The Cookie-Cutter Marriage

With grateful permission, I’m sharing yet another brilliant post from my Conscious Weddings E-Course forum. This will give you another taste of the insight and wisdom that often pass through the virtual doors of this very special forum via the words of the compassionate, supportive, wise women and men that are working their tails off to break through their relationship anxiety. This particular member is a bright beacon of light for many of the E-Course members, and I’m delighted to share her wisdom and poetry with my broader community.


I was journaling today about perfection and the resistance that arises when things don’t look like the mold I try to shape them into when a big ah-ha popped into view.

So often fear wants my marriage and life to look like a cookie-cutter. It doesn’t want life to not have shape and form. It wants it to look a certain way so there is certainty, control and, by extension, safety.

Sheryl talks so much about this, but after almost a year of marriage I’m really starting to visualize what this means for me.
We had dinner with some friends, two of which are about to get married, and their life seems to cast a haze of “perfection.” Whenever I hang out with them, I tend to leave feeling “without.” It’s a very grass is so much greener on their side of the fence. But I work very hard to call back my judgement when I’m around them because it can easily turn into a projection of what I have is not enough.

If you were to trace the outline of my life on top of theirs, they would look nothing alike (this is something that I used to think as a bad thing). I started to think of outlines, and more specifically molds. The mold I casted for myself early on in life focused on “perfection,” you know the kind we talk about so frequently here: our partners have to be as handsome as a movie star, smart like a Harvard graduate, smooth like a 50s crooner, as adventurous as a mountain climber and kind like a humanitarian. My mold included a very pretty house with lots of “things” – I had to have a very successful, well-paying job, there was even hint of a desire for fame. I, of course, would look beautiful every day (ha!), my appearance effortless and natural. We would have a few kids, nice cars and, of course, a dog. This mold is all about beauty and smooth edges, kind of like fondant on a wedding cake. Oh, the irony in the wedding industry. “Perfection!” the mold DEMANDS!

But my life is nothing like this mold, especially the effortlessly beautiful part. It’s not a movie. It’s not a fantasy. My life is not an Estee Lauder “Beautiful” perfume ad.

My life is full of shadow and light. It’s imperfect. My husband looks adorably handsome on most days and sometimes annoyingly grody on others. I sometimes look in the mirror and think, ‘Hey, I feel pretty’ while there are moments when I think others think I’m such a mess. Most of my clothes I find to be pretty adorable while sometimes I feel like I want to punch the creative designer of J.Crew in the face for showing off how much of what my wardrobe lacks. I struggle with getting to the gym and not eating white bread but I also applaud myself for loving broccoli and brussels sprouts.

My point with these examples is that when I am connected to the natural flow of my life, the organic nature of it and not what mold I should “bake myself into,” I am okay with the perfect imperfections. Who I have picked as a partner and where I am headed in my life is beautiful exactly as it is. And what is even more beautiful is that I am working towards the conciousness of accepting and letting of the mold.

When you are questioning, “Am I making the right decision? Is he enough? Does my life measure up?” pause and breathe into the question. From what mold am I asking these questions? I think this is in the same vein of what Sheryl talks about when we have to let go of the fantasy, the dream of what we thought our weddings and marriages would look like.

For me, it’s about letting go of perfection and embracing the organic nature of what is.

22 comments to The Cookie-Cutter Marriage

  • Livia

    I love this. It pertains to me in so many ways. Before coming across this website I was always focusing on these little things about my fiance that I did not like. Whats funny is they never bothered me before, but then we got engaged and all of a sudden I found them annoying. I have realized that I keep trying to make my fiance “perfect” and when I would experience anxiety about our upcoming marriage and start questioning our relationship, it was usually do to the fact that he is not perfect. It took me a long time to realize that nobody is perfect and I will never find my “ideal” spouse. But the man I have in front of me is a rare find. He’s kind, loving, cares about me, still talks about how beautiful I am and how lucky he is to have me (and this is after 2 years of being together!). I now realize how luck I AM to have someone like him. Even if he’s not my “perfect” prince charming and doesn’t fit into my “perfect” mold.

  • Jennifer

    I very much went through the same process of anxiety, doubt and worry. The godsend about Sheryl’s work on conscious transitions is that these are really normal feelings, and most people don’t feel okay about sharing them. When my husband and I went through a pregnancy loss after 4 months, I went through deep grieving, but was amazed to find out other women who had gone through it, who rarely talk about it. It made me feel a part of a community of women who knows what it is like to lose a baby. Through it all, my husband was there by my side. Even tho’ there were times he seemed wooden and disconnected, he was going through his own grieving in a culture that doesn’t acknowledge the enormity of such a loss. What the experience did however, is to remind me of who my husband was. Even tho. he didn’t feel as connected to the baby as I did, he was there in ways that mattered, including a ritual to say goodbye to our little baby who left before she was born. I am finding that men go through their own grieving process, and even tho it may not look the same as many women’s, it is no less valid, no less necessary. I share this to say that doubts, fears and anxieties come and go. We’ve been married for 4 years and together for nearly 8 years. What I know is that an enduring grace has carried us through each arguement, each bout of anxiety. Even when we sometimes go to bed mad and not always kiss goodnight during most nights, more often than not, he will be the one who leans over without resentment to plan a kiss on my lips.

    So often, I think as women, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the faith we DO have. Times we are the ones who are strong, who believe, who ride through our emotions enough not to make drastic decisions when we are spooked by them. When we are the ones who hug them when they are cranky, or laugh during an unexpected moment and bring a smile to their lips where it was pursed in anger. The many many acts of faith, love, believe that may belie our fears, doubts and anxiety, and as rungs of a ladder help to one step at a time, climb out of panic and worry. Sometimes, that is just stopping, from all the doing to just take care of ourselves by breathing, by skipping our workout for one day. Or just treat ourselves to a morning of writing, coffee and time for ourselves. That is when clarity comes, the grace of insight, compassion, of coming back to myself and to the moment. Thank you so much for a beautiful, heart felt, soulful article, and for doing your work of honoring relationship that is as unique as our own souls.

  • Jennifer: Thank you for such a beautiful and heartfelt comment. It’s clear from your writing that you have absorbed the work of transitions deep into your bones and have been able to apply what you learned through your marriage transition to other transitions, including the pain of a pregnancy loss. Many blessings to you.

  • Celeste

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful and timely article. I also get caught up in the “cookie cutter” type of thinking how my marriage should be….. I am getting married on Monday – next week! It is a second marriage for both of us and our living arrangement will not be traditional – we live 30 minutes apart and have children in middle school/high school that cannot move due to custody arrangements. I get many comments/questions since not living together every single day does not fit with how most others do it. However, it DOES seem to work for us at this time….and that is what I need to remember!

  • Celeste: There are so many ways to have a marriage – and to live a life! It’s so important to remind yourself that it doesn’t matter one bit how others do it. What matters is that it works for the two of you and your families. Many blessings on your wedding day and in your new marriage!

  • Jennifer

    Sheryl, thank you so much, for you presence and work in the world. This last transition to the underworld was as deep as I have ever gone. I am just beginning to emerge, and soon back to the world of work. I was given some wonderful advice to commemorate the journey and pay it deep respects through doing a piece of art and document what was learned underground. So I am collecting pictures from magazine and other images to put into a collage as I continue to interview and apply for jobs.
    The communitities in CO have been in my prayers for renewal and strength during these turbulent times.

  • Carly

    Thank you to the author of this piece, and to Sheryl, Jennifer and other who have written in. I relate strongly to so much of what you have each written – it is validating to once again hear that I am not the only one, and at the same time I feel heavy hearted as I am reminded there is now quick fix for these dilemmas. I am really struggling with how exhausting it is living with this… I just want my soul to rest. It takes so much energy: to hold the anxiety, to challenge thoughts, to challenge feelings… it is a very difficult and disturbing thing to live unable to trust one’s thoughts and feelings. Life flows when our feelings and thoughts feel like our guides. I remember many years when this was the case for me, but no longer. Do others find this? How do you deal with the exhastion?

  • Carly

    PS – Sheryl, I would like to participate in the Conscious Weddings e-forum, but can’t work out how to do it. I purchased the e-course… how do I access the forum? Thank you!

  • SB


    I am so sorry for your exhaustion, though I want to tell you: There is no quick fix. If you mean leaving your partner, you may have some relief for a time, but you would be presented with this issue again, in another way or another partner. It sounds depressing to say, but it is actually not depressing at all because of this fact: This exhaustion, these feelings (probably, assuming there are no red flags) have nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with you and the journey you must go through to get to the other side. You have the power to move past this and all it takes is having the bravery and strength to face the exhaustion and become a stronger, more wise person because of it.

  • MN

    Great post–
    A reminder to me that there really is no perfection out there anyway-
    It’s all imperfect and trying to embrace it and look at it with good perspective is the (beautiful) challenge.
    Some days easier than others:)

  • Carly: Exhaustion can be part of the “dark night of the soul” when you’ve been pulled into the underworld and are called to heal at a deeper level than ever before. But it can also be an indicator that you’re resisting part of this process – perhaps resisting sinking and surrendering into the full-bodied experience of grief. Likewise, while it’s essential to challenge fear-based and negative thoughts, the presence of such thoughts is a sign that there are deeper feelings that are needing attention – core feelings of life that, perhaps, aren’t being attended to. My sense with you is that there is still some way in which you’re in resistance to taking full responsibility for your pain and your happiness. Does that resonate for you? As far as the ecourse forum, please email me directly so I can send you the link. I think you’re already registered so you should be able to use your same username and password.

  • Carly

    Thnak you, Sheryl. Yes, I suppose I am resisting taking full responsibility for my pain and happiness… but I am also conscious of my propensity to take too much responsibility and beat up on myself for all the things I have done wrong and all the ways in which I fall short of what I should be doing. Perhaps that is just another kind of resistance to responsibility, though. Perhaps the self-flagilation protects me from the pain of taking genuine responsibility – which could be a very long and painful jounrney. I have a sense that self-deprecation is oddly a false refuge, which let’s me morally off the hook in the short term – but in the end helps no one.

  • “Perhaps the self-flagilation protects me from the pain of taking genuine responsibility – which could be a very long and painful jounrney. I have a sense that self-deprecation is oddly a false refuge, which let’s me morally off the hook in the short term – but in the end helps no one.”

    YES! Incredibly insightful, Carly. Shaming yourself isn’t responsibility at all but another way that we try to control. If you start to pay attention to the part of you that is beating yourself for all of the things you’ve done “wrong”, you’ll see the link between this voice and your anxiety or depression. Have you explored Inner Bonding? It’s such a powerful process for healing these critical voices, and it’s predicated on the willingness to take 100% responsibility for your pain and joy (and everything in between).

  • october12

    This is so awesome. This is my problem. The mold, the fantasy of my life, of who my fiancé should be, what our relationship should look like, etc. I’m not letting any of my “molds” go. I’m resisting letting it go and waking up into what is. It’s not bad. My fiancé isn’t bad. Our relationship isn’t bad when I’m not so busy judging it, and I’m not bad either. I realize EVERYTHING I think should be and isn’t is “wrong” and I get steaming mad that it isn’t. This is when I try to shove it all into my mold, and when it doesn’t fit, I just want to give up. This is how I’ve lived my life. When it’s not what I think it should be, I give up. I quit. Wow. What a realization. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jennifer

    Warm wishes to you Carly, and yes, you are not alone. Just this, I had a bout of obsessively negative thoughts, and I really thought I would not make it through my workout. Don’t know what made the difference in being able to observe the thoughts, instead of giving up and just going home. But somehow, I did, and felt much better and letting myself cross to the other side. Sheryl’s recommendation for Inner Bonding I think can be so helpful! I have done similar forms of therapy on taking responsibility for our happiness and pain, and it is transformative. It is a consious journey, and it takes courage.

    Blessings and peace to you and Sheryl. So glad you will be receiving group support for your marriage transition.

  • Jennifer

    Even tho’ I don’t have a name for other community members on this post, my well wishes and post are for them as well.

  • Carly

    Thank you, Sheryl, Jennifer and others. I have looked into Inner Bonding, and received the 7-day free e-articles, which I found interesting. I would love to do one of the intensives, but the pacific ocean is quite a barrier! I know Margaret provides many on-line forums and resources for those of us not in the US. I will consider further. I also have for some years now been doing serious inner work with another school, which runs retreats in Australia, and am well supported by my teacher from that school. Dealing with the self-critic (aka super-ego) is a big focus of that work, and very much in the foreground for me at the moment. Does anybody else find it hard to do so much inner work, while working full-time, maintaining a relationship and other aspects of your life? There just aren’t enough hours in the day, it feels! I wish I could just take a year, and devote myself to healing… there I go again… escape fantasies!! Warmth and blessing to you all. I am so grateful to be part of this on-line community.

  • sarah

    Hi Carly. Just from reading these few short posts of yours here, I can relate to how you’re feeling in so many ways. I’m really dealing with my self-hatred as well as my resistance to taking full responsibility. I’ve had fantasies of escaping so I can truly heal. Sometimes I think I just need a vacation. When I sink down into my body, I feel tired – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and just want to rest. I left my long term relationship over a year ago and think I should be totally healed by now, when in reality I’m healing a lifetime of wound and telling myself lies. It’s hard to sort out the truth from the crap we tell ourselves. One thing I have found to be true for me, though, is that the more I engage in the real world the better I feel. I don’t mean overextending myself, even though it frequently happens, but I find that the more I take responsibility for the concrete things in my life the easier it is to take responsibility for the intangibles, too. I have a tendency to live in my head and in my imagination, so while it takes a conscious effort to get out of the house everyday, and out of my head, once I do I usually feel better. I don’t know that we can just take off to some faraway land and really heal ourselves. It’s a tough process, and the mental exhaustion can just be enough to want to avoid it all. It’s just one step at a time, though, and you’ll get there. 🙂

  • Jennifer

    Ladies, I really do relate to your thoughts and feelings, and I actually did have nearly 10 months of taking off work due to a lay off and loss of a 4 month pregnancy. Staying at home with all these intense thoughts was really difficult. There were certainly moments of bliss, and lots of time to meditate and write, however, the anchor of a regular job or some endeavor in the outer world has its useful purposes. It was at times a little overwhelming to have all of this inner work I was doing and an unstructured day that I had to begin creating some framework for it to serve me during the transition. While it was invaluable to have this time off as I did a ton of inner work, the work is always there. I think more than the work is the ability to enjoy life, and to have moments of joy that fuels your faith that all is, and truly will be well. My husband gets frustrated with the amount of time I spend on “self-help” reading, and honestly, that does get boring after a while. There is something to be said for reading cartoons, seeing funny movies, taking walks and playing games just to give your mind a rest from all the doing, doing, planning, strategizing for your recovery. The fact that you ladies are all here is a testament that you are actually doing really well, and more conscious than most. So really laying off of ourselves, smiling at yourself in the mirror–these little things help! Even if I can’t always say, “I love you” to the mirror, I can start with “Good morning”. Sometimes, I can even manage “Good morning beautiful!” if I am feeling really alive and energetic.

    Hope that helps. Less doing, more being. Little things that are like hugs for your soul.

  • Carly

    SARAH & JENNIFER: Thank you so much! What wonderful wisdom you both shared. As I read your words, I could really feel the solid sense in them: there is no escape, as Sheryl and Pema Chodren and others have told us. It’s easy to fantasise about having more time to do the hard worl of inner healing, as those that would be the key that would release all our struggle and anxiety, but anchorless time in one’s own head is not the most stabilising experience either. What this reveals to me again as my tendency to look for what is sub-ideal in my present circumstances, rather than turning my awareness to my approach and attitude. The two main messages I have taken from your posts are: taking responsibility for the concrete things in life (job, house, garden, activities), supports taking responsibility for the intangibles (self-love, pain, happiness, intimacy, peace); and the importance of taking time to enjoy, to celebrate, to laugh, to smile… rather than thinking that every waking moment needs to be spend on “healing”. I find my mind resembling that of a righteous penetant from the middle ages sometimes, believing that I will be rewarded for suffering and hard-work, and self-denial, and punishment…. where did these ideas come from? I was raised with the exact opposite message from my fun-loving, happy, athiest parents. Thank you all for your generous sharing. I look forward to reconnecting soon!

  • Sarah

    “…and the importance of taking time to enjoy, to celebrate, to laugh, to smile… rather than thinking that every waking moment needs to be spend on “healing””….

    I like that:) Something I’ve found so rewarding the past few years of battling anxiety in engagement/early marriage is to recognize those moments of peace or connectedness and just say to myself, “I feel so good right now..I’m so glad I’m in this moment,” it’s hard to do without trying to “hang on” to it, or wondering “how long will this last?” or “Why don’t I feel this way all the time?” But it’s rewarding.

    Good thought:)

  • Jennifer

    Ladies, incredibly insightful, thanks for sharing. “taking responsibility for the concrete things in life (job, house, garden, activities), supports taking responsibility for the intangibles (self-love, pain, happiness, intimacy, peace (yes!) I loved how you expressed that because I was able to hear and understand this insight in a new way.

    I really appreciate this forum for mutual support and shared wisdom. Here’s to enjoying our lives in the midst of it all-those holy, sacred moments when we realize that all is well and is okay exactly as it is.

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