By: Dr. Gwen Smith
My passion was clarified by my failed relationship. My life journey as a child and a young pre-married adult was good. As a young married adult moving to New York City, with no relatives even in the remotest distance, it took on many sad, frustrating, painful twists and turns. I cried bitter tears for years before I finally became calloused, working out my situation t bring relief.
Prior to getting married, I taught Engineering to high school boys in Jamaica. I enjoyed my career, was used to being independent and didn’t foresee that I would miss it so early in my marriage. I was certain I knew what my life would look like once I got married and had a family, but it all turned out to be quite different.
As a young woman, my only goal and desire after getting married was to be a stay-at-home mom. That desire didn’t last very long, as there were incidents of physical and emotional abuse that crept into the relationship. I was not prepared or willing to tolerate it and so I went back to school to pursue further education, which was what I knew to do to get me out of the situation. School was my drug. It kept me sane so I could be there for my kids on every level.
Having learned the value of my independence, I yearned for it again. I was not enjoying being told as an adult, whether or not I could have certain clothing necessities or anything else for that matter, when money was not an issue. Those were really trying times.
As I came to discover, respect and love was clearly not at the foundation of that relationship and I gradually allowed myself to become bitter during those moments lashing out in frustration and losing my cool at times just to protect my sanity and preserve my dignity and self-respect. I was not being a role model for my children in handling those frustrations and that began to bother me. I decided that it was going to be over. Finally when it ended I was mystified by the lightness and peace floating throughout my soul. I felt freedom. I really had not realized how much of a burden I was carrying for the 17 years. No doubt my children had felt it too, despite all the fun I had worked hard to create in their lives.
I knew that someday I would have a platform to share my story. And that the end of it could only be better than the beginning. That was a ‘strange’ circumstance for me. And, I discovered later after listening to many women’s stories, that it was not quite as strange as I had first thought it to be. Most recently I had listened to yet another story. This time it was told by a physician recounting his childhood. His dad was abusive to his mom all throughout his childhood. His parents were also physicians. This brought many memories and the reality of how widespread this problem is. It’s shocking to think that it respects no educational level, class, race or religion.
Despite this, many women are suppressed in sharing. I know I told it to everyone who would listen, after a while that is. And now, I am sharing it with the world that this has been a part of my journey. I was admittedly nervous to start, and as I conclude, it becomes even clearer how these apparent setbacks were turned into victories. I now feel no shame. I have triumphed.
We owe it to others to share our struggles and the resulting triumphs so that others’ lives can be saved. 85% of domestic violence situation occurs against women. And, you may be completely blown away by this next statistic as I was: Between 2001 and 2012 the number of US Afghanistan troops killed was 6,488 compared to 11,766 women in domestic violence situations in that same time period. I might have been a statistic had I not ended that relationship as well.
I continuously ask myself what I can now do to contribute to other women’s lives, not just those who suffered abuse, but all women’s lives. I am neither a crisis counselor nor a counselor, and have no desire or qualifications to handle that. And though my business mission empowers women to discover their life calling and passions, helping them to start a business aligning with their passions, I would be remiss in thinking that their lives and what they are set out to achieve in business are compartmentalized and separate from what happens in their relationships. I fully realize that the realities of our lives affect our businesses and because of this reality, I share my journey and what I learned to inspire and empower women as they build their businesses and lives.
Decades ago, I already knew what my calling was. It wasn’t clear to me how it would all evolve, and I started recording my stories, with dates, to share on my platform about lessons learned. That journal mysteriously disappeared; and though I no longer have dates, I still have those memories permanently etched in my mind. They will always be there. And what used to be years of bitterness has amazingly turned into wisdom and enlightenment.
Just as equally etched are the life transforming lessons that I have learned from those experiences, the victories I’ve had despite them, and my journey to eventually end up being an acknowledged role model by my adult children. There is no greater feeling than hearing your adult children say: “You are the most powerful woman I know”, “Thanks because of you leading the way I could start my business”, or, “You and Ms.… [name withheld] are the only genuine people I know”. Three separate statements from three separate adult children! Wow! That really moves me.
So, what did I learn and what can I share that could be a possible lesson for you to empower your choices and your greatness in your relationships as you build your life and your business?
What I learned was that I am stronger than I thought. I now embrace my superhuman wisdom, strength, endurance, increased tenacity, courage and boldness in the face of deep challenges. I also learned to tap into my intuition and to be more alert to it, trusting it more. I now allow it to guide all of my choices. I use my lessons learned to continue to inspire myself to greatness and to show empathy and understanding for others with similar experiences through their own journey.
It’s timely to point out that some of these lessons I learned during my relationship and others, way after. During and since that marriage, I became an avid reader of many books on relationships, on setting boundaries, on certain profiles of the opposite sex. The knowledge gained have been eye opening and wisdom-imparting.
There were questions that I asked myself: how could I have been in the face of all of what was happening that may have made a difference? How were my attitudes and actions contributing to the situation? Was there a way to have gotten more respect? What could I have done differently? I came away with these realizations about my actions and attitudes and five major lessons learned that I’d like to share.
I gave up my rights to be respected in many situations to accommodate my partner to make him happy and to have him appreciate me as a loving wife. It produced the reverse effect. My recommendation is to speak up immediately when something violates you and to not let it slip under the rug. It will only get worse especially if your partner has a tendency to not listen and respond to your concerns. Be willing to make concessions and don’t give up your rights 100% of the time it will most likely lead to a loss of respect and being taken for granted.
I did not establish my boundaries at the very beginning, and when I had learned to do that, it hardly made a difference. My recommendation is to speak about what you’ll tolerate from the start, setting clear consequences of what will happen if the boundaries are violated. “If you ever put your hands on me, I will lea
ve.” Be clear about it. Draw clear lines in the sand and assertively enforce them consistently. Then the person will learn who you are. It can’t be OK today and not so much tomorrow. This creates confusion. If you say you will do something and you do not, be prepared to reap the negative consequences that will likely accompany your inconsistency. I have found that people will initially fuss at your idiosyncrasies and if you remain constant they finally come around to accepting who you are, and will often say, that’s Gwen. That’s who she is. When people cannot figure who you are it creates unpredictable results in your relationships. A great book to read is Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud.
I expected him to fill a certain role and act a certain way and I did not accept him for who he was; he didn’t talk much, and when he spoke it was usually critical. I had learned to withdraw not only at home but outside too. It spilled over into my social life. My recommendation: create your own happiness. Find friends to share your laughter, happiness and fun with. Do not depend on anyone for your happiness. It rests only in your hands.
I believed with all my heart that religion would solve the issue, that if two people were deeply religious, which I thought was our case, then it would all work out. My recommendation: never let religion be the main reason you stay in a relationship or the reason you marry someone. There are other factors that are more important such as watching and listening to what they say about members of the opposite sex; and figuring who they are at the core. This is a huge clue about how they will speak about you and treat you later. Some people are good pretenders so you have to watch at a distance.
I allowed myself to react and be on the defensive and to become extremely frustrated when things did not change after numerous attempts at being assertive. That spilled over into how I spoke to other people who I thought wanted to treat me disrespectfully. I was fierce in addressing anyone who was rude to me. Though I am more assertive about it now, it took me a while to recover. My recommendation is to ground yourself in who you are. I know this is very challenging when you are faced with the situation every single day. Listen to audio books and relaxing music to quiet and center yourself and your mind, remain spiritually grounded. Never absorb the negative vibes of any situation to the point that it affects your entire life.
I’ve finally come to really live my life to the fullest regardless of what is happening around me. I know that I create my joys and happiness and because I do that, I do not have to reflect the energy that is around me. I can influence the energy of others coming in my presence just by being centered and grounded in who I am. And if I cannot, I remove myself.
One of the greatest pleasures I have is being with my current husband. Our relationship has evolved into a beautiful spectacle and we both enjoy each other’s companies. I don’t believe it would have happened, had I not embraced the wisdom acquired from my previous relationship. I am fully aware that I have no control over my husband’s choices, I only have control over mine. That has given me tremendous freedom to live my life to the fullest and to look forward in confidence to the future no matter how it turns out. I am comfortable with who I am, and who I am does not require a man to complete me, though my husband compliments me. It requires two complete people to make a beautiful relationship. Because I bring my complete self to this marriage, we can fully enjoy one another. I don’t need to make any demands on him to cause my happiness. He is perfect the way he is.
Finally, I encourage you to look for opportunities to build and generate yourself to become the happy person you want to attract and practice living your life from that space, as full and complete and you will attract the very person you have become.
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