Welcome to the journey of self improvement, where you do everything you can to find your self worth in the mirror rather than what is around you.
How do you maintain a relationship like a marriage without becoming attached or dependent on your spouse? How are you able to keep the distance necessary to ensure that someone like your spouse can't affect your mental or emotional well-being while still having to find a way to work with them every day?
You do this by finding things you love to do, that lead you to feel better about yourself, and pursue them. Once you find the pursuit, you balance that with family time. I spent the better part of two years reading self improvement books, to include No More Mister Nice Guy, Hold On To Your N.U.T.'s (this is an absolute must read), Awareness, and others. I got in the best shape of my life (at the time). It still wasn't enough.
What changed is when I found something I could pursue that stimulated my mind enough that my wife was no longer my first priority. I started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a little over a year ago, and it continues to be my pursuit. Now I am competing with my son, who helped to get me into BJJ as he was doing it nearly eight months longer than me. We go to tournaments together about one Saturday per month or so. Basically, I got a life away from my wife. I have also been taking Muay Thai (kickboxing) classes for nearly three years, and am now teaching one to two classes a week. I am pursuing my mission in life, which is to constantly improve me as opposed to trying to improve my marriage, and helping those around me. Funny that, as improving myself has dramatically improved my marriage.
How do you meet your own 'needs' for things that seemingly would require another person, such as friendship, intimacy, or sex? I've done pretty well living on my own, independent from others, but I still can't shake the feelings of loneliness and depression from lack of connection to others (and from a lack of sex)?
This is what led to my journey starting at the end of 2013. The short answer? You cannot meet all of your own needs. Humans are social animals, and require interaction. That said, the key is to spread it around a little bit. Meet friend A for one particular thing, friend B for another, spouse for sex, etc. Your wife should not be your sole source of companionship, hobbies, etc.
Now in fairness, my sex life is still not where I want it to be. We connect somewhere between 2-8 times per month on average. I would like it to be 2-3 times per week, but we can't always get what we want
, and I can live with our current frequency. Please note the bold part of the last sentence; my wife clearly understands that now as well. There was a time where her wants and needs were paramount while mine were optional; no longer. Hers get to be every bit as important as mine are. She wants to connect less or stop meeting my needs? Sure thing...I add another night or two of BJJ to my schedule, I take my son to have a Dudes Day, or go do something by myself. She wants more from me? I give her a gentle reminder that if she wants more from me, she can start by doing more for me. She gets to choose our level of mutual engagement. Either way, I fill my life with other things besides her, and she can pursue me if she wants me. That is not to say I don't do things for her, or that I don't consistently meet her needs. I just simply give her less of myself when she withdraws.
Finally, has anyone been truly successful at creating such a solid sense of self-respect and self-worth such that no amount of criticism, negativity, or hostility from your partner can shake your feelings about yourself?
Nope. Anyone who claims otherwise either never steps out of their comfort zone, or is disordered. All of us have doubts about some things.
That said, if I ever felt that my wife was beginning to become overly critical again, I would simply tell her that all she has to do is say the word, and I will free her to find a better, more successful, more mature partner, at any time. But here is the rub: I am not easily replaceable, and she knows it. There was a time she did not believe it anymore. Why is she convinced now? Because my actions and my belief in myself clearly communicate so.
Are you able to let their opinion of you slide off your back without causing any pain or hurt, either to yourself or to the marriage? If so, what do you think enabled your ability to achieve that?
Nope, and frankly, I don't want to. Think about this. You are clearly sensitive; I recognize the trait well, as I am the same. In order for things like that not to hurt, I have to fundamentally change who I am. I love big, laugh often, show tears and other emotions, make fun of everything in life, listen to my music loud and sing with it loud, have a twisted sense of humor, am incredibly driven in pursuit of what I want, and any number of other things that people may consider negative. If someone does not like that, or they criticize, **** them; I have no room for them in my life, and they are missing out. I achieved that by learning to love myself. Do you know how I learned to love myself? I stopped being ashamed of those aspects of my personality that I hid due to fear of rejection or criticism, combined with applying discipline to when I opened my mouth, as some situations are truly poor in which to inject something sophomoric, which I still likely do too often. Bottom line: the more you love the person in the mirror, the less you need everyone in life to love you.
It had an interesting effect. It brought my wife and I closer, and it led to being surrounded by people who appreciated those aspects of my personality. Hell, my wife used to make fun of some things in my personality when we were sexless and she did not respect me. That was really the last straw for me to pull my head from my ass and start living life for me. My wife used to make comments like, "I feel like I am raising two children" (my son and me) and I would feel shame. Funny, that, as she married me in large part because of my twisted sense of humor. Now when she says those things, I embrace it and turn it into something a little twisted, and often sexual. She normally laughs at that.
My wife has made overtures recently that she would like to connect more (though I'm not sure what that actually involves or looks like), but I've stayed distant, concerned about putting myself in a position where I again could become vulnerable to getting attached to her or dependent on her, which could easily destroy my marriage all over again.
I wouldn't do it. She literally left you when you needed her the most, which was when you needed help finding your way. It happens to many of us. Something happens to us and suddenly we look around and realize that we are not where we thought we should be in life. This normally happens after a particularly challenging time, or after things get stagnant in life. Your XW could not handle it. If she could not handle it when you were lost, why should she get you now that you have improved? No, thank you. There are other women out there to experience. Exes are exes for a reason, whether made so by you or them.
In addition to personal viewpoints, can anyone recommend any resources that might help me in my journey?
Both can be purchased used from eBay for $5 or less each:
Hold On To Your N.U.T.'s by Wayne Levine
Awareness by Anthony Demello
Then, find your mission in life, and invite your partner to pursue it with you. If she won't, you continue to pursue it. This will likely lead to either your partner being left behind, or joining you.
Lastly, and possibly most important, is to mitigate your fear. All of us experience fear. How you deal with that fear will determine how well those around you respond. I am not saying to bury it, but rather embrace it, and understand that your greatest fears may be realized, but likely not. Learn to let go of the outcome. Learn outcome independence. Then, no matter what happens, you will be okay.