I’m not here to profess some grand happiness formula for marriage, seeing as I’ve only experienced this one life, with this one man, over a short eight years. Nor will I pretend to know all of the intricate, deeply-seated reasons for your own unhappiness. Happiness is wildly inconsistent and subjective.
But I do know a thing or two about chronic unhappiness. The way it simmers under the surface of our lives, building up pressure, and how each heavy sigh is like an emotional relief valve. I know how easy it is to dip into the shadowy parts of a marriage and then mistake it for all of the darkness in my life, even the parts that belong to me.
In talking with my married girlfriends (and married moms – they’re unhappy, too) and analyzing the relationships around me (including the one in my house), there does seem to be some consistent habits among the chronically unhappy. See if you recognize yourself in any of these:
1. You’re trying to get back old feelings.
The beginning of a relationship gives us such a high, such a warmth, and it’ll linger for years — through fights and changes and settling down. Blame it on the dopamine surge coursing through our love-struck brains,or chalk it up to hindsight nostalgia and a well-edited memory. Regardless, most of us have reminisced about a specific season in our lives, typically that new-love phase, and said, “But can’t we just get back to that place?”
Oh honey, that’s sweet, but no. No you will never go back to that place, no matter the effort and pleading. That warmth was never meant to last. It was a fleeting, temporary (hormone-driven) season, as they all are. If your motivation is to recapture something behind you, then you’ll never fully move forward. And there’s good stuff ahead, too.
2. You have unrealistic expectations.
Most of our Happily Ever After expectations are shattered within a year or two but what about the high expectations we have for our husbands? The things they should do and say and think, and how we expect them to be at any given time. Don’t get me wrong; some expectations are good and appropriate — they keep us accountable and striving for growth. But what about the expectations that our husbands are consistently falling short of? We think things like, “He should be more romantic,” and “If he loved me, he would want to help with the laundry,” and, to varying degrees, “He should do and think exactly as I do and do it how I want it done, the minute I want it done.” How many of our expectations are a wee bit unreasonable? And have we even voiced them out loud or do we expect them to just know?
At some point in a marriage, we have to evaluate our expectations and recognize when they’re making us chronically disappointed. We have to define what absolutely cannot be tolerated, clearly communicate that, and then accept our husbands for who they are right now, not who we think they should be.
While we’re at it, what about the expectations we place on ourselves as wives? The “shoulds,” the comparisons, the imaginary ideals — all sure-fire happiness stealers. So much of our chronic unhappiness starts and exists within our minds, fueled by our thoughts, with nothing tangible to show for it.
3. You’ll only be happy once he changes.
If only he would make more money or stop spending money or work on his rage issues, then you would be happy. If only he didn’t have so many problems, then things would be easier. As much as this feels true, it’s not. Our partners were never meant to complete us, to fill our holes, to make us happy. We’re responsible for our own emotions and well-being. And when we stop fixating on all of the things we can’t change — all of the unproductive worries and micromanaging — we can start to see the things that we can change, within ourselves.
4. You’re keeping score.
If you’re keeping score in your marriage, then there will always be a loser. You’ll never have a 50/50 split, right down the middle, through each and every season of marriage. And if your scorecard is full of markings and deductions from the the past — like that time he stormed out and you felt abandoned — then you’re sowing the seeds of resentment. Let it go, let it be (and it will never be perfectly even and fair).
5. You’re neglecting yourself.
Marriage will always require sacrifice and compromise but continuing to take care of yourself — enforcing your boundaries, making time for the things and people who bring you joy, and prioritizing your needs — is the mark of a healthy wife, not a selfish wife. (Selfishness does not equal love, say it with me ladies!)
As Jim Rohn so smartly said, “The greatest gift you can give someone is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’ Now I say, ‘I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.'”
6. You’re avoiding the hard stuff.
It’s in the confrontations you aren’t having, the words you aren’t saying, the red flags you’re ignoring. It’s in those eggshells you’re tiptoeing around, in the inconvenient truths you’d rather not look at directly. If our happiness is chronic and unending, then maybe we aren’t addressing something that needs to be seen. It’s easier to pretend a marriage is fine, that it’ll get better eventually, that it could one day be as it once was but it’s better to look at the roots of our unhappiness. Sometimes it comes from resentment that’s buried in passive aggression. Sometimes it comes from tolerating unacceptable, hurtful behavior, all in the name of being a Good Wife. And sometimes there are factors completely outside of the marriage, deep within us, that keeps happiness just out of our reach.
Making small changes to our habitual behaviors and mind patterns really does have an affect on our overall happiness. And take it from me, a formerly unhappy wife, taking ownership over our happiness and making small steps toward being healthier is truly the best thing we can do for our marriage.