God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference
—The Serenity Prayer
The Serenity Prayer is not just for recovering alcoholics. It contains empowering truths for all of us. We need to know the difference between what we can change and what we cannot change. We need to have the courage to change the things we can, the strength to accept the things we cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
For a long time, I didn’t know the difference between what I could and could not change.
I thought my beliefs could change things that were unchangeable, such as my son’s physical disability, my husband’s struggling business, and my personality. Now I know that my beliefs cannot change biology, economics, or inherent character traits. But I was young then, and I thought, “If I believe I can, then I can,” just as the main character in the children’s book, The Little Engine That Could, believed he could huff and puff and pull himself and his cargo up a large mountain in spite of being a tiny train without much horsepower.
By the time I reached midlife, I realised there were some things I could not change no matter how much I believed I could. I was an introvert who would never gain energy from being surrounded by people no matter how many books I read, seminars I attended, or hypnotherapy sessions I underwent. The sun would rise in the east no matter how badly I wanted it to rise in the west so that it would beat down the warmth on a particular side of my house and fill my rooms with natural light. Furthermore, I could not change the basic needs of a romantic relationship, no matter how much I believed I could.
There was a deep security in being married
My boyfriend didn’t want to marry me
I thought I would be OK with my boyfriend not wanting to marry me.
I had spent my entire life as a married woman until I experienced a midlife crisis and left my family to pursue a romantic relationship with another man. Women who had survived similar crises told me that I should negotiate with my lover the terms of our romantic relationship. I did not. So, when my lover said he never wanted to get remarried, I didn’t think much about of it. After all, my first husband too had said he never wanted to marry and yet we ended up married for over 23 years. Why wouldn’t my lover be the same way? After all, he was a man, and aren’t all men the same in romantic relationships?
That was my belief.
After my divorce came through, I realised I did want to get married again. I had spent my entire adult life cradled and coddled in a stable family unit in which the members all cared for one another. There was a deep security in being married. What I didn’t know at the time was that the need for security was a woman’s greatest need in a romantic relationship. It was a biological need that could not be changed.
After three months of this push and pull in our romantic relationship, we hit a wall
But my boyfriend did not want to remarry. He had stated his intentions upfront and was dismayed by my sudden change of heart. What I didn’t know at the time was a man’s greatest fears in a romantic relationship were to feel inadequate and controlled. My sudden desire to remarry felt controlling. It appeared to him as wanting more than he was willing to give, which left him feeling as though he was not good enough for me.
After three months of this push and pull in our romantic relationship, we hit a wall. If nothing changed, we would have to break up. But we loved each other; why were we so miserable?
I didn’t give up
That’s when I realised there are things you can change through your beliefs just like there are things you cannot change. I just had to have the wisdom to know the difference.
Since I could not change how my boyfriend and I were biologically wired, I would have to change something else. If my boyfriend’s greatest relationship needs were to feel in control and adequate, then I would have to meet those needs. If my greatest relationship need was to feel secure, then my boyfriend would have to do things to ensure my security.
If my boyfriend outlived his life insurance policy, then I would be back to feeling insecure
I was, naturally, able to relinquish control in the relationship, having been trained by my father at a young age on how to let a man be the leader in a family. But I wanted a man who would open doors for me, pay for dinner, and make love to me all night. My boyfriend didn’t open doors for anyone and although he did pay for dinner, he no longer had the biological desire to have sex every day. He was older than me and wanted only companionship. He wanted a girlfriend whom he could create memories with.
I had to change my beliefs about what traits constituted a good boyfriend. Was it more important for him to open doors than it was for him to be kind? Was it more important for me to be taken care of than it was for each of us to take care of ourselves? Did I have to have sex in order to feel loved?
My boyfriend, on the other hand, struggled with the ability to make me feel secure. When I explained to him why I suddenly needed to be married because it provided the security I needed as a woman, he offered an alternative. He would change the beneficiary of life insurance policy from his ex-wife to me. That way, if he died, I would not become homeless. At first, it seemed like a viable compromise, but then the life insurance policy only extended for a handful of years and would not be renewed. If my boyfriend outlived his life insurance policy, then I would be back to feeling insecure. I could be kicked out of the house I shared with him at any time because I did not own the house jointly with him. I was just a girlfriend who had no legal rights to anything that was his because I was not married to him. And the tension between us grew.
If you change your beliefs, you can change your life
For a long time, I tried to bridge the gap for him. I bought a wedding ring and pretended we were married to create a false sense of security so I could continue peacefully within our romantic relationship.
Still, deep down, I continued to feel insecure.
My moment of epiphany
One night, after another fight, I blurted out, “None of this would be a problem if I felt loved enough.” If I could feel loved, then I could feel secure. I would no longer need to be married. He nodded in acknowledgement.
My belief of “I need to be married” had changed to “I need to be loved.”
Over the next few weeks, I noticed several things had also changed. When we were shopping, my boyfriend asked me to setup a joint account for the rewards points at the grocery store. A month later, he added me to his video rental account.
Slowly, my boyfriend took steps to show me that I was loved and included in the long-term picture he had for his life. It never would have happened if I hadn’t changed my belief about what I needed in order to feel secure. If you change your beliefs, you can change your life; you can get your needs met; you can find happiness.
Now, I no longer wake up at 3am worrying about my boyfriend dying after his life insurance policy expires. I sleep soundly and trust the future because every day, in every way he discovers another way to show me that he loves me.
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