• Sarah M. Neal

The Entanglement of Self-Worth in Our Relationship Status

How many of us have had our own self-worth entangled in our relationship status at any given time in our lives? I most certainly have.
Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash

While working on coming up with a topic for my next entry when I received a call from a Beloved, Venessa, searching for support in trying to understand something about herself. Venessa has been struggling with the entanglement of self-worth in relationships and marriage. Her partner, Sam, feels that marriage is just a piece of paper and has neither need nor desire to go through the hassle of acquiring it. In her head, Venessa knows it is just a piece of paper and that at the end of the day, the piece of paper won’t keep anyone in a relationship they are determined they no longer wish to be a part of. Yet, despite “knowing” this, there is a part of her that just can’t quite let go of the idea that if Sam really loves and is committed to her, they should get married.

She’s not alone. How many of us have had our own self-worth entangled in our relationship status at any given time in our lives? I most certainly have.

For centuries, in cultures around the world, the vast majority of are expected to get married. If you don’t get married, “something is wrong with you”. Venessa’s mom asked once, “Doesn’t it set off a red flag for you that Sam has never been married?”

In our culture, it appears to be more acceptable to get married and divorce than to never marry at all.

We wrap a good chunk of our self-worth up in relationship status. If you are single, there must be something wrong with you. If you never married, the reason must be because you aren’t good enough to keep a partner long enough to marry. If you have a partner and either or both of you choose not to get married, it must be because there is something wrong with one of you, otherwise, why not get married? It’s what everyone else does. Venessa knows that Sam makes her feel loved, appreciated, and wanted, she still finds some of her self-worth tied up in the idea of marriage and that there must be something wrong with the relationship and therefore wrong with her because Sam continues to resist.

Venessa was married once before. She knows that marriage isn’t a guarantee that the relationship will work out. She finally realized that some of her feelings circling around marriage come from this mysterious pressure that tells her since her first marriage failed, she must remarry and make the marriage work to show that she is a good woman, a good partner, and a good wife.

It’s mind-boggling. How many of us have allowed societal norms to dictate our self-worth? How many of us feel that we come up short and our worth drops whenever we don’t match up to some standard set by what and who society tells us we should be?

Sadly, societal norms seep in everywhere. They slip into our neighborhoods, our families, our spiritual communities, our social communities, our friends, our relationships, our school, and ourselves; and if we don’t match up, then we are left feeling that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t worth what we need or want in order to be happy.

Forget that you may find happiness outside of the comfort zone of social norms. If we fail to have approval of loved ones who support the “values” and dictations of society, we our feelings of self-worth take a hit.

Yes, it would be lovely to not only speak the words, “Screw what anyone else thinks” but then to TRULY live our lives with genuine authenticity of who we are, the mess, the beauty, all of it. Blessed are those who live their lives the way they most desire with absolutely no care in the world about what others think.

Does that mindset truly exist? Can we truly get to the space of needing absolutely NO outside validation for our self-worth? Even when we are blessed enough to find “our people”, there is still a sense of needing to have approval from others.

How many of our actions are actually based on what others will think? And how many of those thoughts from others are stemmed from societal norms that tells us, “that’s just how things are” or “it just isn’t okay to be/love/live/do/look this way”?

So many of these norms have been passed down from generation to generation and many have been and continue to be used as ways to control, devalue, and oppress people based on gender, class, race, religion, politics, orientation, age, and ethnicity. This includes relationship structure through monogamy and marriage.

The idea behind the relationship escalator. We date, we find “The One”, we get married, we have kids, we ride the escalator into the sunset for the rest of our years. If the first escalator relationship goes wrong, we must immediately jump onto the next one that comes our way and remarry. If that one goes wrong, we must jump onto the next one and the next and the next until we find our perfect escalator.

There is some grace if you lost your spouse to death or if you were once married and it didn’t work out. Yet, you are still end up fighting off the barrage of questions about why you haven’t moved on to find someone else and remarry. If you move on, but don’t remarry, something in you must be broken.

My advice to Venessa was that until she could really understand the “why” of her hang-up about Sam not wanting to get married, it would be best to not continue to push the subject. Venessa needs to understand why she has this need to get re-married and why her self-worth is tied up in the idea of marriage. She was able to uncover some of it during our talk, but the pressure of societal views on marriage and worth are still warring with the part of her that knows Sam is committed to her and that he continues to take care of her. Sam has altered their own, prior behaviors to show extraordinary love and commitment to Venessa. Yet still, Venessa can’t shake that nagging pressure put on by her family and society because she has been conditioned to have so much of her self-worth wrapped up in and determined by societal norms.

Venessa needs to come up with her own reasons why marriage is important to her in a way that is not entangled with her self-worth or the expectations of society. They don’t have kids. Does it somehow validate their relationship in a way that simply living with each other and being committed to each other doesn’t? Why? How?

Please understand, I am not bashing the institution of marriage… not really.

I am questioning its importance in how we measure the worth, the success, the validity of ourselves and of romantic relationships.

One of the most freeing mindsets I have come to is that “It’s just the way it is” “It’s always been done this way.” “It isn’t right because it has always been ‘this’ instead.” are no longer acceptable answers for me. I want to know the “Why”. Why is marriage so important? Why is monogamy the only ethical way to have a relationship? Why is consensual non-monogamy wrong? Why are marriages within the LGBTQIA+ community wrong? Why are inter-racial couples still somewhat taboo? Why does it matter what I do behind closed doors as long as everyone involved is an eager, consenting adult being treated with respect? Why does it matter what my relationships look like as long as everyone is consenting and treated with love and respect? Why should someone who has chosen not to have kids feel they must become a parent?

If the only answers to those questions come in the form of being dictated by societal norms, they aren’t good enough and I will continue to live my best, most authentic life even when it gets messy and outside pressures refuse to let up.


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