Overcoming Insecurity

insecurity

They come into my 6th grade accelerated math class with confidence,  believing that they are smart and capable. Few of them have ever experienced struggle in math and so, because of the nature of my course and my teaching philosophy, when they first encounter a concept that is not readily apparent, they panic.

Because in their minds, it’s not simply a matter of not understanding this one type of math problem, it’s a potential threat to their very self-image.

And as we progress through the first few weeks of school, that earlier confidence is often replaced with a growing sense of insecurity. 

 

You’re never insecure unless you have something good that you want to hold onto. 

 

In the aftermath of my divorce, I had a strange sense of nonchalant assurance. It was strange because my confidence, in both myself and my future, were at an all-time low. Yet, perhaps because I both had nothing else to lose and couldn’t summon the energy needed to be anxious about small things, I was gifted a respite from normal insecurities.

The more you have, the more you can lose.

 

For months, I lived almost without fear. Without inhibition. Without insecurity. I adopted a “whatever” attitude when it came to love or money or any of those other things we so desperately attach ourselves to. The chasm between what I wanted and what I had was so great that I couldn’t imagine ever crossing it.

 

When we desire something, we focus more on the pursuit of it than the lack of it. We may even reach a sort of truce, a tacit acceptance of its absence. 

 

And then ever-so-slowly and without intention, I started to fall for someone who was supposed to only be passing through my life. And suddenly, I had something to lose.

And as science has found, we have evolved to fear loss almost more than anything else.

______

 

We all have times when we’re feeling anxious or uncertain. You may feel confident and adept in one area of your life and insecure about another. You may find that your doubt-whispering inner voice is triggered by certain situations and that your anxious brain, once activated, spirals into endless questions and worries.

 

At its core, insecurity indicates that we lack belief in ourselves.

 

Insecurity, although common, is not a healthy state to occupy for long. When we’re operating from a place of fear, we’re likely to make poor decisions and contaminate others with our own worries. When we express excessive doubts and try to grasp on too tightly, we have a tendency to push others away. And that’s not even counting the horrible way that insecurity makes you feel.

 

Understanding Insecurity

 

Signs of Insecurity

Not everyone responds to insecurity in the same way. Some people express it openly. Others try to stuff it down with their favorite junk foods. Or build big muscles in an attempt to hide their self-doubts. Insecurity can be found in the agoraphobe afraid to leave the house and in the high-powered executive who secretly feels like a fraud.

Even though the outward signs differ, there are certain internal signals that you can attune to in order to recognize when you’re feeling insecure –

 

Overreacting  

If you find that you are consistently having strong emotional reactions that are out of line with the situation at hand, you may be experiencing a period where you are questioning yourself. These self-doubts mean that you can easily misinterpret or catastrophize normal exchanges.

 

Compulsive Questioning 

Insecurity seeks certainty. And so it keeps asking questions in an attempt to either confirm or deny the fears. And no matter how many reassurances are uttered, it’s never enough. Sometimes these questions arise within our minds and our never vocalized. Rather, they are bounced around within our own echo chambers. These unasked questions are often even worse than the ones we speak because we have nobody to call us out on any irrational thoughts.

 

Restlessness

When you’re feeling insecure, you’re not comfortable in your own skin. This can lead to a feeling of being on edge or even irritable. This can manifest as a sense of wanting things to be different, feeling like you’re waiting for something to happen or even in an increased difficulty in sleeping.

 

Excessive Social Media Use

Whether you’re making comparisons with others or obsessively checking how many “likes” your recent post received, an increase in social media usage suggests that you may be having a crisis of confidence. Pay special attention to how your time spent on social media makes you feel. If it’s constantly making you feel “less than” and yet you’re continuing to return to source, your insecurity has become a problem.

 

Attention or Validation Seeking

Insecurity wants other people to tell you that you’re okay. It seeks an external stamp of approval to quiet the internal voices that question if you’re enough. If you notice that you’re increasingly looking for others to pay attention to you or express their approval, it’s a sign that your trust in yourself is lacking.

 

Causes of Insecurity

There is not a single, universal cause of insecurity. For some, it is a constant underlying buzz, always present and rooted in beliefs formed in childhood. Others experience it more on a situational basis, with a corresponding ebb and flow in intensity. By pinpointing some of the precursors to your own insecurities, you can begin to view them as a reaction rather than a core part of who you are.

 

Fear of Loss

This is probably the most common underlying source of insecurity. Maybe, like my incoming 6th graders, you fear losing the labels that you identify with. Or maybe you are concerned about losing status. Or wealth. Perhaps you are afraid that if you say the wrong thing or act the wrong way, that you will lose somebody that is valuable to you. Insecurity occurs when you have something but you fear that your grasp is not strong enough and that it will slip right through your reaching fingers.

 

Periods of Transition

Whenever we are in a state of flux, changing from one state or role into another, we often feel a sense of inadequacy due to underdeveloped skills and unmastered knowledge and a fear of the unknowns inherent in change. This can lead to a sense of being an imposter (even once the learning curve has leveled) or avoiding transitional periods whenever possible.

 

Times of Uncertainty

Some people handle a state of limbo better than others. For those prone to anxiety, periods of time that have an abundance of unknowns can give rise to insecurity. It’s not uncommon to fret over every decision, turning the perceived pros and cons over and again until your mind is spinning. This lack of trust in your abilities to make a solid choice can lead to decision paralysis or an acquired helplessness if decisions are always relegated to others.

 

Concern of Not Being Enough

This cause may begin in childhood, with an absent or hard-to-please parent giving the impression that you’re not good enough for them. This sense of insecurity may be generalized or may be tied to a particular skill or trait that your parent held in particular esteem. In adulthood, this sense of not being enough can develop after (or in anticipation of) rejection or abandonment.

 

Inadequate Communication

Our brains despise a vacuum. So when you’re in a situation where you receive inadequate feedback or information, that void can trigger a sense of insecurity as you begin to ponder the worst. One of the problems with this type of insecurity is that it is difficult to tell what may be your intuition cluing you in that something is amiss and what is simply your brain telling you scary fiction.

 

Gaslighting or Emotional Abuse

This is the most malevolent insecurity, as it is intentionally cultivated by somebody else in an attempt to manipulate or control you. This sort of covert abuse is challenging to recognize and overwhelming in its intensity. If you’re starting to doubt yourself and your perceptions ay every turn and you cannot pinpoint a reason, you may want to examine your relationships for signs of control.

 

Overcoming Insecurity

 

What NOT to Do to Overcome Insecurity

Insecurity is an awful feeling. It’s a restlessness, an agitation that precludes feelings of peace. It often causes us to act in unhealthy or ineffective ways as we search for external fixes for our internal plight. The following are some of the common methods attempted to eradicate insecurity that are ineffective at best and maybe even harmful.

 

Pretending to Be Someone You’re Not

There is definitely something to the adage, “Fake it until you make it” when you’re navigating a new situation or challenge. But some take this too far and assume an entirely new persona in an attempt to please others or fill a perceived role. This will ultimately only compound your problems as you begin to feel like you will only be accepted if you hide your true self.

 

Assigning Responsibility to Others

I see this response so often in my female students. When they’re feeling insecure about their looks (just like every other preteen and teenage girl on the planet), they often turn to social media in a search for validation and approval. With every “like,” their spirits soar. And then just one cruel or harsh comment can undo every positive reaction. And in a strange way, the negative comments ring more “true” because they echo the self-doubts that are already within. And there’s another problem with fishing for compliments – at some level, you always know that you’re baiting the hook.

 

Baidaiding

I’ve noticed that when I’m feeling insecure, I develop an urge to purchase new clothes or makeup. This is a type of bandaiding, covering the discomfort with a temporary covering in an attempt to make me feel more confident. I’ve also noticed that this reaction often backfires, not only offering a short period of relief, but also creating feelings of regret.

 

Fixation

This reaction is often seen in those struggling to avoid their ex’s social media. Their own insecurities are manifested in an obsessive focus on their ex and/or their ex’s new partner. It’s both a distraction from the insecurity and a source of fuel that feeds the insecurity. Like with bandaiding, it may feel good in the moment, but often leaves you feeling worse after.

Immediately Discounting the Feeling

Some people have trouble admitting to feeling insecure as it is seen as “weak” or vulnerable. When insecurity is immediately brushed aside without consideration, it leaves no room to understand and address the actual causes of the doubt. In the worst cases, the insecurity is hidden behind a steamrolling force of false bravado, the ego leaving little room for compassion.

 

Attempting to Control

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If we’re worried about losing something, we have a tendency to grasp on even stronger. As though we can prevent loss through sheer determination and force of will. For some people, insecurity manifests in an attempt to orchestrate everything around them. To make it “just so” so that they can maintain the illusion that control can replace trust.

 

What TO Do to Overcome Insecurity

Insecurity can become overwhelming. Your fear of taking the wrong step preventing you from moving forward at all. Your endless comparisons leading you to believe that you’ll never measure up. Your hesitation at facing the truth keeping you blinded.

Insecurity feels all-powerful. Yet you’re really the one at the helm. Here’s how you can learn to overcome your insecurity:

 

Accept That Certainty Is an Illusion

Consider for a moment the antonyms of insecurity – safety, protection, invulnerability, and certainty. Those are all states that we strive for. We yearn for that ultimate sense of security that the lucky among us experienced periodically as a child. And the reality is that even that occasional sense of ultimate stability was only because we were too young to understand how easily it could be threatened.

A state of insecurity is inevitable. No foundation is immune to cracks. No rug is completely slip-resistant. And change and loss are guaranteed. When you’re feeling insecure, it’s because you’re fighting against the natural and the inevitable.

There’s a sort of confidence that can come from accepting this impermanence. From stopping the illusion that if you just work hard enough, hold on tightly enough, or control everything enough, that you can keep things as they are.

 

Detach From the Outcome

When I first started dating again, one of the many fears that held me back was the concern that the relationship would end, like my marriage, with some sort of abandonment or betrayal. I led with that fear, feeling insecure in my ability to maintain a relationship with somebody who wouldn’t behave badly.

During one particularly difficult evening, I pulled out my journal and made two columns – things I can control and things I cannot control. Under the first list, I added items like choosing a partner, learning to handle my triggers and not tolerating abusive behavior. Betrayal and abandonment went in the second column. No wonder I was feeling insecure; I was trying to control the outcome when I could only influence the process.

No matter what you do or who you are, it will not be enough for some people. And as long as you have acted within your values, done your best to be kind and put forth your highest effort, they’re opinions don’t matter.

 

Strive to Get Out of Your Head

When you’re in an echo chamber, you risk only hearing your own critical thoughts bouncing back at you. It’s amazing how our minds can take one little fact (They didn’t text back immediately.) and spin it into an entire narrative (I bet they’re falling out love and they are currently flirting with someone that they met at lunch. I won’t go through that again. I wonder if I’ll be able to get out of the lease…).

And like with anything, the more you allow your mind to travel that path, the more of a habit it will become.

Take a break from your own thoughts. Surround yourself – and listen – to others. Even, perhaps especially, those you disagree with. Get moving, when your body is moving forward, your brain naturally tags along. Strive to enter a flow state through art or sport or work, where time ceases to exist and the activity has become all-consuming.

 

Recognize That Insecurity Is Often Fleeting and Cyclical

I’ve just wrapped my seventeenth year teaching. And I’m still insecure at the beginning of every school year. I doubt my abilities to form relationships with the kids, I worry that they will be unable to master the material and I question my own capacity with the mathematics. I still feel insecure, but it no longer bothers me. I trust that it will build through the first week of school and then begin to dissipate as I again find my stride.

And this is often how insecurity operates. It swells and recedes, according to the calendar or some other external rhythm. This sort or periodic insecurity doesn’t require much intervention. Just an acknowledgement (Oh, I’m feeling insecure again.) and faith that it will only be temporary.

 

Set and Accomplish Meaningful Goals

When everybody gets a trophy, every trophy becomes meaningless. It is much the same with our personal goals. When you set (and even reach) a low bar, you fail to build any confidence in yourself. In fact, you may even find that you outright dismiss your achievements because you know that they don’t really represent a challenge.

Insecurity begs us to set these safe goals, to stay in a place of guaranteed success. Yet staying there only feeds the self-doubt. Instead, try something new. Something scary. Something difficult.

Yes, you may fail (And so what if you do?). But you also might surprise yourself. And that trophy certainly has meaning.

 

Separate Mistakes From Your Character

When you’re feeling insecure, mistakes become very threatening. An error in judgment or a misstep can easily be interpreted as a defect in character, thus both confirming and inflating your feelings of unworthiness. When you’re operating from this place of low esteem, it’s easy to see others as flawless and fear that you are somehow irrecoverably broken.

Of course, neither is true. And your mistakes are a sign that you are learning and trying, which is an indication that you’re brave and persistent. Both excellent qualities to have.

 

_____

The end of the first nine weeks is often a crisis point in my 6th grade accelerated math class. The kids are insecure, questioning their abilities no matter how many times I reassure them that struggle is normal and no matter how much they see the kids around them falter as all. Some give in to this feeling and drop out, preferring to move to class where they are again assured of their top standing. 

But most tough it out. And even as they question their ability to master the math, they keep trying. When they receive a poor grade, they no longer see that number as a reflection of themselves. They begin to accept that struggle is not only inevitable, but often desirable. Instead of turning away from challenge, they embrace it.

They become willing to take risks, trusting that they will find their way through. Mistakes become normalized and simply part of the process. They slowly start to again see themselves as smart. As capable.

But this time, those beliefs are not so easily threatened because they have been constructed to withstand the inevitable tremors and obstacles that will come their way.

And ultimately that’s how to overcome insecurity – Not by believing that your foundation is solid, but by trusting that your footing is capable and malleable. That even when things change, you’ll be able to adapt and thrive.

 

 

Advertisements

Three Tricks to NOT Take it Personally

Years ago, I was walking Tiger in the neighborhood when I had a rather unpleasant encounter. A woman was walking her two small dogs on the opposite side of the street. Her dogs, which couldn’t have been more than ten pounds apiece, pulled against their restraints, barking wildly, in a determined attempt to get to my hundred-pound pit bull. My dog, meanwhile, simply kept walking, maintaining his eyes on the street ahead.

“I can’t believe they allow pit bulls in this neighborhood,” the woman hissed towards me.

I was shaken that day. I kept wondering what this woman had against me or my well-behaved dog. I put it aside, but her words continued to resonate whenever I had Tiger out in public (which was often).

Just recently, I was walking Kazh, our new, smaller pit bull who is learning to be as well-behaved, when I again encountered this woman. This time, her small dogs were unleashed in her front yard and one sprinted towards Kazh, barking all the while. “Oh boy,” I thought. “Here we go.” I readied myself for Kazh’s response to the encroaching potential threat and the woman’s response to yet another pit bull allowed in the neighborhood.

Kazh sniffed curiously at the small, loud dog and immediately demonstrated that he simply wanted to continue his walk. I used him to attract the loose dog back to its yard, where the woman was able to scoop him up.

“What a beautiful dog,” she exclaimed, reaching down to pet Kazh.

As we talked, I learned that her adult daughter had once rescued a pit bull that she then surrendered to her parents. They tried, but were unable to train and integrate the dog into their home and finally had to make the difficult decision of finding it a new home.

During that conversation, I realized that when the woman had made the anti-pit bull comment, she was still dealing with the frustration and feelings of failure she experienced with her daughter’s dog.

Her comment had nothing at all to do with me, with Tiger or really even about pit bulls.

Her response was entirely borne from her own pain and defeat.

______

I know better. Yet I do it anyways.

When my husband is short-tempered, my first inclination is that I did something to cause his frustration.

When a student grumbles about something, I examine my lesson for reasons for the poor attitude.

When an internet stranger sends me a message informing me that my message is awful, I begin to question all of the work that I have done.

And when my first husband decided to abandon me in favor of another wife, I fixated on how he could do that to me.

In every case, I’m making the same cognitive error. I’m assigning causation where there is only correlation.

Inevitably, I discover that my husband had a rough day at work. I remember that I teach teenagers and they are contractually obligated not to express pleasure in anything their parents or teachers do for them. I recognize that people who read my writing or watch my videos are usually in great pain and sometimes they lash out at whoever is available. And I remind myself that my ex husband is a scum bucket (and also was experiencing his own crisis).

 

The reality is that somebody’s action or response always says more about them than it does about you.

 

When you take things personally, it muddies the emotional waters, stirring up the intensity of the feelings and making it difficult to proceed calmly and rationally.

The following are three easy tricks to help you remember to not take things personally:

 

1 – If it wasn’t you, would it still have happened anyway?

Maybe you’re struggling trying to come to terms with how your spouse could have cheated on you. Or you’re trying to calm down after a particularly nasty customer or client went off on you. Perhaps your ex flaked on picking up the kids. Again.

Take yourself out of the equation for a bit. If it wasn’t you, would it still have happened anyway?

This is a powerful question that can help you distinguish between those things that you have some agency over and those things that are truly somebody else’s problem.

If you realize that it would have happened in the same way without you, then it’s really not about you at all and it gives you permission to let it go. If you discover that you have a role in the situation, then you also have some power over changing it.

 

2 – Why else could they have been motivated to undertake this action?

Part of the reason that we have a tendency to take things personally is that it’s an easy conclusion to reach. It’s neat. It’s tidy. It’s direct.

And yet that doesn’t make it true.

It’s amazing how much of our responses are tied to assumptions born of past experiences rather than the present reality. Before you conclude that this was because of you, examine some other potential causes for the action or reaction.

Remember too that life is rarely black or white, either or. Just because a part of this may be yours to own, it doesn’t mean that you’re responsible for the entire package.

 

3 – Can you avoid receiving negative responses?

Take a moment and think of someone you greatly admire or a book or movie or restaurant that you absolutely love. Then, go to an online review site and look to see how many one-star reviews this person, production or place has received.

I bet there is no shortage.

It’s a potent reminder that nobody and nothing is right for everyone and that even the best are sometimes told that they’re awful. And that everybody is always viewing the world through their own lens, clouded by their own experiences and beliefs.

 

Taking things too personally is both a selfish and a self-sacrificing act. It implies that you’re the center of the action and also makes you responsible for the well-being of those around you. It leads to unnecessary pain and frustration and distracts from root causes and possible solutions.

It’s important to remember that you’re not always the intended target. Sometimes you’re just collateral damage.

 

Related: Just Because it Happened to You, Does Not Mean it Happened Because of You

 

 

I Am…

I Am…

Before you read any further, please pause for just a moment and allow your mind to complete that thought. Make a note of the word that rises to the surface.

_________________________________________

 

In a recent yoga class, the instructor asked for us to silently completely the sentence, “I am…”

The first word to come to my mind was,

 

I Am Capable

 

Quickly followed by the more critical thought, “Great, so I’m the Toyota Camry of people – dependable, responsible and dull.” And then I remembered that the Camry has been on the most-stolen lists for many years. So apparently there’s at least something desirable about them:)

As the class progressed, people were asked to share their words:

 

I Am Strong

I Am Present

I Am Beautiful

I Am a Child of God

I Am a Mother

I Am Powerful

I Am Sweaty

 

I wondered if those were the first words to come to their minds, or the ones they settled on when they realized that they would be asked to share. I know for me, there are days when my impulse would be to fill in the blank with –

 

tired

lonely

overwhelmed

sad

frustrated

 

I then thought of the power that whatever follows those two little words holds. Saying “I AM strong” is much more potent than uttering “I feel strong.” Stating “I AM sad” is so much more intense and influential than “I feel sad.”

I AM speaks to the soul of you. It says that whatever follows is so important, so vital to who you are, that it cannot be separated from you.

 

Be mindful with the words you choose to follow “I AM…”

 

Are these words kind or critical?

Do they describe a permanent part of your character or do they reflect something that is temporary?

Do they illustrate something that you believe about yourself or are they repeated the words that others have said about you?

Let the best of you, the heart of you, follow “I AM.”

Say it.

Share it.

Believe it.

I AM…

 

 

 

 

 

What You Gain From Sitting in the Fire

My alarm trills. It’s a cruel imitation of a bird’s chirp welcoming a new day. Except it’s too early for the birds. Or for most humans, for that matter.

But still I get up. Just as I have most every morning for the past four months.

Not because I really want to.

But because I know that the benefits are worth the temporary discomfort.

After I swallowed the first mug of coffee, I strapped the pup into his weighted pack in preparation for our morning power walk, the reason for the early start. Like me, he’s groggy, yawning and stretching as I try to secure the clasps of the pack on his undulating body.

Our first few steps are a bit creaky as we shake off the remnants of sleep. But by the time we exit the cul-de-sac, we’ve hit our stride.

Even as I dread the shortened nights of sleep and the often-unfavorable weather, I’ve come to enjoy our morning exercise. This morning, we got to gaze at the full moon for much of the course. Other times, we get to see the neighborhood fox on a pre-dawn hunt or the deer grazing in someone’s yard until we surprise them with our arrival.

IMG_1847
The local fox in the daytime.
IMG_1908
The full moon in the pre-dawn hours this morning.

 

I listen to podcasts over our hour-long trek, but it’s mostly a time for me to think. Which at this time of the year, often means that I’m reflecting back on how the school year has gone, considering the lessons I’ve learned and the adjustments I want to make for next year.

Much of my consideration is directed towards my 6th graders, because in many ways, they have the biggest challenge and growth potential over the year. I think about the ones who’ve made it, who successfully navigated the unfamiliar trial of accelerated math. And I think about those that didn’t quite make the cut.

All of these kids have to demonstrate the ability just to be accepted into my class in the fall. So why are some able to overcome the challenge and others never quite find their stride?

As I turn a corner, I catch a whiff of a fire pit that must have hosted a fire the night before. I smile as I think back to a recent yoga class. Although I certainly wasn’t smiling during the class.

The instructor apparently had some sort of vendetta against quadriceps that day, as we seemed to spend the majority of the 75-minute class in some sort of squat or lunge posture.

“Stay with it,” the teacher said, “You grow by sitting in the fire.”

And that’s the answer, isn’t it? The reason that some students make it and others don’t. The reason that some people return to hot yoga even with the anticipation of difficulty and others vow to never return.

The reason that some people make progress in their lives while others make excuses.

It always amazes me how often people who are looking for advice on how to get into shape, how to rejuvenate their finances, how to navigate a relationship or how to organize their homes know what they should be doing.

They don’t struggle with the know-how.

They falter when it comes to sitting in the fire. To do what they know needs to be done, even when the doing pretty much sucks.

 

Sitting in the fire is…

The discipline to exchange temporary discomfort for some future benefit.

The commitment to staying on the path you want for yourself even when the terrain becomes difficult.

The courage to tackle something that may lead to failure.

The faith that the pain isn’t as bad as it feels and that it won’t last forever.

The gratitude that you’ve been given this opportunity to test yourself.

And, at least for me on my morning walks, it’s the knowledge that there’s another mug of coffee waiting for me when I get home.

 

When I left that difficult yoga class the other day, I immediately decided that the efforts were worth it. I was proud in my determination to persist even when child’s pose was calling to me. I felt energized by my perseverance and calmed because my inner critical voice had nothing to criticize.

My students are voicing similar sentiments as they look back at their year. They share how hard it’s been. Remember those moments where they wanted to give up and return to the safety and ease of an easier class. And then satisfaction and self-respect creeps into their countenance as they recount those periods of intense effort and the gains that were made from the achievements.

Kazh the pup has been able to celebrate as well. We’ve put him through the proverbial fire these past few months. We have high expectations for training and behavior and we’ve put lots of time and effort into teaching him how to be in our pack.

And it’s paid off. His first big even, a March of Dimes charity walk for babies, was this past Saturday. Here he is walking a trail filled with people, dogs and strollers without his leash. And he did awesome. It was amazing to watch his face as he settled into the day and into the expected behavior. He was confident. He was proud. He was accustomed to challenge and so he didn’t let it phase him.

 

 

IMG_1897
I love how he’s looking at his Daddy to make sure he’s doing the right thing:)

 

When you sit in the fire…

You feel at peace with yourself because your values and actions are in alignment.

You gain confidence in your ability to overcome and persevere.

You become stronger with every fire you endure.

You feel honor for keeping your promise to yourself.

And you feel empowered by your ability to make it through.

 

When I finally pulled out of the driveway this morning to go to work, I was a little more tired than I would have been if I had spent that extra hour sleeping. But I was happier that I didn’t simply hit the snooze button.

Because although I have regretted making excuses, I have never once regretted sitting in the fire.

 

Don’t Forget to Plan Your Marriage (While You’re Busy Planning Your Wedding)

I visited my local Starbucks the other day to enjoy some coffee and free Wi-Fi. I was engaged in relatively mindless grading, so I let my ears wander to the conversations around me. One in particular caught my attention, as it pertained to the seemingly endless numbers of my former students getting married. There was a large group at the table across from me — a young engaged couple, parents, wedding planners (yes, plural) and a priest. The plans they were making were as detailed and complex as those made for a presidential inauguration.

We hear so much about wedding planning. There are entire industries built around helping the couple carry out their “perfect day.” It’s easy to get carried away in the romance and the idea that a single ceremony represents the entirety of a relationship. It’s easy to confuse the ability to control the details of a day with the potential for controlling an entire life. It may be easy, but like the eyes of the audience at a magic show, it is attention focused in the wrong direction. Wedding days should be special; it is a time to celebrate your bond and make a public declaration of your relationship. However, don’t be so busy planning your wedding that you neglect to plan your marriage. Here are a few things to keep in mind for your Big Day, and the days (and years) after you say “I do.”

 

Compromise
Weddings begin with compromise. Perhaps she wants to elope and he wants a large, family-filled church ceremony. Hopefully, a middle ground is agreed upon where each partner feels listened to and has his or her critical needs met. Compromise only beginswith the wedding day. As two lives become entwined, differing views and priorities are inevitable. Make sure you know how to navigate these differences in a balanced way.

 

Influence
Have you ever been to a wedding where you couldn’t tell if it was a day for the bride or the bride’s mom? Just as your wedding is your day and should be created in your image, your marriage is yours and yours alone. By all means, listen to the advice of those around you but remember that you make the ultimate decision of what your relationship will look like.

 

Children

Will children be welcomed at the ceremony or even given a featured role or instead will the invitations politely implore the attendees to leave their offspring at home? I’m always amazed to discover the number of couples that don’t discuss the desired role of children in their lives after marriage. Some, who see children as a natural progression from marriage, simply assume that their future spouse feels the same. Others have the discussion but fail to consider the repercussions if one partner later changes their mind or biology conspires against them. These are important – if difficult – conversations to have.

 

Religion

Apart from those betrothed couples that met at church, there will almost certainly be some differences in childhood or adult religious beliefs and practices. Since marriage vows have historically been performed within a religious framework, the wedding provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss the role and significance that religion will take for the couple. This conversation needs to extend beyond the wedding day. It’s even more important that the couple agrees on where every Sunday morning will be spent than on who will lead the service on the day the marriage begins.

 

Invitations
Most people are very deliberate about the friends they invite to be a part of their wedding. They want to surround themselves with others who will be supportive, realistic, and share in their joy. Be just as deliberate in choosing the friends that surround your marriage. We are influenced by those we spend our time with; choose wisely.

 

Beauty
Much time and money is put into creating the décor and ambiance of a wedding day. Just because the day is over and the budget is back to reality does not mean that you have to forgo beauty. Find ways to incorporate items that make you smile into your daily life. Any table is brightened by even the simplest centerpiece.

 

Words
The focus of a wedding is on the words spoken between the spouses-to-be — the promises and declarations to love, honor, and cherish. Even after the walk down the aisle, words, whether spoken or written, are still an important part of a marriage. Never assume that your spouse knows how you feel and never underestimate the power of a positive word or two. The best part? When you say how much you love or appreciate your partner, it fuels those positive feelings in you as well.

 

Balance
Many wedding traditions have a deliberate balance between the time spent as a couple and the time spent apart. Even when you married, it is important to spend time away from your partner, either alone or with other friends or family. Make sure you have discussed your needs and expectations for your balance of time; it’s important to reach an agreement between the two of you so that no one feels smothered and no one feels abandoned.

 

Tradition
Some of the meaning in a wedding comes from tradition — elements handed down through generations that create a sense of unity and belonging. Just because the ceremony has ended does not mean that there is not room for traditions in your marriage. Look to your families of origin for rituals that you can implement in your new union or seek to create your own traditions. These conventions will serve to strengthen the bond between you and your spouse and give you a foundation upon which to build lasting memories.

 

Money
It is the rare couple who marries without a budget. Just because the presents are unwrapped and put away and you have begun to get used to married life does not mean that the budget goes out the window. Make sure you and your new spouse continue to talk about money. Agree on common financial goals. Separate needs from wants. Don’t let nickels and dimes create a wall between you and your betrothed.

 

Publicity
A wedding is a public vow, whether it be made in a private ceremony or in front of thousands, it is still declaring your commitment to the world. After the wedding, life settles down and it’s easy to confine your marriage to your private life. Or, even worse, expose your frustrations with your spouse but keep mum about the joys. Even after the wedding, make a habit of speaking positively about your spouse and your marriage. Sharing this commitment publicly helps to keep it alive.

 

Fun
The best weddings are fun. They have a sense of levity and humor. Any mishaps are laughed about and the challenges are kept in perspective. That’s pretty good advice for a marriage, as well. Not every day will be a party but you can strive to find humor and laughter in every situation. Find ways to bring excitement and fun into your marriage. The associated smiles are priceless.

I’m sure that the couple I overheard at Starbucks will have a lovely wedding (and I am SO glad that I’m not footing the bill!). I just hope they have planned as thoroughly to have a lovely marriage.