Well, the first one ended in an annulment 6 months into it so “technically” we were never married, but we were both unhappy.
Today, I’ve been happily married for a year and two months. You may be asking yourself, “What does this guy know about finding happiness in marriage?”
That’s a good question, just read on and make up your own mind.
Before we get into how to find happiness in marriage, it’s important to provide some personal history about myself. In doing so, I hope to help others realize why they may currently be unhappy; and ultimately how my wife and I have found happiness in our marriage.
For most of my life, my relationships lasted—on average—six months. It seems that whenever someone got too close, I found ways to end the relationship. Most generally it was the, “it’s not you it’s me” line. However, I failed to realize this was what I was doing.
I felt as if the relationship was cutting into “me” time and was getting in the way of my goals. I did not want to put in the time it took to build healthy relationships with the opposite sex. Of course I wanted someone to love and cherish me, but when they started talking about marriage or long-term commitments, I usually started thinking about ways to get out of the relationship.
Consequently, this led me to have one-foot-out-the-door in relationships and emotionally unavailable. In reality, I didn’t know enough about myself to know what I wanted and needed in a partner or spouse.
Happiness Meant Success
Happiness to me meant driving a Porsche 911 Turbo and living in a fancy loft over looking the city. Once I was “successful” I was sure a meaningful relationship would find me. Any relationships I had until then, well, they were just getting in the way of my success. In every relationship I looked at what I thought I would be losing as opposed to what I might gain. Consequently, I never found happiness in marriage or relationships. Not until recently.
After years of staying single to follow my professional goals—yet still not driving a Porsche—I finally met someone whom I thought I could build a future with. Even in that relationship I felt as if I was loosing myself and would have to sacrifice my dreams to start building a family. After all, I wasn’t getting any younger and that’s what a guy my age was supposed to be doing; building a family.
There were many clues from the beginning that the relationship was doomed to fail. Mostly on my part since I had no idea who I was emotionally let alone the capacity to share my wants and needs with a spouse. Moreover, I was still looking for happiness outside myself through material possessions and professional goals.
Over time the relationship saw many rocky roads and many signs the relationship was doomed to fail. Regardless of all the signs, we got married anyway. After six months the marriage ended with an annulment.
As with all relationships, there are two sides to every story. My part was the inability of being happy with myself, thus emotionally unavailable to anyone else. In hindsight, it seems we were more in love with love, or the idea of love and marriage than we were with ourselves or each other.
Happiness in Marriage is No “One’s” Responsibility
No single person in a marriage is or can be responsible for the happiness in the marriage. I know this article is about happiness in marriage, but in my opinion, this concept transcends all relationships.
When one person in the relationship feels responsible for their partner’s happiness, well, that’s just too much for one person to carry. Often, whether we know it or not, we place unreasonable demands on each other. Why can’t he/she be the husband/wife I want or I thought they would be? Why won’t he/she just change? She/he would change if they really loved me!
There’s a common theory in relationships regarding the fear of abandonment. It coincides with the idea of creating our own destiny or fears. Often individuals with abandonment fears place extremely high demands on others for fear they won’t be perfect and live up to their expectations. In doing so, they eventually drive them away thus validating their fear of being abandoned. It can be a terrible cycle and extremely hard to recognize when we’re right in the middle of it!
As with any relationship, it takes two to make a marriage work. If the goals and expectations of each person are focused on opposing ends, the marriage is headed for a constant battle. There’s bound to be rough times in any relationship, especially marriage, but finding a way to work through them is vital to finding happiness.
Working towards happiness in marriage takes commitment towards love, communication, understanding, expectations, respect, trust, and compromise.
Seven Keys to a Reasonably Happy Marriage
Love Is Not All You Need
Love makes everything better, and at times painful. Yet love alone will not make a happy marriage.
In my previous marriage that ended, I loved her, but that wasn’t enough. In my case, the lack of self-love was the missing ingredient; even then love may not have been enough. Loving someone means wanting what is best for them, regardless of what we want for ourselves. At times, this means letting them go.
Love alone does not make a happy marriage, but without it, there’s little chance of finding continued happiness.
Communication: Can You Hear Me Now?
This may be a shocker, but communication is a two way street. Amazing concept I know. Many times we are so concerned with communicating our wants and needs, we fail to hear the other person. How many times are you having a conversation with someone and while they’re talking, all you’re thinking about is what you’re going to say next?
There’s a difference between listening and waiting for your chance to speak. I find myself doing this often, and it means I’m not listening. When I catch myself doing this, I remind myself that if it’s that important, I’ll remember it when it’s my time to speak. Or I may try and make a mental post-it note to get back to later… but that is difficult and can distract me from actually listening. This takes practice but being aware of it can be a start to becoming a better listener; and thus better communicator.
A common thread in couples, who have found happiness in marriage, is the ability to communicate well with each other. Being a good communicator begins with knowing oneself and what our wants, needs, and expectations are and the ability to effective communicate those with our spouse.
Understanding: being understanding rather than understood
How many times do you think to yourself, “he/she just doesn’t understand me?”
Being misunderstood is often the result of miscommunication. Again, knowing ourselves intimately is vital in communicating what our wants and needs are. An important trait of a happy marriage is the ability to be understanding rather than understood. Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Take a moment to try and understand what your spouse may be going through or feeling. Connecting with those emotions inside yourself will help you better understand what they may be going through.
Expectations: Today’s Expectations are Tomorrow’s Resentments
Any time reality does not live up to our expectations, we’re more likely to experience unhappiness. More precisely, unmet expectations in a marriage lead to resentments.
Resentments left un-communicated or resolved can fester and tear a marriage apart. The simple solution would be to lower or eliminate expectations. But does that seem reasonable? Some would argue having no expectations is impossible, or not realistic. However, by learning to live in the now, the result are lower expectations of the future and a better ability to be happy.
More often then not, reality and expectations are not the same. What we want life to be and what it is are often two separate things. It’s in the realization that life and marriage is based in reality and the closer we can get our expectations inline with reality—living in the now—the happier we become.
Respect: Earning it From Within
Finding happiness in marriage starts with finding happiness in yourself. A lack of respect for ourselves makes it nearly impossible to respect anyone else. How can we feel an emotion for someone else if we have no idea what the truest sense of that emotion is?
If we do not respect our spouse, the possibility of finding happiness in our marriage is nearly impossible. By respecting our spouse, we are better able to trust that they have our best interest in mind.
Trust: Having Our Best Interest in Mind
In the beginning we hope for trust. In the end, it’s all we have. If we cannot trust our spouse, finding happiness in our marriage may be impossible.
Many marriages suffer from trust issues; whether infidelity or any other reason, trust is often broken and can take years to be repaired; if ever. If we want the marriage to work, we must work through the trust issues; if we cannot, happiness will remain elusive. Trust is built upon the belief that our spouse has our—or our marriage—best interest in mind as reflected in their decisions and actions. Trust is earned over a period of time but can be destroyed in an instant. If trust is lost, it must be rebuilt if possible to find happiness in the marriage.
Compromise: I’d Rather be Happy Then Right
People can only give so much. If one person in the marriage is constantly taking, whether emotionally, physically, or financially, happiness for both members will suffer. We cannot demand or extract happiness out of a marriage at the expense of our spouse.
Having a true sense of inner happiness ultimately makes it easier to compromise since we’re less likely to depend on outside sources for our happiness (i.e. marriage). Making a decision to be happy is a choice we can make.
Think about this, would you rather be happy or right? Honestly, how many times have you defended a position at the expense of happiness? If being right is more important than happiness, then that’s our decision, but we do have a choice. This does not mean we have to compromise our values and morals, but choosing when we feel the need to be right is a choice.
Love, Communication, Understanding, Expectations, Respect, Trust, and Compromise are all important keys in finding happiness in marriage. It’s not necessary to be perfect in each one of these areas, but working towards progress in each one will certainly contribute to a reasonably happy marriage. If you’re wondering why I’ve chosen the phrase “reasonably happy,” just remember; expectations and keeping your marriage based in reality.
Suggestion; keep in mind your favorite love story or movie, has a script and life does not.
In closing, I’d like to share something which was read at my wedding:
Your “homework” is to practice an ancient Sufi tradition: In your life together, speak words to your beloved only if they can pass through 3 gates: First, is it truthful? Second, is it necessary? Third, is it kind? If your words are truthful & necessary & kind, then the love you have maintained up until today will be nourished and continue to grow & your name will continue to remain safe in your beloved’s mouth.
When thinking about how to find happiness, regardless if it’s in marriage or life in general, always consider what words would make you happy to hear from someone.