-not yours. If they've set the unrealistic expectation that they own you, you can develop your skills in communication to clearly, tactfully and assertively set loving and firm boundaries with them. If you go through life trying not to hurt their feelings, you are guaranteed instead to hurt your self and your partner and as a consequence feel resentful toward your mother and others, as Beth and Carl do. Such healthy boundaries are essential, especially in cases where the 'others' are critical or abusive. Your life, your time, and your choices belong to you.
Fast forward two years: Beth and Carl have put these principles into practice. Beth now finds herself relaxing on her veranda. Carl no longer bends to his parents and his co-workers. Although they both spend time with both sets of parents and help them out occasionally, their efforts are more reasonable and not at the expense of their dreams.
Beth and Carl laugh when they think of forcing themselves to go on a distasteful sailing vacation with friends. That's an easy, gentle, "no thank you." They now happily take their private camping and kayaking vacations. They have also redecorated their home according to their modern aesthetic. No more antiques! At times this transition has been difficult, leading to tension with their parents, relatives and friends, They have learned to stay firm. They are closer to building the relationship of their own dreams.
Ellen Kenner, PhD, a clinical psychologist and host of the nationally-syndicated radio talk show, The Rational Basis of Happiness®, and Edwin Locke, PhD, a world-renowned psychologist, have co-authored The Selfish Path to Romance: How to Love with Passion and Reason. Both are experts on Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. For more information visit www.selfishromance.com.