The easy joke is about how my marriage relates to inestinal bacteria.

Jared and I have been struggling with a bizarre dysfunction lately, yet I suspect that it’s fairly common in today’s marriages.

Let’s see if I can get this out.

A long, long time ago (because this time last year seems like lifetimes ago), I would have told you that a perfect relationship was based on me making him happy and him making me happy.  As long as we were both doing our job, we were both happy and fulfilled.

Our marriage counselor calls this a symbiotic relationship.

We were mutually dependent, like humans and intestinal bacteria.

And then we learned about being responsible for our own happiness. I realized that an idea I used to think was romantic was probably the least efficient system ever created by man – counting the U.S. government.  The fact is that no one – not even a husband who adores me – can know better than I do what I need to be happy, or even what happiness means to me.  And no one – not even a wife who adores him and believes at her core that his happiness is a reflection of whether or not she is good enough – can know better than Jared what Jared needs to be happy, or even what happiness looks like to him.

This understanding created a noticeable shift in our relationship.  There was less stress and resentment and more breathing and laughing and talking.  We learned how to say “this is what I need, and I’d like to be able to get it from you” and the sense of power that came from taking on that responsibility was thrilling.

We win marriage – YAY!

We consider leaving marriage counseling – YAY!

We – meaning me – consider that OH I DO NOT THINK WE WILL BE GOING ANYWHERE ANYTIME SOON, THANKS!

We keep going to marriage counseling just in case and then -

Bam.

Wall.

We wonder is he happy?

We wonder is she happy?

We wonder is he actually unhappy but afraid to tell me?

We wonder why isn’t she telling me what I can do to make her happy?  I want her to be happy.  TELL ME WHAT ELSE I NEED TO DO!

And then we kind of get really freaking annoyed with one another because JESUS, Seriously, I told you I am FINE.  I am HAPPY.  What the hell is wrong with YOU?

We have to mail back our winning at marriage trophy.

We do, however, continue to keep talking, because that’s the one thing we have gotten really, really good at.  And in the talking, one of us finally says, “it’s not your job to make me happy.  I am fine.  The idea of you sitting around worrying about whether or not I am happy is not romantic or nice or a sign of your love.  It makes me sad to think of you living with anxiety and stress over me.  I’m fine.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.  And if I am ever not fine, it is my job to figure it out.  It is my job to ask you if I need something.”

“But what if you don’t?”

And there is the fear.  The fear that the other is not really fine or happy, but that he or she is carrying around a secret pain or annoyance or grudge and that grudge will come out in some way and then we will realize that we have failed as a spouse because OH MY GOD YOU WERE UNHAPPY AND I DIDN’T KNOW OR FIX IT!  And you know what?  Now I am going to be MAD AT YOU BECAUSE THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE MY JOB ANYWAY! And it is easier to be mad at you than say “I think I failed.  I feel guilty.”

“I need you to trust me that I will ask if I need it.  I will figure it out.  I will take my responsibility to take care of my own happiness seriously.”

“OK.”

“OK?  You’ll try to trust me to do that?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.  I am fine, and happy, and I will tell you when I’m not.”

“Great.  And will you trust me to tell you if I need something?  Will you try to assume that I’m OK?”

“Ummm….” long. awkward. pause.  “Well, umm….” more long. awkward. pause.  “It’s a lot harder to agree to trust you to tell me if you’re not happy than it is to take responsibility for my own happiness.”

And there it is.  The idea of being responsible for ourselves?  Easy breezy.  The idea of trusting the other person to be responsible for themselves?  Holy freaking hell of a lot harder.  Loads harder.  Deep breaths, long awkward pauses, begrudgingly agree to trust you to be OK unless you tell me otherwise harder.

Isn’t that odd?

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  1. avitable says:

    This makes sense to me. If I’m happy, then now I can make sure that person B is happy.

    I don’t think it’s a trust issue. It stems from love and concern. Sometimes people don’t know if they’re not happy or don’t know how to express it or can’t pin down the reason, and a companion can make all the difference in figuring it out. And I don’t think it’s mistrusting to think that if you see signs in your partner that make you feel like they’re not happy, to ask them or worry about that. That seems like you’re communicating non-verbally, which is a good thing.

    This is a jumbled mess of thoughts. Oh well.

  2. Miss Britt says:

    “That seems like you’re communicating non-verbally, which is a good thing.”

    Oh my hell NO.

    That is pretty much NEVER a good thing for us. EVER.

  3. Poppy says:

    I think it’s good that you both figured that part out…

    And now it’s time to figure out how to deal with the lack of trust. Because if you don’t trust each other to take care of yourselves, then that seems to be perpetuating the symbiotic relationship pattern you mentioned above.

    And that breeds resentment and frustration for you, so I see.

    So… keep on working.

    Honestly, I don’t think I’d ever want to be done with making my relationship with my man better. I will never assume I have figured it all out and that I have graduated from The School of Awesome Relationship.

    There are more curve balls than trophies lurking around corners.

    Signed,
    Cheerful Poppy!!! :)

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Poppy, “I will never assume I have figured it all out and that I have graduated from The School of Awesome Relationship”

      You’re so wise. And thanks – because something about reading this made me feel like I had permission to not reach a point where it’s “fixed”.

  4. Dawn says:

    Not odd at all. It’s like driving. You mostly don’t have to worry that YOU’RE a good driver, but you likely worry about how everyone else’s skills measure up.

  5. Lynda says:

    When I was married, I once asked my then-husband why he never asked if I was happy. He said, “I figured you would tell me when you weren’t.”

    Of course, when I told him I wasn’t, it fell on deaf ears.

    I always feel a check now and then is a good thing.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Lynda, I don’t think we should just ‘assume’ things in a relationship in general. This comes with a lot of open, clear, very obvious communication rather than guessing and expecting and stuff.

      We actually even checked about how to check in without inserting ourselves into the situation or taking the power away from each other.

  6. Marriage is definitely WORK and don’t let anybody tell you any different! But it’s the type of work you wake up every morning happy to do, happy to be part of. (I know. Grammatically that last sentence SUCKED!)

    And don’t over-analyze. Sometimes, that’s as bad as giving up and can destroy a marriage just as quickly.

    Keep at it, hon. I know you and Jared are going to make it. :)

  7. Hockeymandad says:

    This makes total sense to me. Except the implementation part. When I tried to figure out how I might apply that to my own world, my brain exploded. Or perhaps it just farted because the sound was similar to a fart. Maybe that means I have a little brain. Shit. Now I’ve confused myself. *sigh*

  8. yknot says:

    “Love means never having to admit being in Violation of a Restraining Order.” Everyone Isn’t a Mind Reader; that is to say that Men, in particular aren’t. Many women think they ARE. much to their Chagrin. In the end, Honest,Open Communications are the Only Way peoples Needs get met. Take My Advice: I’m not using it..

  9. Darla says:

    You blogged!!! SQquuueeeeeeee. And I don’t know if any of it made sense cuz I was too busy going – OMG she BLOGGED SQUEEEEEEEEE.

    Apparently MY happiness relies on you, you’re ok with that right?

  10. Nancy says:

    I love you. Leave it to you to make love an imperialst struggle. It’s not enough for YOU to be happy, you must go out and conquer love for others. Didn’t you invade Grenada or something? ;o

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Nancy, hahahahahahhahahaha – OMG, that is so perfect. I AM DOING IT FOR YOUR OWN GOOD! THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MY QUEST FOR POWER!

  11. Grumble Girl says:

    I think it’s the sense of control that we don’t have… how CAN you know for certain that the other will say when he/she is unhappy? You can only agree on it, and hope the other is truthful and forthright. But what if they’re not? ACK!! But that’s not about trust – that’s about giving up control. I hate giving up control more than anything in this world, but the thing is, control is an illusion anyway.

    Deep breaths. Believe in your love. Have a good time. The ride is really, really short, so choose your happiness.

    I’m happy you blogged, lady! Missed you.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Grumble Girl, you’re right. It is, ultimately, about trying to control something that’s impossible to control – which is why it causes so much frustration for everyone involved.

  12. Lisa says:

    This makes so much sense, and yet is so hard to do. The work doesn’t really ever get easier, but you guys are rocking it one day at a time.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Lisa, thank you. :-)

      Some people seem to just know this shit instinctively, but we both seem to need to say it out loud, clearly, before we can apply it consistently.

  13. Finn says:

    The problem is that you can’t control what your partner does. You just have to learn to let go of that (easy-peasy, right?) and hope to God he/she isn’t a total idiot who would walk around unhappy without mentioning it.

    The older I get, the more it baffles me how difficult we make these things. Why is it so hard to just say what we need?

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Finn, I’m so with you. I was just talking to another mom the other day about teaching our children to clearly ask for what they need.

      We don’t say “I’m thirsty” and hope someone responds by offering to get us a drink. If we’re thirsty and we need help, we say “would you get me a drink, please?”

  14. Cara says:

    Perfectly said. And I do think its about trust – trusting him to tell me what I need to know and to listen when I tell him. We do ‘check in’ when the other seems to be worn out, stressed, etc. But, I think the key thing there is when I say ‘I’m just feeling tired and cranky’ or he says ‘there’s alot going on at work’ we accept (trust) that this is exactly what is going on. And maybe we’re a little extra gentle or give a little more space, but we don’t mistake nurturing or supporting our partner for being responsible for ‘fixing it.’

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Cara, “But, I think the key thing there is when I say ‘I’m just feeling tired and cranky’ or he says ‘there’s alot going on at work’ we accept (trust) that this is exactly what is going on.” That is SO MUCH exactly what we’re working on!!

  15. Becca says:

    C and I go through this regularly, and you are right the trust thing is hard. I want to help and then I do the way-wrong thing and then I feel stupid! How do I fix that??

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Becca, and then do you cover up feeling stupid by being resentful? Or is that just me?

      Apparently, I’m supposed to stop trying to help. Heh.

      • Becca says:

        @Miss Britt, Yup I totally cornered the market on resentful years ago. For instance, if I ask what’s wrong and don’t get an answer…why do I get irritated?? Why can’t I just accept that I didn’t get an answer?

  16. Faiqa says:

    Whoa. I totally do that not trusting him to tell me thing… gotta work on that. Being smarter and more perfect than him is a real obstacle, though. Heh.

  17. Chibi Jeebs says:

    Makes total sense. This is something we face often because I’m the one who will TELL YOU when something is up/wrong/making me unhappy, and he’s the strong, silent type. He assures me that he’ll tell me if something is up/wrong/making him unhappy, but after three years of that NEVER happening (not even once), you start to doubt that sentiment… At least, I do.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Chibi Jeebs, and we HAVEN’T been doing it – either of us. We lived for so long under the assumption that we were supposed to count on the other person to make each other happy that we only ever spoke up about our own happiness when we were long past pissed.

      I think taking ownership of that is the first step. At least, it was for us.

  18. Erin says:

    This sounds just like us except that in my case it is a guilt thing. It’s something that has been a problem forever and that I try to work through but, I swear to God, I feel guilty and selfish if I try to take care of my own happiness. Somewhere along the way I got it into my head that 100% of my energy had to be focused on helping and making sure that everyone around me was happy and that anything else made me a bad person. Obviously it doesn’t. The rational part of my brain knows this. The irrational part of my brain projects this insane tick of mine onto my husband who is perfectly content to focus on his own happiness first and wait for me to come to him when I have an issue. So then we get into arguments because “why is all of the energy focused on YOU?” When I am free to focus on myself as much as I want, I just don’t yet know how to do so without the guilt and self flagellation setting in.

    Or something less rambly that makes sense and gets my point across.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Erin, if Jared ever asks me what I’m doing when I’m screwing around or the Internet or doing something frivolous, I snap. “WHY?! JEEZ!”

      I do it because I think I just got “caught” wasting time – not working or being a mom or wife – just screwing around. Then I feel guilty. And THEN I snap, because I hate feeling guilty.

  19. SweetAngel says:

    My husband and I have been separated for a year, we are now dating, yes, each other. This was a much needed read for me.

    Thanks.

  20. Robin says:

    Can we ever win at marriage? It’s like winning at life, it just goes on…sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes you’re behind.

  21. Allyson says:

    I find it’s much harder for me to really trust myself to tell him, because I don’t want to burden him with the problem, especially since I know he can’t really fix it. But I have learned about myself that I will let whatever unhappiness I feel go unsaid until it’s a giant shitstorm that has me thinking that I should look somewhere else. And then I have to break down and tell him that I haven’t been happy for weeks or months, and he’s all, “Why didn’t you tell me?” and I have to be all, “I’m sorry, I just thought I could handle it.” And so he checks on me a little too often, and it’s annoying, but who else can I blame, but myself for not being up front with him?

  22. muskrat says:

    Isn’t happiness just a fleeting emotion anyway? I find it’s best to just pursue a state of constant erection. Then, I can’t think rationally enough to wonder about my happiness or anyone else’s. See how simple that is?

  23. trinity67 says:

    Oh hells no it’s not odd – my bf and I constantly deal with that issue.

  24. MidLifeMama says:

    I say this in a friendly, not mean or judgy way: Stop making this so hard. As others have pointed out, this is not a static place you are in, this relationship/marriage thing. It is organic and growing and moving and sometimes it is best to just BE. Stop overthinking it. I know, stop breathing while you are it, but seriously, try to just let it be.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @MidLifeMama, :-) Thank you. It is good advice, and something I struggle with in lots of areas of my life.

      Although – it has been less than a year since we were on the brink of divorce, so I’m guessing this is probably natural at this point. And it isn’t ALWAYS like this – but idle chit chat day to day shit isn’t really interesting to talk about. LOL

      But – yes. Thank you. :-) I do, as a general rule, need to chill the fuck out.

  25. It makes sense to me. It’s always scary when we want to know what someone else is thinking but can’t really know unless we ask. Maybe our great-great-great-grandchildren will develop ESP, but until that happens, we have to use real communication and trust each other. I think everyone has been in a position where they were afraid someone was secretly mad at them or unhappy, and that can cause a lot of issues, especially if something traumatic has already happened in the relationship. This could be any relationship.

    I don’t think you guys have to send your trophy back, though; I think that as long as you keep talking, no matter how scary it might be or how hard it might be, you’ll be just fine.

  26. Jamie says:

    As long as you’re talking…I think that’s the main thing. When me and my husband run into trouble — tense looks and power struggles who is going to do something for kids — it’s usually because we have been to busy to sit down and talk over coffee or wine. Wow. That was a really long sentence. Take care and keep talking.

  27. jodifur says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post a lot since I first read it yesterday and trying to think of a comment it my comment is so jumbled in my head-

    I just wish I had knew before I got married how much work marriage was. I was so young when I got married-26! Who knows anything at 26?

    This post is right on. I guess that is what I want to say.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @jodifur, oh lady, we were 19 and barely 20. Seriously. I look around sometimes at what we’ve had to learn and think “how in the hell did people allow us to get married before telling us any of this!?!?!”

  28. Bennance says:

    I’m a fairly new reader who absolutely loves your writing. Your blog is great. And now I can say that you have saved me hundreds of dollars in therapy.

    I make myself happy. Husband makes himself happy. We share our happiness together…marriage is better. Thank you!

  29. Sheila says:

    Every time I start to think I’m not so crazy anymore and I ditch my therapist, I go crazy again and have to go crawling back on my hands and knees begging for her forgiveness so she can make me uncrazy again.

    I’m pretty sure this is crap that we have to deal with for the rest of our lives. My therapist is like my security blanket for when life goes to crap.

    Of course, I *do* realize that the whole point of therapy is about you learning to deal with this crap on your own but I’m all about the baby steps.

  30. i love that you two are still working on the relationship. in my book, that means you still totally deserve a trophy!

  31. I loved reading this. It’s not anything that, intellectually, I didn’t know and haven’t thought about, but you articulated it so clearly and it’s so nice (not really a sufficient word, it’s so…something way more than nice) to have the kind of validation you get from reading that someone else’s experiences are similar.

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