When it comes down to it, we marry for one reason: we think that we’ll be happier than we would be being single. Human beings crave happiness and will do whatever we think will bring more of it into our lives. When we marry, we long to feel better with our partner in our life and believe that if we stay together, we can create even more happiness. We partner with someone who seems to be good for us. In reality, when people partner, they are both young and immature, and neither partner is willing to really try to find out why they don’t have the desired level of happiness in their lives to begin with.
We may know that life is better, easier, and less lonely when we were with each other, except when it isn’t. At those times, it is tempting to assume that it is because the other, who is selfishly withholding whatever it was that we want at the time—intimacy, appreciation, sex, attention, or understanding. Or we felt that the other was giving too much of what we didn’t want—advice, criticism, control, judgment, resentment, disappointment, or distance.
It isn’t until we are well into our marriage that it becomes clear to us that our individual happiness is up to each of us. As long as we hold the other person responsible for providing fulfillment, there won’t be an end to blame, resentment, and self-pity. There’s a huge difference between enjoying the happiness that our partner brings into our life and on the other hand seeing it as their job to make us happy. Unfortunately, too many of us enter into marriage believing that we will magically be redeemed from the unhappiness of feeling unloved, unworthy, lonely, insecure, or depressed. The belief that “love heals all wounds” is still disturbingly pervasive in our culture, and it is a myth that needs a proper burial.
When our happiness requires something from another person, what we have isn’t love: it’s codependence. Country music songs not withstanding, real love isn’t about being “so lonesome I could die” or being “nothing without you” or feeling that “you’re my world, you’re my everything.” This may be the stuff of romantic ballads, but in practice it’s a surefire prescription for excessive dependence, which fosters control, resentment, and unhappiness. The more capable we are of creating inner happiness, otherwise known as joy, the happier we will be with another person.
When we take responsibility for healing the unloved places within ourselves by accepting and internalizing our partner’s love, true healing and happiness begins. Paradoxically, though we may not become truly happy without someone else’s love, their love alone is not enough to fulfill us. What their love can do is to ignite the spark of self-love buried deep in our hearts so that we can recognize, feed, and nurture it until it becomes a roaring fire that ultimately burns up the shame, insecurity, anger, and pain that have been the sources of our unhappiness. When two individuals interact in this way, they can experience a depth of joy beyond what either had imagined.