I heard the best piece of relationship advice a few weeks ago, while comforting a friend who was thinking about leaving her husband. She had recently made some very drastic lifestyle changes — ones she wasn’t sure her marriage would survive — when our mutual friend Sue* shared something she’d heard years ago.
It came after we both watched our friend fall to pieces right before us.
“I just don’t know if I can stay married to him,” she said, while reaching over to grab a tissue from the box beside her. “He’s not the person I thought I married.”
It wasn’t the first time she’d expressed the desire to leave her husband. She’d been contemplating divorce for months.
But that’s when Sue scooted her chair closer and leaned in.
“Do you know what I was told when I was going through a similar situation?” she said. “I was told that if I’m going to leave, I need to pack my shit and go. And if I’m not going to leave, I need to act as if I’m all in, regardless of whether I like him in the moment or not.”
It was a harsh truth to face — one that I’m not so sure my friend appreciated hearing. But I’ve kept that piece of advice close ever since. I have no intention of leaving my husband; I never have. But I do go through periods where I’m not happy in my marriage. My husband isn’t always the person I think he should be. He doesn’t always treat me how I think I deserve to be treated. (He is human, after all.)
When I left my friends that night, I asked myself, What if on days when I don’t feel like I love my husband, I act as if I do? What if those times when I don’t want to be married — when the title of “wife” makes me cringe — I act as if I’m all in?
Therein lies another question, of course: What does it mean to act as if I’m all in?
With my husband, it means loving him unconditionally, even when I don’t feel like I’m “in love.” It means trusting him and our relationship, even when he gives me reason to doubt. It means setting aside anger and resentment, regardless of how deeply I’ve been hurt. It means thinking about his needs and meeting them, even if mine haven’t yet been met. It means showing love through my thoughts, words, and actions always, especially on days where my heart and my head aren’t quite in it.
There are plenty of those days, where my heart and my head are telling me to run. Days when I’d rather be bitter or angry instead of compassionate and understanding. Days when my needs feel so much more important than his. Days when I question everything. It’s not realistic to think I’m always going to be happy in my marriage or that I will always get fluttery feelings when my husband is around. But on those days, when I’m just not feeling it, I need to act as if. Act as if I am happy. Act as if I am in love.
It sounds so easy to do, but I assure you, it’s not. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unfamiliar. I spent a lifetime acting according to my feelings and it takes time to re-program my brain. I’m used to acting out of anger and fear. I’m used to running or fighting when my emotional security feels threatened. But my marriage, my family, suffers the consequences. I suffer the consequences.
So instead, I now act as if I’m happy and in love always, even when I’m not there 100% — because believe it or not, that little change in thinking affords me the opportunity to actually be happy. To feel the love when it comes around, which it always does. The love always returns if I’m patient enough to wait for it.
The “act as if” principle works in every area of my life, not just with my marriage. It works for parenting too. There are plenty of days when I don’t feel like being a mom. Days when I want to lock myself in my bedroom and drown out the chaos and noise. But days when I don’t feel like being a mom, I act as if. I show up anyways. And my kids inevitably do something that reminds me why I love being a mom.
On days when I don’t feel like being an adult, and when responsibilities feel overwhelming, I act as if I’m an adult. I go about my day and tackle my to-do list anyways.
Or days when I don’t want to show up for work, when what I’m doing feels insignificant and mundane, I act as if my job is important. I act as if I love my job and my work is valuable, because most of the time I do — and it is.
Today, I act my way into feeling, instead of feeling my way into acting. I show up when I don’t want to show up. I cook dinner for my children when the sight of my kitchen repulses me. I kiss my husband and tell him I love him even when I feel like he owes me the world’s biggest apology. I stay when I want to go, I act as if I’m all in.
Because I am.
I’m all in …