How Body Positivity and HAES Just May Have Saved My Marriage

I grew up as a believer in divorce.

I realize that is an odd thing to say, but it is the best way I can think of to describe it. My parents had a relationship that drained both of them.  I recall, at the age of seven or eight, asking my mother why she and my father didn’t get a divorce.

They did – almost two decades later. Why did they wait? Ambivalence. Fear of the unknown. Belief that they could provide a more comfortable life for their children together than apart.

Watching them, I vowed that I would not put myself nor my children through the same. If I ever felt so unhappy in a marriage, I would not stay for the sake of the children. I would leave. Better that the children see me in no relationship at all, than to see me staying in an unhappy relationship.

And then I grew up and realized that life is more complicated than I thought as a kid. (Turns out that my younger self was judgemental and sanctimonious about many things I knew nothing about….marriage, kids, health as a middle aged person…..)

I found myself in the inevitable imperfect marriage.  There have been times when I have panicked. “What about my vow to never stay in a mediocre or unhappy marriage? Do the times when I don’t feel happy mean I should divorce my husband?” I felt my own ambivalence, so I could finally understand how my parents must have felt. I don’t always feel positively about everything about my husband, but he is a good man who takes care of his family no matter what. He is a caring and engaged father. Finances feel tight, and I know we can definitely provide a more comfortable life for our son together than we could separately. In truth, sometimes I felt trapped, even though I felt grateful for him.

These thoughts used to scare me. “Am I weak? What about everything my brother and I experienced when we were young, watching our parents in an unhappy marriage? Am I doing the right thing by staying when I don’t always feel happy?”

The other day a friend posted a meme on Facebook that had a picture of a woman who had fallen asleep on the couch, and a man covering her up with a blanket, and some text that said

Choose to love each other, even in those moments when you struggle to like each other. Love is a commitment, not a feeling.

Love is a commitment, not a feeling. I had read this before, but it still felt like such a stretch to believe it and live it about a partner. How could one feel committed when they don’t feel positive, loving feelings?

We’re going to hold that thought and sit with that question for a moment, while we talk about something related. So, what does all this have to do with body positivity?

Many people feel negatively about their bodies. Sometimes I feel negatively about my own body. “Loving Your Body” or “Being Body Positive” or “Being Fat Positive” can feel like impossible goals for some people, who write about striving for “body neutrality” if body positivity feels like an impossible pipe dream. What if you feel you “should” love your body, but you don’t everything about your body? Maybe you don’t like the way a certain part looks, or you don’t like the way you feel, or you wish you could do certain things that you can’t.

But what if “loving your body” didn’t have to mean “always or often having positive feelings towards your body?” What if instead, it meant that we commit to taking care of our bodies, no matter how we feel about them? Whatever that looks like to you. (And of course, knowing that feeling positive about your body, and whether and how you care of your body are all personal choices and not obligations nor barometers of personal worthiness).

My friend Sarah at Body Mine has made a profound impact on me by repeatedly referencing the what she refers to as “a commitment to love and care for myself no matter what.” She speaks about it as an actual promise that she made to herself, the same way one would promise a spouse or a child to love and care for them no matter what.

It helps me to think of it like loving my child or my parents or my spouse or my pet. I don’t love everything about them, but I still love them. So I try not to sweat it if I don’t love everything about myself all the time. It’s okay to love yourself even if you aren’t perfect in your own eyes.

Attempting to control my thoughts and feelings feels like too tall an order, and too obsessive. Caring for myself as best I can in any given moment (taking into account my feelings, resources, options, environment, physical condition and obligations in that moment) feels remarkably similar to just “good parenting” or “good stewardship”…..

So here’s where it all comes together.

Having recently realized that loving myself means caring for myself no matter what, and accepting the negative feelings about myself as being okay……well, I guess it all clicked for me that my marriage would be okay, too.

That even if I don’t feel one hundred percent positive about my marriage, one hundred percent of the time, it is okay. I’m not expected to feel that way. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I care for my marriage as best I can in any given moment (taking into account my feelings, resources, options, environment, physical condition and obligations in that moment).  Just like taking care of myself. I do my best to fulfill my commitment to good stewardship.  If there are problems, I can work cooperatively with my husband to solve them.  At the end of the day/week/year, we “do our best and forget the rest.”

My husband and I are celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary this week. And I am still a believer in divorce, but I no longer wonder whether I should get one.  I know that my husband and I feel grateful for each other, and we are doing our best to care for each other, and that will be enough. Our son will see a real world marriage. He won’t see a perfect one, but no child does. I know that we are all going to be okay.

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