Today is our 16th wedding anniversary. Sitting here now, I look back and see a hundred, a thousand, moments that stick out in my mind, like the supporting beams of this life we’ve built together. Some of those moments are packaged in a nicely wrapped box with a glittery bow – the proposal, the births of our healthy children, family vacations, finding our church home. Some moments aren’t pretty – they are dark, and splintered, and painful memories. But nonetheless, they are why we are here and happy today.
I wrote a Facebook post years ago that spoke to many people. When I came upon it yesterday on my FB memories, I was inspired to touch on the subject again.
In my personal experience, I went into marriage thinking, and maybe on some subconscious level, “what a relief, my husband now can carry some of the weight of this life, my happiness rests in his hands, I don’t have to seek anything out any longer, it’s his job now too”. While I do think that entering into a marriage you are contracting to give of yourself in ways that are intimate -relationally, physically, emotionally, solely for that one person, forever. I don’t however, feel it is their job to make, or keep you happy.
Your happiness, or lack thereof, more importantly, is your own responsibility. It is not the responsibility of your partner, your children, your job, etc. That is too much weight for anyone to bear.
Years ago I was complaining to a friend about how I wasn’t happy in my marriage: I wasn’t his priority. Life was messy and hard, and no fun – and of course, it was all his fault. She gave me some sound advice that changed the course of my marriage and my life. What had I done to make this marriage great, and NOT just staying faithful and handling the kids, house, bills, etc. Thoughts of resentment would creep in while I was doing some self-reflection – thoughts of his offenses, his late nights with his buddies, his mile-long honey-do list that would sit unfinished for 6 months at a time. I had to intentionally turn my pointing finger back around to myself. I dug deep. I wasn’t kind to him, respectful of him, selfless with my love. Being a “good wife” is much more than keeping his work shirts ironed, the kids fed and alive, the bills paid, and remaining faithful to only him. So, without saying a word to him about it – I set out to be the best wife I could be, regardless of how sad and alone I felt – how low on his list of priorities I felt I was.
My friend asked me:
“if you divorced him today, could you live the rest of your life without guilt – without questioning whether you had done enough, or tried your absolute hardest? Because you have children together, and they will ask you someday, and you will have to carry the weight of that, and I know your heart for your children. I don’t want you to live with regret for breaking up your family, if you haven’t given it your all”
OOOF. Like a punch to the gut…
I knew I couldn’t honestly answer that with a yes. I knew I could do better, be better. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I knew I would have to turn the other cheek and not say everything I felt I had the right to say.
So from that moment forward:
~I quit nagging, including those passive-aggressive side remarks we all do sometimes.
~I bit my tongue, even when it was nearly impossible to do so.
~I put a smile on my face, had a good attitude and a grateful heart, even when I had to fake it. After all, he chose YOU – no one else to be his forever life partner.
~I quit withholding my love, physically and emotionally. I gave of myself even when I didn’t feel like it, even when I wanted to remain aloof, walls up.
~I made our home a home he wanted to come home to. Messes stress him out – I knew this, so I intentionally had all the toys, shoes, school paper mess picked up and out of sight when he got home. I smiled and asked about his day when he came home, even if it was after choosing golf league or poker night over a night home with us.
~And most importantly, I stopped venting about him to my friends and family. I didn’t speak unkindly of him. I didn’t call anyone seeking the validation that I thought I desperately needed. This was so important – this is a matter of respect.
If your spouse is consistently choosing other things to occupy his time, give him a reason to choose you – make him want to spend time with you, crave time with you.
Guess what – he started spending more time at home, more time with the children, more time with me. His attitude and priorities shifted, slowly, but dramatically. And eventually – I didn’t have to fake the smiles, fake anything. I was happy. We were happy. I changed my entire viewpoint – and I’ve looked at the world through this lens ever since. This has undoubtedly contributed to our successful and fulfilling marriage, my sweet friendships, and my true happiness. I was in the driver’s seat of my own happiness all along – it was just easier to blame the other drivers on the road, for the problems, bumps, wrong turns.
Our marriage today looks entirely different. Jeremy gives of himself in small and grandiose ways every day. He loves me out loud – sometimes that’s in the form of bringing me my favorite study snack. Sometimes that’s in the form of showing up for the stuff – the big stuff. He continually thanks me for putting up with him and literally dragging him through the first 5 years of our marriage – for loving him when he didn’t feel worthy.
I challenge you- take back control of your happiness. It’s no one else’s cross to bear. Try to be the best spouse, employee, step-parent, whatever you can be, and see how the world and relationships around you change for the better.
Photos by the incredibly talented Stephanie Horn Photography