Are you waiting for your husband to make you happy?
“Our marriage was never fabulous,” my friend Julie told me. “And it went down substantially when we had kids.” Her first child was extremely colicky. Her second baby was born prematurely and was on a heart monitor for six months. She’d not anticipated how difficult motherhood would be, and it threw her for a loop.
“I was completely out of my element, and I kept expecting my husband to fix it,” Julie said. But her husband was out of his element too. Although he had the job world under control, he didn’t know how to step in and control the home front. Julie explained:
I felt like he wasn’t helping me, but he didn’t know what to do any more than I did. I was trying to make him into my savior, and he wasn’t my savior. He was supposed to be my partner. Mean-while, he was feeling overwhelmed in a different way. His wife had become a complete mess. “Where’s the beautiful wife I married?” he’d say. And I was blaming him for making her disappear.
When I was a personal mess, my husband tried to fix it. When it wasn’t fixable, he wanted to step away. It just made him feel badly. He didn’t know how to react to me.
The more Julie’s husband stepped away, the more Julie started to notice all the ways that he wasn’t meeting her needs. Add to that her own insecurity as a mom, and her personal mess grew worse and worse.
Can you relate to Julie?
Julie’s story ended up in my book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. I was telling you all about the book last week, and we were looking at some of the more controversial elements–how sometimes you have to confront sin in your husband’s life, and we weren’t always called to keep silent.
But if you were to ask me which of the 9 “thoughts” was the hardest for me personally, it would be this one: realizing that my husband was not put on earth to make me happy.
I’ve been through a tough year and a half. It started with a lot of health problems, and ended with a personal struggle I’ve been praying through and agonizing about. And what’s bugged me the most is that I can’t share that personal struggle with Keith in the way that I want to, because it’s not his struggle. He doesn’t feel the same way about the issue as I do (it’s not a marriage issue, by the way. It’s something totally different.)
Here’s what I think we women often do–what both Julie and I have done: when we are having a personal problem, we expect our husbands to enter into that problem, to walk through it with us, to comfort us, and even to fix it. To do something about it. To be our big champion!
But isn’t being our champion God’s role?
If your husband doesn’t get as riled up or as upset about something as you do, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. It just means that he has a different perspective.
The problem women make is that we expect our husbands to slog through all our problems alongside us; the problem many men make is that they try to handle their problems alone.
Neither approach is right.
I don’t know what’s bothering you today–if you’re worried about a relationship, or worried about your kids, or worried about money. It’s okay to have things that are burdening you. But let’s make sure that we put the onus for fixing those problems where it belongs: with ourselves and with God, not with our husbands. Sure, they can help. Sure, they can sympathize (my husband’s been very good at that). But they don’t have to enter into the problem the way that we do.
Here’s what Julie learned:
One day, when her children were still preschoolers, Julie looked in the mirror and felt as if she didn’t recognize herself anymore. She used to be a confident woman with drive and dreams who could take on the world; now she was a mess who was always angry. “I finally realized I couldn’t force having the relationship I wanted. I wanted me back. I honestly think my prayers even changed, from less of a ‘God, just fix everything, and everyone, around me’ to ‘Lord, just help me be better.’”
And how did she get better?
She figured out God’s formula for happiness.
I share it in detail in the book, but I want to give you a glimpse into it.
Let’s start with first principles: happiness is about being happy with your circumstances. Happiness is really based on this earth–with liking what’s going on around you. That’s why happiness is so fickle, because we can’t control our circumstances.
I’ve found the best explanation of happiness to be this one:
Happiness is having what you want, which is only possible when God helps you to want what you have.
If we stop at that first half–having what you want–we’ll always be unhappy, because our wants are unlimited. We can always figure out something else that we need. We are, at heart, envious people.
What we really need, then, is for God to change our hearts so that we want what He has given us. I think that’s what Psalm 37:4 means:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
It’s not that God gives you what you desire; it’s that He actually gives you your desires.
As you grow closer to Him, you start to desire the things of God. And when you possess those, you become happy.
So, in other words, happiness is a by-product of something else. Happiness isn’t the first step at all; it’s something that only comes after we wrestle with God. Happiness, I believe, can only come after joy and contentment, because they’re not the same thing.
Here’s how I explain it:
Joy is an emotion that looks upward; contentment is an emotion that looks inward; and happiness is an emotion that looks outward. Joy says, “How great is our God!” Contentment says, “It is well with my soul.” And happiness says, “What a wonderful husband I have!”
Happiness is important. We all want to enjoy our marriages. But the ability to enjoy marriage depends first and foremost on our perspective. And what determines that? Our attitude toward God (looking upward) and our heart attitude (looking inward). When we have joy and contentment, happiness in marriage will become much more attainable.
I know we hear that all the time–that we can’t be happy until we first have Jesus. It sounds so cliche. But the thing is–it’s true. It’s not a pat answer because it always applies.
Ladies, we’re all going to go through periods, like Julie, when we are exhausted and stretched beyond our limits. I did when I had health problems; Julie did when she had little kids. Our husbands can be sympathetic. Our husbands can walk alongside and pray with us. But they can’t feel it in the same way that we do, and they can’t always fix it.
But men like to fix things. That’s one of their motivating forces. So when we have a problem and he can’t fix it, he will withdraw. He’ll feel useless. And that will make our situation worse.
The biggest lesson that I have learned in the last year is this one:
My happiness is a gift that I can give my husband.
When I am happy (which only flows from joy and contentment), my husband is free. He doesn’t have to fix anything. He can just love me, and have fun with me, and dote on me without feeling like he’s somehow doing something wrong. What a blessing!
It’s been tough. It was tough for Julie–she had to learn how to bring God into her daily life and how to set up systems so that she could cope with two difficult preschoolers. I have had to learn to spend much more time in prayer to wrestle through my own issues. I’ve had to learn to fill my life with little bits of joy. I’ve had to find more discipline.
But it’s been worth it, because now I can say to Keith, “let’s go on a hike this weekend!”, and we can, and there’s no lingering feeling like he’s disappointing me.
Here we are, on Saturday, during a 10 km trek (seriously, it felt a lot longer with all the hills):
Tomorrow I want to share with you my Top 10 ways for creating happiness–and thus giving your husband the gift of a happy wife! It’s just a snippet of what’s in the book–seriously, there’s so much more–but I hope it will help you.
But today I wanted to let you know that I learned a lot while writing this book. I have struggled with many of these issues, too, and this one in particular has been a journey for me. I hope you can take this journey with me.
Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage will change how you see your marriage–and how you see God. Instead of sitting back and waiting and pleading for life to become what you always dreamed of, you’ll see how you can actually change the way you think–and get that happiness and joy you’ve always wanted.
And what if your husband really is making you unhappy? There’s tools in there, too, for how to move your relationship forward. Don’t stay stuck. Get it today!