The Problem With Allowing Relationships To Validate You

Her Voice

“You don't know how to be a woman."

Those were the words an ex expressed to me during an argument out of frustration. In his opinion, I was too much of an “alpha woman." When I asked him what that meant, he responded with the flat response: “It's not my responsibility to teach you."

I think it takes a lot to shock me, but I was genuinely shocked by that comment. The shock was not only in him having the audacity to fix his lips to say those words to me, but also in the fact that I, no matter how I tried my damnedest to be “my authentic self," my boyfriend had his own ideas of what defines a woman.

In my efforts to be a “better woman," I tried to explore whatever ideas he had for me, reaped up on “what it means to be a woman," “how to keep a man," and other literature learning about what other people thought I should be.

I actually wanted to understand his thinking and to see if he was right, and if something was “wrong with me."

Now let's think about this: what business does a man have telling a woman how to be a woman? No matter how many women he grew up around or how in touch with his feminine self he might be, a man doesn't know what it means to be a woman.

Up until the age of 26, I had always been attached to male energy in a romantic sense. Even though I never realized it until a long period of choosing to be single, I found my confidence and sense of validation within the context of these relationships. Realizing such a truth was initially so debilitating, that when I chose to be alone, I had to relearn how to validate my own self.

How could a woman who seemed so confident and self-assured have to go through a process of validating her own self? Because I, like many women, had the problem of looking at myself through the eyes of whomever I was in a relationship with at the time, instead of through my own eyes.

With space and time alone, I realized this process of validation that we have is often due to a skewed and unhealthy sense of womanhood imparted on us by our upbringing and peer groups.

The Warning Signs

  1. You change the way you look because that's what he prefers.
  2. You give up time with your friends, loved ones, and doing things that previously made you happy because you want to make sure he knows you care.
  3. There are values that mean a lot to you, that you compromise on, in hopes that he will one day be on the same page as you.
  4. You tend to get depressed or feel low esteem if he does not acknowledge your efforts.
  5. If a relationship does not work out, you feel high levels of guilt.
  6. When you have a disagreement or he gets mad, you often ask, what's wrong with me? Now of course we must be accountable for our actions, but we can't always be responsible for other people's reactions.
  7. You don't feel attractive unless men compliment you.
  8. You don't feel like you're a suitable partner, unless you're in a relationship.
  9. When the topic of your goals and hobbies come up, you feel the need to succumb to pressure if he believes you shouldn't be doing them.
  10. You believe your man completes you, you would be nothing without him, or a large portion of your confidence is centered around how good of a girlfriend/mate/partner/fiancée you can be.

Although these signs are more applicable to women who are unmarried, it can be applied to women of all walks of life with issues of self-perception dependent on the men in their lives. As a woman, I realize it's very common for women to define their womanhood and femininity based on how they're received from others, especially from men. It took me three years to own this truth, give it up, and walk away from that pressure.

When we're in relationships and aren't secure in ourselves, we unknowingly look to define ourselves according to the state of the relationship, be it healthy or unhealthy. Now if you feel like your sense of self is pretty clear outside of a relationship, and while in a relationship you learn to still connect to yourself and maintain a sense of your own identity, you probably have healthy relationships.

For those who have challenges with obtaining healthy relationships, one of the biggest problems comes when you are living out these ideals and looking to your partner for validation, but instead they critique, criticize, belittle, ignore, or even betray you. When those actions are present in any relationship, one will lean on the consideration that they're not good enough and that something is wrong with them.

If you're being what you believe is your best self and someone is not responding in a way that may be ideal or healthy for that matter, it can shake you up, and be a punch to your esteem. Not only that, but if you're not clear of who you are, you work tirelessly to obtain the approval of someone who will never see your worth, leading you down a very dark path.

It's dangerous to mold yourself to fit in anyone's box, especially if it's a box you're trying to fit in to get the love and affection you so deeply desire. We weren't meant to fit in a box.

We were designed to be unique and serve our individual purposes. We are all unique and feeling the need to define ourselves by other people's standards and ideals, if they are actually not aligned with us, is essentially a state of imprisonment. When your identity is tied to anyone outside of yourself, you threaten the beauty and uniqueness of your existence. Our identity and sense of self or worth becomes arguable and malleable, depending on whatever is going on or whoever is in our life. When those possessions, people and titles are gone, so is our sense of self.

For someone like me, who has spent a lot of time being in and out of relationships, it can be tough to define yourself for yourself because you automatically attach your identity to that of your partner. You are not who someone decides for you to be. You are who you believe yourself to be.


Right now, I am so single. And, despite the fact that I appreciate and honor the beauty of a romantic relationship, I am grateful that it's been an interesting and well-traveled journey getting to know and fall in love with myself.

I had to discover beauty for myself.

I had to discover confidence for myself.

I had to discover womanhood for myself.

I know a lot of women who sacrifice getting to know and love themselves for the “privilege" of being the woman that a man “selects."

Relationships can be beautiful mirrors that offer reflections of our most hidden selves. In relationships, we can discover depths within ourselves that lay dormant. Our partners can bring out the best in us, and make us realize what areas of ourselves need work.

In our relationships, we hope to grow and evolve. At times, relationships can be difficult, challenges and situations can stretch us past our comfort zones. So love yourself and stay in a relationship with yourself, as you connect with and share your best with anyone who comes in your life thereafter.

Featured image by Getty Images

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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