I've been married for almost 4 years. For the first 3 years, through the birth of my daughter, the death of my mother-in-law, being in a state hundreds of miles from the nearest family, etc., I always thought it was my job to make my wife happy. I would then get frustrated when she was not happy, because I somehow took that to mean that I was a failure at being a husband.
"...and they lived Happily Ever After." That is how many fictional childrens books and movies end. The earth-shattering crisis is averted, and the couple walks into the sunset, to an emotionally, sexually, spiritually, and economically fulfilling and rewarding future, free from all danger and struggle. Who makes this stuff up? Are we really gonna take our relationship que's from fiction?
Anyone who is in a marriage, a relationship, knows that this is not true. Every relationship (parental, intimate, friendship, dating, marriage, work-related, etc.) will have bumps in it. There will be disagreements, arguments, impasses. Part of these impasses are born out of the expectation that the other person will make me happy.
Happiness is an emotional response, and is dependent upon what happens. It is unwise to allow one's self to become the source of another's happiness.
After 3 1/2 years of personal counseling, I now approach all relationships from the law of thirds.
As in the law of thirds-character, your genetics is what you bring to the table at birth. Well in relationships, you bring all of you to the table. Your genetics, experiences, preferences, expectations, abilities, weaknesses, etc. In any relationship, you are the variable you can most focus on. As in genetics, at birth I am born with issues good and bad which predispose me to things. In a relationship, my past predisposes my present to things, good and bad. So at least 1/3 of the relationship problems are all mine, because they are me. I am the problem 1/3 of the time.
So what do I do to improve myself for my relationship. I exercise. My wife and daughter deserve to have a healthy father and husband, and one who is around for a long time, by God's grace.
I go to personal counseling once a month. It doesn't cost me alot, and it helps me process my feelings in any and all relationships I have, with a person who has no invested emotional interest my response. they can be completely objective, giving affirmation or critique as needed.
I have a professional advisor, whom I meet with monthly. This person assists me in planning my professional career, and navigating the corporate workplace, which for me is...challenging.
I have accountability partners. These are men with whom I am most vulnerable, telling them my strengths and weaknesses, who have given me encouragement (or the swift kick in the butt) when needed.
I have accountability software on my computer. I do not give myself the option of heading to a site my wife would not approve of. This accountanility software, CovenantEyes, blocks all foolishness, and sends a report weekly to my accountability partners.
I see doctor regularly. I ensure that I am healthy, and if there is something alarming, it is discovered early. So far...so good.
I am looking into further my education. Why? because I want to be in a position to have options in my field, to be able to care for my family in such a way that my wife and daughter need not stress. I desire to position our family economically that we have something to leave our grandchildren.
I maintain my relationship with God. In our home this is important because of our belief system. My wife knows she can trust me when she knows I am close to God. Additionally, there are things, insights or leadings, one gets when one spiritual life is in line with one's beliefs.
In any relationship there is the environment in which the relationship, habits, desires, emotions, etc., are nurtured. Church relationships are nurtured at church, predominantly. Work relationships, at work. Whatever the environment one's relationship finds itself in, that environment makes up another 1/3 of the relationship. You are 1/3, the environment is 1/3. In any relationship environment, I can only be responsible for 1/2 of the nurture and the environment. Let me illustrate: if my wife cleans the house, she can only be responsible for 1/2 the house, because I live in the house as well. even if she cleans most of it, I must do my part or the house will either not be completely clean, or my wife will be burnt out.
In any relationship, in the environment and nurture of the relationship, one can only be responsible for 1/2 of the nurture and environment. If one tries to do more, one is complicit in codependency, or of being a parent more than an equal. This applies in all aspects. Let's take communication. If I am trying to communicate effectively with a friend, to tell him how I am feeling, to express to him my thoughts, and he immediately goes on the defensive, that is not my fault. If what I am saying is automatically interrpeted as problematic, that may be in the ears of the hearer more than coming from the mouth of me. If I am trying to communicate effectively, and am willing to rephrase for better effectiveness, and all I get is stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism, or contempt, then the relationship is doomed. I cannot change how people will respond to me, I can only change how I present myself. Am I a nurturing person? Am I more apt to speak than to listen? When I listen, do I listen to respond, or to understand with empathy? Am I affirming?
If I am presented with anyone of these horseman in my relationship, how do I respond? Whatis the appropriate response?
1) Instead of giving Contempt, I am to describe my own feelings and needs. I am not to describe the other person. Most of us do a great job of describing the other persons failures, but we struggle to describe our own needs and feelings. This is based on the need for power, which is based in being afraid and hurt. It is easier for me to attack you than to let you know how hurt I am at this moment. Describing my own feelings put my weapons away, and actually invites the other person closer to me than before.
2) Instead of being Defensive, I am to take responsibility for what I can take responsibility for. In some relationships, the manipulative person wants you and others to be responsible for their feelings, mindset, failures, apathy, etc. I do not accept that. I will own my own stuff; I will not own yours.
This is not permission to be rude. This is making room for actual honesty in a relationship. In any relationship, everyting must be discussable, open and honestly. There are some who desire that certain things be not discussable. This is their powerplay. They maintain a sense of power and control by keeping certain things from being discussed, or breaking down emotionally the guiltride the other into dropping the subject and apologizing for simple honesty. Honesty does not need to be apologized for, and any relationship which cannot speak honestly about the facts in a relatioship lacking intergrity. If my wife says to me "Jason, the way you survived in your childhood is affecting our marriage negatively", she may say it as softy and sweetly as she wants to, and it will still be true (this is not a conversation we have had, mind you). If i feel hurt, that is not her fault. She can empathize with me that the topic may be hurtful, but she should not own the fact that I am hurt. I must own my own hurt, and not turn to my wife and say things like, "My childhood is off the table! Why would you bring that up? You know how much that hurts me to speak of it! You hurt me!" I am using the blame game, the guilt game, to attempt to manipulate my wife into dropping a subject, because I am uncomfortable with considering her correct, with thinking myself flawed, with remembering a plausible painful childhood, or with having to take responsibility for my own actions in the present. My wife should own what she can own: she brought up a very factual conversation, and how it is affecting her, in a calm and compassionate way. She should not own what I must own: my feelings, emotions, responses, responsibility.
3) Instead of Criticism, which can explode on someone as if they are the entire personification of evil, I am to speak of a specific situation and incident. In doing so, I choose to let past issues be past, and not rehashing things from years ago as reference and precedent to validate my criticism. Criticisms are broad and explosive. Complaints are more narrow, and more specific.
4) Instead of Stonewalling, I am to take ownership of my own emotions, and sooth myself while remaining in the conversation. Stonewalling is another defensive power tactic. It places the other person at fault for my feelings and emotions, removes all responsibility from me for the relationship, and my own feelings and emotions, and challenges the other person to get past my walls. If they try, and I let them in, I am in power. If they try, and I keep them out, I am in power. If they try, and they succeed in breaking past my defenses, I can now play victim. Owning one's emotions, while remaining in the relationship and conversation, soothing one's self, actually takes power from others over my emotions, and does not allow them to push me away.
THE OTHER PERSON
As in the Law of Thirds-Character, this issue deals with choice. Everyone has a choice on how they will be in a relationship. Will you be happy, sad, submissive, domineering, victim, manipulator...who will you be. In every relationship, the happiness is found within oneself. It is what you bring to the table. If you are not happy, don't expect the relationship to give you joy, meaning, purpose, etc. The relationship will be what each one of us brings to the table. If you find that the person you are in relationship with does not share the sames values and outlooks for life there are a few options:
1) Break off the relationship. It is better to part ways than to try to force change on someone who is unwilling, be that someone yourself or the other person.
2) Stick with the relationship, but have healthy boundaries, recognizing that the two of you are different in some areas, and it is OK. Allow the difference and enjoy the difference.
In conclusion, I'll share with you my 3 laws of life:
1) When someone tells/shows you who they are, believe them. This will allow you to be in relationship with eyes wide open, knowing exactly who you are in relationship with. You are choosing them.
2) Never expect others to be what/who they have told or shown you they are unwilling or incapable of being. This will allow you to be in relationship without the misguided notion that you can change anyone.
3) Never expect others to do or be who God ordained you to do or be. This will allow you to live without the expectation of others. It also allows you to be in relationship with others appreciating their calling and way of being.
If these rules cannot be followed in your relationship, then it is probably time to walk away.