The world has grown suspicious of anything that looks like a happily married life. -Oscar Wilde
I know my marriage is an anomaly. Happy marriages are rare. For as much as we all long for a relationship that we can grow old in, we don’t really believe in them. I think this might be because many people confuse the early “in love” experience of relating with the ongoing effort of creating a love that works. The confusion is not unwarranted as the experience of falling in love might be the most powerfully transformative lessons our heart learns. We become a better version of ourselves as our biological urge to pair drives us and gives us new eyes to see ourselves and our loved one. This softer vision through our hearts trumps tolerance with acceptance and even allows us to imagine letting go of things we have long held dear.
We are happy because we love. We are able to love when we are happy with ourselves. Most of us go into our marriages believing that this is the natural state of things. Even if we have seen few long-term happy marriages, we all begin believing ours will be different. We expect our marriages to make us happy. We attribute our capacity for happiness to our feelings of being loved. Then our biological embodiment of falling in love fades. We see the rough and brittle edges of our partner and the relationship scrapes noisily where before it seemed to float. This is not wrong- its normal. This is where we are demanded to fulfill the early promises of love instead of being filled up by them.
This is when the real work of love and acceptance begins. I remember as a young newlywed how angry I was at my husband when my feelings of loneliness or sadness were not cured by our relationship. I believed that all this would go away inside of his love. It took a long time, maybe close to a decade for me to stop blaming my spouse and my marriage for my unhappiness. This is perhaps the most lethal thinking trap and single biggest premature killer of many long-term relationships. We believe that someone else can make us happy and fix our brokenness. The biggest gift we can give our relationship is to realize that happiness is an inside job. We are each the master of our own destiny in our hearts.
Many people never really understand this revelation because most of us enter our marriages with little or no emotional intelligence. How can we possibly be responsible for our own happiness when we do not even have the fluency of naming our own feelings by their right name. Sadness, fear, insecurity and loneliness can all come out looking like anger or contempt. Our marriages become the wasteland of this ignorance when we blame our feelings on our partner, degrading the dynamics of our relationship.