Relationships require compromise. We all know that. It’s impossible to maintain longevity in a relationship, or a healthy balance, without some sort of concessions. But yourself, who you are at your core, shouldn’t be one of them.
I was in a relationship where I made compromises. It was necessary. The balance may have tipped more in his direction than mine, but I could manage that. What I could not manage, what I will never choose to allow, is when the compromise that he asked for became my whole self. He thought it was a reasonable request. In his view, I should take the soul of me, the things I value most, and I should put them somewhere in the hierarchy behind him and my kids.
As a mother, my children do come first in the way that I will never allow them to do without, and I shape my life around their growth. I don’t just mean physical growth. I spend a lot of time trying to encourage and inspire them to be whoever they’re meant to be. Nurturing their best selves is important to me, as is teaching them healthy coping skills to navigate their lives.
But I’m important, too. I don’t come last in the hierarchy. I was a whole person, long before I had children. I’m a whole person now. In order to take care of my children, particularly as a single parent, it’s essential that I take care of myself. A self-care practice is as essential as food, clothing, and shelter.
In the hierarchy that he would have had me live, I would have come last. Buried deep under his proclamations of supporting my work, encouraging my authenticity, and professing a belief in equality was a clear cut misogyny. Women, especially mothers, should care for their families and homes before work or self-care. To make the relationship work, I would have had to willingly sacrifice the values I hold most dear in exchange for his companionship.
Needless to say, that wasn’t a compromise I was willing to make. I was happy to alternate what television shows we’d watch. After all, I was just as happy to read a book or listen to a record while he watched a show I didn’t care to see. I was happy to make some concessions to how we would live, but I could never surrender who I am just to stay in a relationship.
If that sounds like a clear decision, it was. If it sounds like an easy decision, it wasn’t. I can’t remember the last time I felt as broken as that. Relationships don’t just absorb our feelings; they also take our time. I invested myself into that relationship, and when I realized that he didn’t actually support my work, encourage my authenticity, or believe in equality, I was more than hurt. I was devastated. The bottom fell out of my world, and I kept falling.
Falling in love can be exhilarating. Falling out of a relationship can be terrifying. But I came to understand a little more about myself through the experience. I had allowed the balance to tip firmly in his direction to the point that he had thought his request was a reasonable one. It’s one thing if I thought the balance would have ever tipped back in my direction, seesawing to accommodate changes in the relationship. But it would only have ever accommodated him because in his world review I was supposed to be last place, always.
I’ve spent too much of my life putting myself in last place for other people, and I just can’t do it anymore. When we make that kind of sacrifice, we’re not the only ones who lose. The people closest to us also suffer because that kind of trade results in us being tired, anxious, depressed, and often bitter or resentful. We’ve sold our souls for the chance to be in partnerships that aren’t serving our needs. Or sometimes we’ve sold our souls for a particular job or a friendship. The concession we make is our authenticity, and it is damaging to our well-being.
When we own our personal power and stay true to our authentic selves, there will be relationships that suffer. There will be friends, family members, and even partners who won’t like our uncompromising authenticity and refusal to sacrifice our whole selves for someone else. This is the Universe’s way of highlighting and sometimes eliminating the toxic relationships in our lives. Either those people can learn to open and grow, accommodating us as we’ve always accommodated them, or they can accept that they’ll no longer have a close place in our lives.
While some relationships will fall by the wayside, others will rise to meet us there. When I stopped investing in toxic relationships, I opened up to new friendships. I was able to identify the friends who are supportive of who I am, exactly as I am. I began to connect with a circle of people who respect and support boundaries and healthy compromise. There’s a balance and ease where I’m not expected to drop everything for them, nor do I expect them to do that for me.
After a lifetime of primarily unhealthy interactions, it was incredibly moving to see what life can look like when I stopped putting myself last. It hurt more than I thought I could hurt to let go of a relationship that thought sacrificing myself was a reasonable accommodation, but it was the kind of hurt that often comes with growth. I let go of someone who was clearly not for me and made room in my life for the kind of partnership that can meet me in this deeply authentic, balanced, and healthy place.
There are certain compromises that are healthy. What entertainment we choose or where we eat for dinner are two perfect examples. But we shouldn’t be putting our souls on the line because we’re afraid of what will happen if we stand our ground. Giving up ourselves isn’t compromise; it’s surrender. It’s soul death. It’s saying that our lives are not as valuable as any other, that we are not as worthy of a full life as anyone else. And it’s not a concession I will ever make again.