In my Love Essentially column that was published in Sun-Times Media on July 17th, titled, “21 tips I wish I could have shared with my 21 year-old self,” #14 was: If you don’t like yourself, your relationship will suffer.” I felt like #14 deserved its own article because so many unhappy couples and/or divorced people, or even people contemplating a second marriage want to know why marriages fail, and I feel like #14 is a huge part of that answer.
This might sound trite, but a common cliché is “you have to be happy with yourself before you are going to be happy with someone else.” Yes, that is true, but what happens when two people were happy, they got married, and then some life change causes one of the people to be unhappy, spiral downward, cheat, perhaps, or develop some kind of addiction, ultimately causing an unhappy marriage, followed by divorce?
It’s impossible for people not to change as they grow and as time goes by. I was a completely different person at 21 (hence, the Love Essentially column idea) than I am now in my 40’s. So, let’s say you got married when you were 28 and you’re now 45. Your spouse is probably really different in some ways than when the two of you were first married, but the same in a lot of ways, too. I believe the core of who we are really never changes. If you have a heart of gold as a kid, you have a heart of gold as an old woman. But, change is absolutely inevitable, and it can sometimes break a marriage, if it’s negative change.
There are many feelings associated with change. Some are good and some are bad. Here are some examples:
Change: A family member becomes ill or dies.
Feelings: Sadness and fear.
Change: A person loses his/her job
Feelings: lowers self-esteem, gives the person low self worth. Anger, fear, anxiety.
Change: Having kids
Feelings: makes people more selfless, happy, responsible.
Change: physical, the way we look, aging
Feelings: Insecurity, unhappiness
Change: financial—a bad investment or business deal, losing a significant amount of money
Feelings: anger, bitterness, jealous of those who have more money.
Changes are endless and they never stop. It’s the changes that make people unhappy with themselves that become the reason marriages fail.
If you are happy and your spouse is unhappy, here are some things that could happen:
The unhappy person
- The unhappy person could become jealous of the happy person, and start to resent him/her.
- The unhappy person could blame the happy person for his/her unhappiness, think he/she is the problem. Cheating is possible in this scenario.
- The unhappy person could turn to alcohol, drugs or another addiction to try to soothe the unhappiness.
- The unhappy person could start nit picking when it comes to the happy person, expecting that person to be perfect.
- The unhappy person could start to talk about the past with the happy person and blame them for things that happened a long time ago, saying things like, “you ruined my life.”
The happy person
- The happy person might feel helpless and frustrated because he/she can’t help the unhappy person.
- The happy person might feel guilty for being so happy when the one he/she loves isn’t.
- The happy person might get desperate to make the unhappy person happy, make compromises and then resent the unhappy person later.
- The happy person might get angry at the unhappy person, or feel disappointed in the person for not taking steps to become happy.
I have two examples of couples where one person is happy and one is not. The first is a friend of mine who in the past few years has become very professionally successful. Her husband is successful, as well, but because of the change, the notoriety and the money his wife is making, he is having a hard time. It’s very obvious that he has become jealous. He is mean to her in front of their kids and he never wants to talk about her job. Her words, “I’m irritated with him. No one said he wasn’t allowed to try to achieve this, too.”
The second example is a woman who lost her job a few years ago, and is now working in a job she is clearly overqualified for. She hates going to work. The job is mindless and a bit demeaning to her. About a year ago, she began accusing her husband (very successful professionally and couldn’t be happier at work) of cheating on her. She gets crazy, screaming at him and saying she knows he’s sleeping with other women. The guy has never cheated and thinks “she is crazy and needs to get a life.”
These are examples of how inevitable change can affect the love people have for themselves, which can cause their relationship to suffer, which is a huge reason why marriages fail.
Here’s my advice for:
The unhappy person:
Figure out if it’s the marriage, or if you are unhappy with yourself and have the courage to admit if it’s YOU. People can be unhappy about ANYTHING, from a scarred childhood to a job they hate to being 30 pounds overweight and unable to lose it. Let your happy spouse stay happy! He/she didn’t do anything wrong because they are happy. If you truly love him/her, you should focus on fixing yourself and be happy for that other person.
In other words, before you start saying “I need to get divorced, then I’ll be happy,” start with yourself. How can you get happy? What can you do? Who can help you? In addition to professionals, maybe the help you need getting happy is sitting right in your family room: the man or woman you married two decades ago. Maybe HE/SHE isn’t the problem. Maybe YOU are.
The happy person:
There is nothing you can do to make the other person happy. He/she has to do it themselves. All you can do is communicate and offer support. You are helpless to someone else’s unhappiness. So, keep being happy!! Enjoy your job, your kids, your social life, everything that makes you happy! You aren’t doing anything wrong by being happy!