It was sometime around my senior year of high school that I realized that, with the exception of a few details, the constant and theatrical fights I had with my mom were all essentially about the same core issue. Twenty years later, after being happily married to Geoffrey for nearly eight years, I came to the realization that in any longterm relationship, there are going to be patterns that emerge in fights. It's one of the things I find both incredibly frustrating (when it feels like you're having the same argument on repeat) but also insightful if you take time to examine then address the core issue of the fight.
So with that, I'm pulling back the curtain a bit here on my marriage, which isn't the easiest thing to do—but I also feel secure and confident enough in it to share the recurring fight G and I always have:
Spending so much time with your significant other has plenty of benefits, but one of the biggest drawbacks for me happens when we get too accustomed to each other to stop noticing, and calling attention to, the little things. To his credit, G rarely misses an opportunity to compliment me in the morning once I've dressed for work or say 'I love you' after every phone call, but we can go for what feels like days or weeks without me feeling like I'm getting recognition for the work I'm doing, in the office, at home, or with Sloan. I found that I was constantly looking for more validation or compliments than I was getting. Any time I would bring it up to G, I wasn't met with the apology or hug I was craving, but rather an argument that my claim was unfounded. He would tell me how many times he had noticed and complimented me, and even compared me to a plant that needs constant watering with holes on the bottom. It was never enough.
My argument was always, "Is it that hard to give someone praise, even if it's frequent?" But then again, my love language is 'Words of Affirmation,' and feedback is the easiest and most effortless way for me to show my affection. But that's not how G is wired—it isn't natural for him. And it also wasn't the heart of the issue...
It wasn't until my therapist brought up the fact that my desire for validation was less about not getting enough compliments, so much as it was the fact that I wasn't able to feel whole on my own, that things finally clicked for me. Compliments, I realized, should feel like icing on the cake—but you should bake your own cake. For me, compliments had been the entire cake and frosting. I felt like an empty plate without them.
It doesn't take a giant leap to identify the root: I grew up with near-constant praise from my parents, both sets of grandparents (I was the first grandchild on both sides), teachers, and coaches. My self-worth always came from external sources until I began addressing it through therapy.
As we raise Sloan, G and I have made every effort to make sure she feels like she's enough on her own. Of course, we give her frequent praise, but when she comes to us with a picture she's drawn or to tell me she's cleaned her room, I tell her I'm proud, then also ask her the question, "Who should be most proud?"
The fact that she turns her thumb to herself and proudly says, "ME!" is one of my greatest accomplishments as a parent. She's able to find validation in herself so much younger than I ever was.
Unsurprisingly, G and I actually haven't had this fight in over a year, which is why I feel comfortable finally sharing it—it doesn't hit too close to home. I'm proud of the work we've done as a couple, how I've reexamined my relationship with myself as it pertains to others, and how we're raising a self-assured, confident girl. In other words, I baked my own cake.