Despite the recent hype that marriage isn’t for you, it actually is. Here’s why.
I’m sure by now you’ve read the viral post by Seth Adam Smith about Marriage Isn’t for You. In the article he states “True marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love — their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?” while Love asks, “What can I give?” As the editor of the Marriage section, I debated re-posting it here. But in my better judgment I decided against it because as a marriage counselor I wholeheartedly and fundamentally disagree with it. Here’s why:
Why I Disagree That Marriage Isn’t For You
1) It’s a completely false notion that to be happy in your marriage all you have to do is make your spouse happy. This assumes two things that are not physically possible: 1) that there’s some magic button you can push that can somehow “make” someone be happy. And 2) it assumes that by someone else being happy, it pushes another magic button that somehow makes you happy. The fact of the matter is, no such magic buttons exist. No matter how much you try to “make” your spouse be happy that’s just simply not within your control. And even when your spouse is happy, that doesn’t mean you will be. As one author recently wrote, that’s why the phrase “happy wife, happy life” is erroneous.
2) Focusing solely on your spouse’s happiness – without regard to your own – leaves you wide open to being bulldozed. As a marriage counselor, I have seen so many spouses who are so wrapped up in making their spouse happy that they don’t recognize that they’re being bulldozed. Sure, focusing on your spouse makes sure they’re being pampered, and they may be happy as a clam, but it’s at an expense that’s harmful to you – which is ultimately harmful to the relationship, too. It’s like the characters in the Eminem and Rihana song Love the Way You Lie. They think that if they can only keep their spouse happy, their marriage (and themselves) will be happy, too – despite how toxic the rest of the relationship is (in the song there’s domestic violence occurring).
3) Another reason I have to fundamentally disagree with this article is because I have seen spouses on the receiving end who are being pampered but are feeling smothered, suffocated and end up feeling claustrophobic because of it. I know what you’re thinking. Who wouldn’t want a spouse who bends over backwards for them, right? Trust me you really don’t.
Think back to middle school when you had that boy/girlfriend who told you they loved you all the time and would say things like “I know you don’t love me as much I love you, but I’m just happy that you love me at all”. Then they’d write notes to you every period and call you every day – just to make you happy. After so long it just got exhausting. So you broke up with them. And your boy/girlfriend probably went berserk saying things like “what did I do wrong, just give me another chance. I’ll change, I’ll change”. Sure, the pampering was nice for a while. But you broke up with them because you eventually felt suffocated.
Instead of thinking that marriage is supposed to be just for your spouse, a more balanced approach is much better. You are a person. You have wants, feelings, needs and desires, too. As a person, it’s your right to have these needs and wants met in a relationship. If you’re not having them met, the solution isn’t to love your spouse even more in hopes that this will push a magic button that suddenly “makes” you happy. After so long of “making” your spouse happy you’ll find that the magic button isn’t working because you’re still not happy. And you’re not happy because you’re needs aren’t being met. So instead of focusing even more on your spouse, be assertive. Be confident. Make your wants and needs known. Be willing to meet your spouse’s needs but make sure that you’re also getting yours met.
I share a mathematical principle with clients that relates well to couples. It is that 1 x 1/2 = 1/2. What I mean by this is that it takes two whole people to create a whole relationship. If one of you is not contributing wholly to the relationship, you’re creating a fraction of a relationship. And if you’re pampering your spouse with little regard to yourself you’re not being an emotionally whole contributor. You’re also not giving your spouse the opportunity to be a whole contributor to the relationship, either. And as a result, your relationship suffers – despite your good intentions.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s a romantic idea to love your spouse no matter what the cost to you is. And to some extent I wish a lot more people knew how to selflessly love another. I can see Seth Adam Smith’s point that a lot of times marital problems occur because you’re thinking too much about yourself and expecting your spouse to do all the work. But in our age of marital fairy tales where one spouse can somehow unilaterally create their spouse’s happiness, I think the article is only perpetuating a perceived notion that’s already damaging marriages.
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