Wright Foundation | July 7, 2016

Why Doesn’t My Relationship Make Me Happy?

When asked the question of what truly makes us happy, many of us are left in a perpetual state of reflection. “What do I need to make me happy?”

What makes you happy? Is it your friends? Your spouse? Your work?

Many people look to their relationship as the answer to happiness. Over and over I hear, “She just doesn’t make me happy anymore,” or “I just can’t seem to make him happy.” Certainly we derive pleasure and partnership from our relationships, but do they MAKE us happy?

How about work? We often hear, “I love my career. I’m doing well. I’m at the top of my game.” But when there’s no happiness or satisfaction derived from our career, we end up going through the motions every day. Even if we’re doing great, we still might not feel that real happiness we’re seeking.

For some of us, without the intimacy and connection of a partner, work can feel empty and unfulfilling.

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The Roots & Memories of Our Happiness

Think back to when you were a kid. Remember when you rode your bike successfully for the first time? Or maybe you kicked a goal in soccer and won the game for your team? How about when your mom or dad came in and hugged you goodnight or turned on the nightlight when you were afraid of the dark? Maybe it was the time your teacher had you read your essay to the whole class.

Think about those early moments when you felt true happiness.

Many of us cling to this vague, dreamy idea of what happiness is or what it can be. It’s a memory. It’s something we felt in our childhood that we can’t quite put our finger on now. It’s love. It’s romance and travel and excitement. We see this fairytale in our mind of being saved by a handsome prince or a beautiful princess and falling in this amazing state of love and bliss. We think of ourselves living “happily ever after” and riding off into the sunset.

Yet…we know it’s not realistic. It might be our standard for happiness, but we all know too well it’s not what we’re experiencing in our daily relationships.

My Partner or Spouse Doesn’t Make Me Happy

Couples often come to us feeling like their marriage is crumbling. They fight all the time, often over small things. They have arguments over money, arguments over their relationships with their parents, and arguments over their children. Even worse, maybe the fights have stopped and now they simply feel numb.

There’s this common mindset of: we’ve fallen out of love and the thrill is gone, so we’ve ruined our “happily ever after.”

Well, “happily ever after” is an illusion! It’s a fairytale we were sold on as children. In reality, we’re probably yearning to be seen and acknowledged by our spouse, just like we felt when our teacher had us read our essay to the class. We’re yearning to be safe, to be protected and to feel loved like our parents made us feel when we were children (or the way we wish we had felt). We might be yearning to feel successful like we did when we mastered the skill of riding our bike or when we kicked the winning goal. We want that acceptance from our peers when they cheered us on.

Unfortunately, we’re often looking to our spouse and saying, “Make me happy!” We want our partners to hand us the answer, when we don’t truly know what we’re seeking. We resent them for not “fixing it” or bringing us happiness and we assume something’s wrong with them and with our relationship. Maybe we’ve found ourselves attracted to someone else because we hope they might meet these yearnings since our spouse hasn’t handed us the “happiness” we expected them to.

When couples come to us and tell us they’re experiencing these challenges,

they are shocked when we tell them they are right on track, that their disillusionment and conflict are necessary for real, successful relationships to develop. They are at the doorway of great possibility. They must, however, go into the wilderness of the unknown and face uncertainty in order to undo the fairy tale, to help the relationship grow….

This is when they leave the myths of relationship behind and are free to go into the dark woods of their feelings, their beliefs, and their unconscious minds. It is at this point that they can find themselves and each other. Free of the myths, they don’t have to pretend that everything is great and can engage in growth-producing conflict. Unburdened by the need to maintain a perfect relationship, they can express their true feelings and argue for their beliefs. This is the point where they begin to write their own love story, letting go of idyllic relationship misconceptions and creating meaning, purpose, and genuine connected intimacy in their relationship. – The Heart of the Fight

…So Where Does Happiness Come From? What Will Make Me Happy?

In reality, many of us aren’t actually seeking happiness. We think we are, but we’re actually asking the wrong question when we ask, “What will MAKE me happy?”

We’re expecting happiness to fall in our lap. When we’re stuck in this mindset, we’re seeking to avoid the discomfort and pain of growing. We’re hiding from a life of engagement and interaction with others. We’re zoned out and we’re accepting the status quo. We’re vaguely (or maybe not-so-vaguely) dissatisfied in our relationships. We’re disappointed.

But true transformation and personal growth is uncertain and challenging. It’s hard. It’s not an easy trip sailing into the sunset.

Looking for more strategies for creating your own happiness?

Get a FREE 15-minute Life Coaching Consultation!

Everyone is Responsible for their Own Happiness: Here’s How

Guess what? You (yes YOU!) are responsible for your own happiness, outside of your relationship and in your relationship. One of our rules of engagement and productive conflict is that each party must realize they are 100% responsible for their own satisfaction and happiness. Not your partner, not your friends, not your mother or your father. Who, you ask, will “make me happy”? You.

Now, of course you should support your partner and help them work toward the things they want. Similarly, it’s up to you to share your yearnings with your partner and make them aware of what you want.

This doesn’t entail blame, shame, guilt or nagging. It’s not about passive-aggressive actions or withholding. It’s about having the conversations about the truth: What is it you both want out of your relationship? How do you want things to be and what can YOU do to work toward that goal?

Similarly, another rule of engagement is: No one gets more than 50% of the blame. So if you’re feeling stressed and unhappy in your relationship, it’s not all your fault—but it’s not all your partner’s fault either. It takes two to tango and two people to work through conflicts toward mutually agreed upon resolutions.

Many of our conflicts and frustrations are based on this idea that our partner is somehow supposed to MAKE us happy—so of course, with that mindset, we resent them when they don’t! The sooner we can let go of this relationship myth and take responsibility for our own happiness, the sooner we can start to fully engage and work toward it.

Happiness doesn’t mean we’re in a constant state of blissed-out joy. It means we’re engaged and growing as people. It means we’re satisfying our yearnings and working toward the things we want. It means we’re fighting FOR our relationships, not against. We’re not putting up walls, even though it’s painful to stand there without protection. We’re assuming goodwill on the part of our partner and we’re realizing they want the relationship to be the best it can be, too.

Now THAT can “make” you happy.

Once we get over the myth of the “fairytale relationship,” we can embrace true happiness and move forward together. For more on strengthening your relationships, please join us for our next More Life Training.

Let us know how your relationships are going! Tune in to our Lifestyle Podcasts every Wednesday to talk about dating, relationships, and how to bring out your best self with Wright Living on BlogTalkRadio.

If you’re looking for deeper, more meaningful relationships, you can pick up our new relationships book: The Heart of The Fight, available now.

Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.