This post is a part of a series of happiness interviews in which I attempt to show you that there are lots and lots of ways to define and be happy.
Finding happiness on your own can be hard. Finding it as a couple is, I believe, a miracle.
That’s not to say that I think it’s impossible; but the coordination and communication required to make two completely separate beings happily intermingled and still wholly individual is astonishing.
Something my husband and I had to learn about from a professional.
Betsy Talbot and her husband Warren are the authors of Married with Luggage: What We Learned about Love by Traveling the World. They know a lot about being happy together, and I think they make it look easy.
In today’s happiness interview, Betsy shares some of what she knows with us. Settle in and soak up the wisdom, my friends.
How do you define happiness as a couple?
Happiness is being comfortable with who you are and who you’re sharing your life with. Happiness is shared values and a shared commitment to living a good life together. Happiness is knowing you have a partner to work through problems together and overcome obstacles.
You can see I left the above definition somewhat vague. When you have a strong foundation of your own individual worth and a healthy respect for your partner, every other lifestyle decision for happiness is easily customizable for your own particular tastes. Meditate together in an ashram, have an open marriage, live behind a white picket fence, or adopt 18 kids. Those are all valid choices for happy couples.
How do you find common ground if what makes one of you happy conflicts with the other’s happiness?
One thing we discovered in our own relationship was that we wanted virtually the same things, but it didn’t sound that way on the surface. I was coming at it from one angle, and he was coming at it from another, and it wasn’t until we sat down and made a list of what we wanted our life to look like on paper that we saw that we weren’t really so far apart.
I think it’s that way with a lot of couples. Maybe you both want more time together, but you want it in different ways. Or you both want to save money for something big, but you disagree about what expenses should be cut. You want more intimacy in your life but one sees it in communication and the other sees it in sex.
When you focus on the shared interest and not your own individual positions, you can more easily find common ground.
You both want to spend time together. You both want to save money. You both want to feel close to each other. By stating the position out loud and starting the conversation, you’ll likely find a solution neither of you thought of on your own before. And that’s how happy couples solve conflicts. They are always working in the interests of the partnership, not in getting their own way.
What *shoulds* have you had to let go of in order to pursue your own happiness?
Britt, I remember when you talked about “shoulding all over yourself” before (I do say that a lot!) and have not forgotten it! It’s a great visual on how harmful this behavior is to ourselves and our relationships.
We stopped thinking we had to live a certain way in order to be “legit.” We’ve made a lot of counter-culture lifestyle decisions – remaining childless, quitting our careers during our prime earning years, and selling all our possessions to travel at 40. Once we began shedding the expectations of others – those awful “shoulds” – it was easier to stop new ones from coming into our lives.
Could is a much better word than should, and it frames it as a choice instead of an expectation.
We like choices much better than commands, and reframing those expectations in this way helped us create our own path. No one knows how to live your life the way you want better than you do, so why leave it up to anyone else to tell you how? That’s been our mantra since 2008.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?
Happiness is a choice. You’ll never have everything you want in life. You’ll always have problems. People will disappoint you, and you will disappoint other people. You’ll win sometimes and you’ll fail miserably sometimes. But you can still choose to be happy, to be grateful for what you have and optimistic about your options for the future.
This is true in life, in love, and everything under the sun. Your satisfaction with your life and your relationship is what you choose to make it.
Read more about Betsy and Warren, modern love and partnership at Married with Luggage.