She’s beautiful. She’s brilliant. She’s got a Ph.D. in psychology. Her parents were excellent role models for an enduring marriage. Yet, she fell for the lies she heard at the altar. Dr. Robin L. Smith has been there ~ done it ~ twice. The third time was a charm, but he died.
A decade later, she became Oprah’s relationship guru. She has written two books: Lies at the Altar: The Truth About Great Marriages and “Inspirational Vitamins” A Guide to Personal Empowerment.
Dr. Smith earned her Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Temple University, her master’s degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and obtained her undergraduate degree from LaSalle University. She is a licensed psychologist, adjunct professor, and ordained minister. Pepsi selected her to be in their We Inspire campaign for her wisdom:
We must know at whose feet to kneel and who is unworthy of that sacred position of humility and honor. . .I learned this lesson the painful way.
Show Up as a Grown-Up
Dr. Smith knows how we feel because she’s one of us:
I was once in a long relationship with a man whose addiction ruled our lives. The breakup was devastating and deeply painful. . .facing the truth of why I had stayed so long. Why I had remained with a man whose love and loyalty were devoted to his addictions. Why I had lied to myself while enabling his lies to flourish. As his lies blossomed, I was being killed softly. Life. . .had stopped for me. The self I thought I had was evaporating. . .fading away. . .no longer there. . .
Being with this man almost killed me ~ almost crushed my bright and resilient spirit and tampered with my sturdy and robust mind. He wanted to rob me of my very essence. . .I let him. . .How had I, a highly trained professional with what I thought were nearly flawless intuitive skills, become involved with such an imposter?
. . .I gave away my power, thinking it would soothe him. . .I made meals out of crumbs and smiled as I ate the crumbs in order to appear full and satisfied. . .I was looking for a way to make something work that made no sense.
Conditioning: Master the Frozen Smile
Dr. Smith’s mother, Rosa Lee Smith, had a master’s degree and her own successful career. Her husband’s (Warren E. Smith, M.D.) needs came first. Perfection and accomplishment were honored more than self-care:
I was raised in a family in which women (very smart women, I might add) existed only in the reflection of strong and successful men. . .painful to be a nonperson. . .mastering the frozen smile. . .The important thing was to keep the relationship, because it was the only way we believed we could be significant enough to exist. Pretending was our modus operandi. . .drink cyanide and call it Kool-Aid. . .walk around in the dark and call it light. . .old family themes and patterns holding us hostage.
We get a million messages that if a relationship doesn’t work that it is our fault. Our feelings of self worth are undermined in blatant and subtle ways. We choose to be blind to warning signs because we are constantly told we are nothing without a man. We want the fairy tale even when it is abundantly clear that it can’t withstand the harsh light of truth.
So, where do we start to unravel this mess? Dr. Robin suggests:
Look at your adult relationships and you will see what’s still unfinished in your childhood.
The packaging doesn’t tell you anything about what’s inside: If you are not marrying the soul of your partner, there will be nothing to hold you together when the facade becomes less appealing. Do you like what you see on the inside as much as what you see on the outside?
The past is driving you to the chapel: Most destructive power struggles that couples engage in are the result of unresolved childhood wounds and disappointments. Do you present yourself fully and honestly, or do you live in dread that your partner will find out about the “real” you?
Being alone and free is better than being together and controlled: Someone being controlling is not the same as someone being loving and supportive. Are you awake and fully participating in your relationship, or have you abdicated control due to exhaustion or fear?
In a great marriage, you can ask for what you need without fear of rejection: Offer the real you. Does your partner love and respect your differences or demean the things you like and make your preferences feel silly or snobbish or crazy?
It’s more important to relate authentically: Are you or your partner more interested in being right than in being in a relationship?
Suffering is not love: It’s easy to get side-tracked if you are driven by fear of rejection, loneliness, or conflict. Have you made concessions that once would have seemed unthinkable, or accepted the unacceptable out of fear?
You can’t have a great marriage if you live in a bunker: Is your love expansive and free, or does it cut you off from the oxygen of the world?
Values are what you live, not what you believe: Do your partner’s attitudes and behavior in the world exhilarate and inspire you, or do they make your stomach churn and drain your spirit?
The person at the altar will be the person at the breakfast table: Do you love the person you see today, or the person you hope he or she will become after you’ve pressured, nagged, begged, and tormented him or her into changing?
You have to be whole before you can be joined: Does your marriage lift you up or hold you down?
Dr. Smith’s private life is private. In 2006, she told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she was married at age 23. The marriage lasted only five years because “we weren’t grown-ups.” She had a significant relationship with a man “whose addiction ruled our lives.” Sadly, the “love of [her] life” collapsed on the beach in 1994 and passed away. She now draws a boundary on her private life:
My private life is something that’s mine, and I’ve worked hard to maintain that boundary. I like to keep things very clear, and full of integrity.
At the time, she had an office on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia with her late father’s name on the door.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Please join me in wearing your purple and celebrating survivors.