It was a day in August 2011.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was heavily pregnant with my third and last child. I was just coming into the pregnancy spring cleaning phase and came across my old diaries.
I have never kept regular diaries, more in fits and spurts when I feel unhappy—but there they were, all with just a few pages full. And as I sat reading them, rocking back and forth in my especially acquired pregnancy rocking chair, I noticed the pattern.
They were all addressed to my husband. I was actually writing to him. And they were all full of tears and frustration and unhappiness. My older two children were five and seven at the time, and there were entries back from when they were babies and then a year on and another. And all the same. All unhappy. And I sat there wondering, “Is my marriage really that bad? Does it really make me so miserable? And if it is, do I want to leave?”
As I reflected that morning, I realised that although my marriage wasn’t perfect like most, I didn’t want to leave. We were both excited about the new life on the way, a little boy, and I wanted to share that with him. But I also knew that with this decision, came a responsibility. That something had to change. I knew that time was flying, and before I knew it, my children would be grown up and I would have missed the joy that these years could bring me.
And in that moment, I realised something that I hadn’t quite put together in that way before. That I was laying the responsibility for my happiness at his door. That my happiness was dependant on his actions. And that was ridiculous!
Why hadn’t I realised what I was doing before? Because there is only one person in the world who can make me happy—that is me. I knew this, I told other people this, so how had I missed it with myself?
I have let myself off the hook since. As women, we are culturally brainwashed to find our happiness in the happiness of others. A “selfish” mother is harshly judged. And after sacrificing most of our ambition and dreams, we look to our partner to lift us and bring some relief and happiness. Men do this too in relationships—put the onus of their happiness on their partner—but usually for somewhat different reasons. But it doesn’t work. No other person on the planet can “make” us feel anything. That is down to us.
The realisation that day set me free. I genuinely let go of many expectations, with no malice or sense of sacrifice. I didn’t get upset if he was late back from work again; in fact, I stopped asking him when he would be home, as I knew he hated me asking. I stopped going on about planning that family outing, or going to parent meetings on my own. I went and I enjoyed them. I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be and wouldn’t change it for the world. And I hoped that he was where he wanted to be, but if he wasn’t, I also realised that this wasn’t my responsibility.
I made a list of the things I enjoyed doing that he never wanted to do—things I had missed out on for so many years. I love the cinema and walks by the river and started doing them with the kids or on my own and learnt to enjoy my own company. If I wanted to go up to my friend’s house for the evening, I didn’t wait to see when he would go with me; I just went.
And I stopped waiting for him to plan holidays with me. I planned two with a friend and the kids to theme parks, and we had a wonderful time. I genuinely set myself free and began to really find joy in the little things and felt much happier overall—therefore happier in my marriage.
So, if a relationship starts to feel difficult, before you run for the hills, stop and consider the following:
Are you placing the onus for your happiness at your partner’s door? And do they continuously fail?
If your answer is yes, you are setting them up for a fall, as they may be doing to you. I say to all my clients who come to talk about their relationships, “What are you doing about your happiness? I hear the things your partner is doing or not doing that are making you unhappy. But how are you actively contributing to your own happiness? And if you are not, would it not make sense to at least try that—before you decide it is your partner making you miserable and you must split?”
To quote Kahlil Gibran,
“…let there be spaces in your togetherness,
…love one another but make not a bond of love.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together.
For the pillars of the temple stand apart.
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
When we come together with a partner, we want them to be all things. We want to merge with them. And for a while, during the honeymoon phase, perhaps this is achievable. But as life goes on, we are different people, and what feels like growing apart, or like our partner has changed, is just us re-establishing ourselves as individuals after an intense period of merging with the other.
Some relationships will end. Even after you have been through a process of finding your happiness as an individual, you may realise that this person is bringing too much negativity to your life, or is simply not who you want to be with. And that is okay. But before you get to that, make sure “you” are doing everything to take responsibility for your own happiness. And when you feel happier, every aspect of your life with feel better.
So, go to the theatre, go for that movie, reconnect with old friends, enjoy a day out with the kids, eat at your favourite restaurants, and do all those things you have been waiting for them to do with you. And you will gradually feel the resentment fade away.
I did it, and so many of my clients, so I know you can!