Does the pursuit of happiness work in marriage?
Can you find a husband who can complete you, who can be your best friend, who can make you happy for the rest of your life?
That’s one of the questions I ask in my new book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. It launched last week, and I’ve been blown away by all the kind comments I’ve received and the great reviews!
And I want to give a shout out to Gaye Christmus from Calm.Healthy.Sexy, who has been part of my blog tour. She’s giving away two Kindle copies of the book, so head on over to enter! She’s written a wonderfully practically post on 5 Ways You Can Strengthen Your Marriage Today, too. Check it out!
Today, though, I want to talk a little bit more about happiness in marriage. The theme of my book is that we can’t just be passive participants in life, waiting for things to happen. We have to go out and make it happen! And too many of us are sitting back and waiting for happiness to come, because we believe that our husbands are supposed to make us happy.
I’ve been speaking on happiness at women’s retreats and marriage retreats for over a decade now, and I always say something similar:
If you can complete this sentence: “I‘ll be happy when my husband….” (learns to change a toilet paper roll; gives me some time to myself; finally says thank you), then you’ll never be happy. You’re putting your happiness in someone else’s hands. And the more you ask yourself, “am I happy? Is he making me happy?”, the more you’ll find all the reasons why he isn’t.
You can’t aim for happiness. It’s a by-product of something else–of finding joy and contentment in God, and then fulfillment as we live out our purpose.
In church this Sunday our pastor showed this video clip from the movie Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness. And I loved it, because so much of it was word-for-word what I’ve been saying (I love confirmation like that!)
Take a look–it’s really good (and short):
And so let’s get back to our question: Can your husband make you happy? I’ve asked Beth Steffaniak, a marriage blogger who has been such a faithful reader and guest contributor, to answer a couple of questions about happiness because this is her rallying cry, too! She writes the blog Messy Marriage, about what to do when things aren’t all rosy.
Beth, where do we get this idea that our husbands should make us happy?
On one level this seems like a “no-brainer!” We should all want our spouses to make us happy. Only a masochist or crazy person would NOT want his/her spouse to “make” him/her happy, right?
But at one point I began to question if I had married the wrong person, mostly because of that toxic belief. My reasoning seemed sound. “If he truly was my soul-mate, wouldn’t he make me happy?!” After all, that’s what I’d been told all my life by the people I trusted to form my view of marriage and romantic relationships … the Disney Corporation!
I can laugh at that reality now, but years ago I used to gobble up that sappy logic and magical thinking every time I hit the box office or clicked my TV remote. My “hungry for heaven” human heart was lulled into thinking that personal pleasure and happiness—no matter what it might cost me—should be the aim of my life and marriage. After all, if you’re an American, it’s right there in the Declaration of Independence…
What’s better than happiness?
I discovered that happiness in its truest sense isn’t something that can be expected or manufactured by any human being—“soul-mate” or not—because it is based upon good or favorable circumstances. However, only God can determine or change our circumstances! So happiness is a lot like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, “You never know what you’re going to get.”
On the other hand, “joy” is something that’s not based upon my circumstances, but rather upon the greatness of my God working in me in the midst of the good, the bad and especially the terrible circumstances I face in life and marriage.
“Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” James 1:2-4 (NIV).
Some of my most completely joyful moments in marriage have been the ones where my husband and I have grown closer because we weathered some storm in life together—not because we were delivered from it. Add to that the times when we worked through a messy moment that we brought on ourselves, and you have God’s catalyst for spiritual maturity because we learned to rely on Him more.
Would I ever go back to those days when I chased the ever-elusive happiness butterfly? Not a chance! That’s why I’m comfortable with being in a flawed and messy more-times-than-not marriage, because it is there that God’s glory in my weaknesses shines the brightest.
I love that, Beth! And if you feel like you’re in a “messy marriage”, too, check out her blog!
Here’s the thing, though: I think that many of us don’t realize when we’re chasing after happiness.
Whenever I write about happiness, I know most of my readers are nodding along with me, not realizing that this may, perhaps, apply to them, too!
So here’s your “happiness reality check”:
- If you allow the things that your husband does that annoy you to wreck your mood, you may be looking for your husband to make you happy.
- If you start the day happy, but end the day disappointed (with the disappointment growing as the day goes on), you may be looking outside yourself and outside God for your contentment.
- If you find yourself praying for God to change your husband, you may be looking for your husband to complete you.
- If you can easily give a list of the ways that your husband disappoints you, or easily list off ten of his faults, you may be looking for him to make you happy.
Or, let me sum it up this way:
People who are looking for their happiness outside of themselves have a very easy time identifying all the disappointments in their lives and all the ways others don’t measure up.
People who are looking to God for their joy and contentment have an easy time identifying things they are grateful for, and a harder time listing the things that bug them about specific people.
Look, we all have bad days. We all have days when we’re exhausted and we want to cry. We all have certain people that drive us completely around the bend. We all have certain circumstances that drive us nuts. And quite often there’s a very good reason these drive us nuts!
But people who focus on joy and contentment usually focus on how to make a plan to deal with those things that drive them nuts. People who are focused on happiness do not, because their modus operandi is more passive: things should go well for me, and if they don’t, someone is doing something wrong.
People who are focused on happiness see all the impediments to happiness; people who are focused on joy and on our Lord see exciting solutions.
What do you do if you’re focused on happiness?
It’s okay. This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. I share in the book how I was focused on happiness in my marriage. So was Beth! But let’s stop focusing on the way that others disappoint us, and start searching for the way God blesses us. Let’s stop looking at other people’s failures and start looking inside ourselves to see what God has done. Let’s stop feeling helpless, and start seeing how God is equipping us to bring greater joy to everyone around us.
It really is just a simple mindset shift. It’s a new way of thinking. And it honestly can make all the difference in the world.
It’s not about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about the happiness of pursuit–the pursuit of God, the pursuit of purpose, the pursuit of joy, the pursuit of gratitude.
And especially the pursuit of Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2)! When we start pursuing joy, you’ll find that your need for others to make you happy diminishes considerably. And, ironically, you’ll find that your happiness actually increases.