Why do so many of us buy into the myth that marriage is supposed to make us happy?
I’m glad to see how marriage has evolved. It used to be much more transactional — happening principally to foster economic benefits or social standings or to produce children — but nowadays people typically choose to commit themselves legally to each other for far more noble goals. More and more people marry with the intention of experiencing lasting love and companionship.
Unfortunately, too many women I know get married and somehow, perhaps unconsciously, expect their husbands to make them happy. When things get hard — and they always do — rather than looking inward at where they may be at fault, too many women point the finger toward their partners. They blame him (or her) for the problems in their relationship. “If he would just pay more attention to me our marriage would be great!” or “If she would just help more around the house, things would be so much better.”
Frustrated and hurt, these women compound the problems in their relationships by judging and criticizing they partner. Then the punishment escalates and they withdraw and withhold sex, affection, and attention.
“He can make his own damn dinner!”
“I’m not having sex with him again until he apologizes!”
“His clothes can mold in the washing machine for all I care!”
“I don’t give a shit what he does. I’m right and he’s wrong!”
So many women sit there in judgment and righteousness while their relationship falters. They expect a near perfect mirror image of themselves, someone who agrees with them and who behaves the way they want them to behave.
These women let their hurt and anger run roughshod in their relationships. Small resentments turn into poisonous darts. Fights over the dishes become biblical.
But the fights are almost never really about the dishes.
They’re about not feeling cared for, about feeling taken advantage of, about not feeling heard or seen. They simply do not feel loved or appreciated enough by their spouse.
Too often these women — even the strongest, smartest, most independent of them — weirdly believe that if they inflict enough pain back onto their partners or exact enough control of them, they’ll suddenly get with the program. Instead, the opposite usually happens. Their partners — not feeling loved enough and tired of feeling nagged, controlled, and criticized — do the opposite. They withdraw and tune out. And the cycle of drama and dysfunction only becomes more vicious and protracted.
It becomes uglier and more painful.
It’s like that old prophetic bumper sticker: The beatings will continue until the morale improves. But the morale never improves!
Never does treating someone badly give you what you want — at least not in a healthy relationship based on trust and safety.
You can fight. You can yell. You can withhold. You can sit there in your judgment and self-righteousness, running the narrative in your head over-and-over again about how you’re right and how he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. How he’s a selfish asshole. A frustrating idiot. An uncaring egomaniac.
But let me ask: How’s that working for you?
Does that ever really get you what you want?
I know this damaging, dysfunctional pattern far too well. I used to be that woman who felt hurt, angry, unseen, and unheard. I also didn't feel loved enough by my husband.
What did I do? Looking back, I admit that I did some crazy shit. And it is shit. Why did I ever think that punishing my husband by turning away from him and harboring resentments would EVER get me what I wanted? How could I possibly think that punishing him and withdrawing from him would magically give me more love, attention, praise, and affection? It’s nuts. It’s self-sabotage.
Why do so many of us do this? Why do you do this?
Ladies, if you want to be happy in your marriage, make it your job to make your husband (or wife) happy.
Quit waiting around for someone else to go first, sponge up your hurts, love you perfectly, make you happy or — God forbid — "complete" you.
My marriage brought me to my knees. I was with someone brilliant, generous, funny, charming, and so much more. But Jesus, how we pushed each others’ buttons. The pain I felt in our relationship as a result was excruciating.
After FINALLY figuring out that punishing him for my hurt gave me the opposite of what I want, I came to the last possible conclusion. I decided that I needed to change. I decided to try more love and tenderness and less judgment and punishment.
I decided to do all that I could to make him happy and feed and nurture our marriage.
A mentor of mine, David Bell, said something brilliant to me, “Trying to change another person is an act of aggression. Trying to change yourself is an act of love.”
It took me a long time to understand this and act on it.
I now know that love starts with me. And it’s changed everything.
I decided to put 150 percent of myself into our relationship and not sit around keeping score or waiting for love to wash over me. I stopped waiting for someone else to make me happy.
What’s happened as a result has been brilliant. I started tuning much more actively into my husband — prioritizing him, touching him regularly (holding his hand, sitting very close to him, hugging him, rubbing his shoulders, etc), more actively praising and appreciating him, and — crucially — not letting my ego get the best of me and not letting my need to be right lead to Armageddon. As a result, I have managed to bring out the best in my husband.
Our relationship has become light years better, and I feel much happier and more empowered.
Now, it must be said: If you really make it your job to make your partner happy and he (or she) exploits your efforts or never truly reciprocates — never meeting your love with love — you may be in a deal breaker scenario. Despite your best efforts, you may be with someone who is unable or unwilling to love you back and you will probably need to terminate the relationship.
I have written a book that covers the painful drama of my marriage, and what we did to beautifully transform it. The book is called Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love. It goes on sale May 2nd. You can click to pre-order your copy here.
If you’re willing to do the work and put in the love; if you’re willing to open your heart and mind to the idea that love starts with you, and it’s your job to make someone else happy, Radical Acceptance can also transform your relationship!