Healing and personal growth: knowing when you’re ready for commitment

Carolyn Hax is a columnist for the Washington Post. She’s sort of like Dear Abby: people write to her with their problems, and she responds.

She has a gift for identifying the key issues for making decisions that lead to healthy, whole lives. I have been reading her for years and often feel awe for her advice. She doesn’t gloss over how difficult life can be, and she helps people wake up and grow up.

Because I’ve been writing here about recovering from trauma, this particular Q&A really seems worth sharing.

Dear Carolyn:

I had a lot of problems stemming from a very hard childhood. If I had entered into a relationship right away, then I would have been a “hot mess.” However, after years of therapy and some serious soul-searching (including very lonely moments of realizing how much I needed help), I am now about to get married.

I worry, because I am not completely healed from my childhood — but I am getting there. Is it okay to get married and move on while healing at the same time? My gut tells me to go with it — and take it one step at a time.

To Be or Not to Be … Insecure

I can’t know whether you’re ready for marriage, but I also don’t believe there’s a magic point where people become “well” or “fully healed” or whatever else we shoot for. Growth is lifelong if you’re doing it right.

That said, here are two things to look for before committing to anyone: the strength to live honestly, and the ability to take good care of yourself and the people you love.

The latter is straightforward, since a “hot mess” by definition can barely manage one or the other, much less both — and, too, meeting your needs and your partner’s tends to be mutually exclusive in unhealthy relationships. Very useful as a DON’T DO IT alarm.

Living honestly is more complicated: If it were easy to spot when we lie to ourselves, we wouldn’t do it so much, right? But, generally, we’re excellent at identifying in hindsight the ways we rationalized doing stupid things (admitting it . . . different story).

So we can take the memory of those rationalizations — the constant explaining and justifying — and compare that sensation to what we’re feeling now.

Since the whole point of rationalizations is to avoid an unwelcome truth, discarding them is no fun. But it still beats the slow agony of living with choices that don’t fit.

Why just honesty and good care? They’re key to preserving your sense of yourself within a relationship — allowing you to maintain good relationships and escape bad ones. That’s really all anyone needs.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, ortellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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