Friday, March 2, 2012

The Perfect, Wonderful, Happy Relationship

Can we create our own happiness? Optimists may tell you that it's all about your worldview, but someone who has experienced depression will tell you happiness is not always within our control. As always, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I often think of a phrase from the movie Elizabethtown, "If it wasn't this, it would be something else." This phrase implies two things: first that we will always have something in our lives to make us unhappy, and second that if we want to experience happiness we have to experience it within the presence of these things.

Most of us hope to find happiness within marriage, and marriage, like life, has both happy and unhappy moments, sometimes within and sometimes outside of our control. We can ignore the bad in order to enjoy the good, or we can acknowledge the bad and either live with it or attempt to fix it. I vote for the latter. Ignoring the bad requires placing an image of happiness at a higher priority than your partner.

A couple of my friends went on a date that has become an infamous example of favoring image over a partner's feelings. The woman asked the man to go to a theatre performance and dinner with her in the twin cities. He felt like he needed a night in and wanted to take it easy by watching a football game with his brother. She continued to talk about how fun her date idea was and eventually convinced him to come with her. They did have fun in the cities, and the evening seemed perfect. At the end of the date, she said, “See, wasn’t that fun?” and he had to answer, “Yes,” because it was fun.  Nonetheless, the man felt off about the evening, and couldn’t quite say why.

Almost a year later, when the man told me this story, he still felt off about that night, and ended up concluding that he felt manipulated into her idea of happiness. While this woman idolized the idea of the date, she neglected to listen to him and what he wanted and needed. He served as the male stand in for her perfect date, which was unrelated to anything that he had wanted to do that night.

When you disagree with your partner, there are definitely healthier ways of working it out than ignoring his/her wishes. Being attentive to your partner’s needs, acknowledging his/her desires, and working out a compromise that suits both of you is always the best route. Imagine the above scenario if the couple had compromised: the woman acknowledges her partner's desire to stay home and suggests that they make dinner reservations for a different night. The man agrees and invites the woman to join him for the football game.

 Though, I’d be the delusional one if I said that disagreements always go down that way. Sometimes you just need to fight it out. Most likely, you and your partner have separate brains in separate bodies, so you will desire different things and have different ways of communicating your desires. Maybe the above couple should have argued: the woman expresses anger at the man for wanting to spend more time with his brother than with her. The man expresses anger that they always have to do what she wants to do. They express honest frustration with each other.
Arguing may have allowed this couple the chance to address and let go of their underlying issues. If you act like you and your partner always agree, always have perfect dates, and never need to address relationship issues, you're probably in denial, which is a much more serious issue than the occasional argument. 

Owen and I have a joke between us: "You're awful; I love you." It started because he had done something, probably money related, that was opposed to my worldview, and I told him how wrong I thought he was. Seeing his crestfallen face made me feel bad, and I added, "I love you!" Owen often annoys me. I often become too short tempered with Owen. Sometimes, when we try to go on a nice date, we end up arguing the whole time. Many times, when we're sitting in our messy, dinky apartment, we enjoy each other's company too much to care about how imperfect our surroundings are.

Owen and I do create happiness in our relationship, but it's not impenetrable to the bad. We acknowledge the sickness, the stress, the frustration, etc. and we find ways to be happy anyways.

As Shakespeare puts it in A Midsummer Night's Dream, "The course of true love never did run smooth."

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