Jared and I have been struggling with a bizarre dysfunction lately, yet I suspect that it’s fairly common in today’s marriages.
Let’s see if I can get this out.
A long, long time ago (because this time last year seems like lifetimes ago), I would have told you that a perfect relationship was based on me making him happy and him making me happy. As long as we were both doing our job, we were both happy and fulfilled.
Our marriage counselor calls this a symbiotic relationship.
We were mutually dependent, like humans and intestinal bacteria.
And then we learned about being responsible for our own happiness. I realized that an idea I used to think was romantic was probably the least efficient system ever created by man – counting the U.S. government. The fact is that no one – not even a husband who adores me – can know better than I do what I need to be happy, or even what happiness means to me. And no one – not even a wife who adores him and believes at her core that his happiness is a reflection of whether or not she is good enough – can know better than Jared what Jared needs to be happy, or even what happiness looks like to him.
This understanding created a noticeable shift in our relationship. There was less stress and resentment and more breathing and laughing and talking. We learned how to say “this is what I need, and I’d like to be able to get it from you” and the sense of power that came from taking on that responsibility was thrilling.
We win marriage – YAY!
We consider leaving marriage counseling – YAY!
We – meaning me – consider that OH I DO NOT THINK WE WILL BE GOING ANYWHERE ANYTIME SOON, THANKS!
We keep going to marriage counseling just in case and then –
We wonder is he happy?
We wonder is she happy?
We wonder is he actually unhappy but afraid to tell me?
We wonder why isn’t she telling me what I can do to make her happy? I want her to be happy. TELL ME WHAT ELSE I NEED TO DO!
And then we kind of get really freaking annoyed with one another because JESUS, Seriously, I told you I am FINE. I am HAPPY. What the hell is wrong with YOU?
We have to mail back our winning at marriage trophy.
We do, however, continue to keep talking, because that’s the one thing we have gotten really, really good at. And in the talking, one of us finally says, “it’s not your job to make me happy. I am fine. The idea of you sitting around worrying about whether or not I am happy is not romantic or nice or a sign of your love. It makes me sad to think of you living with anxiety and stress over me. I’m fine.”
“Yes, really. And if I am ever not fine, it is my job to figure it out. It is my job to ask you if I need something.”
“But what if you don’t?”
And there is the fear. The fear that the other is not really fine or happy, but that he or she is carrying around a secret pain or annoyance or grudge and that grudge will come out in some way and then we will realize that we have failed as a spouse because OH MY GOD YOU WERE UNHAPPY AND I DIDN’T KNOW OR FIX IT! And you know what? Now I am going to be MAD AT YOU BECAUSE THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE MY JOB ANYWAY! And it is easier to be mad at you than say “I think I failed. I feel guilty.”
“I need you to trust me that I will ask if I need it. I will figure it out. I will take my responsibility to take care of my own happiness seriously.”
“OK? You’ll try to trust me to do that?”
“Thank you. I am fine, and happy, and I will tell you when I’m not.”
“Great. And will you trust me to tell you if I need something? Will you try to assume that I’m OK?”
“Ummm….” long. awkward. pause. “Well, umm….” more long. awkward. pause. “It’s a lot harder to agree to trust you to tell me if you’re not happy than it is to take responsibility for my own happiness.”
And there it is. The idea of being responsible for ourselves? Easy breezy. The idea of trusting the other person to be responsible for themselves? Holy freaking hell of a lot harder. Loads harder. Deep breaths, long awkward pauses, begrudgingly agree to trust you to be OK unless you tell me otherwise harder.
Isn’t that odd?