If a wife is unhappy, asking her husband to make her feel better is useless.
We are so used to chasing after marital happiness, right? And the best thing we can do is to demand it from our partner and chase them down so they deliver, right? What a confusion!
Up until today, chances are that we are demanding our partner to deliver to us such and such behaviors that we think will make us happy. This is a terrible trap, in which I have found myself in some time ago. It works like this:
- I'm unhappy with the things as they are now, and ask and claim for you to change so that marriage can be as I dreamed it to be.
- You feel responsible for making me happy, need to be my savior and promise to change.
- Of course, you don't deliver and now my total misery is predicated upon you non-delivering what you promised, so I accuse you and yell at you some more.
- You need to escape the "unjust attack," and retreat into office duty or silence, which of course leaves me again isolated and abandoned for the second time.
This very common drama would be funny if it weren't so painful. But let's backtrack a bit. We all keep a lot of childhood dreams and aspirations hidden deep in our heart, never completely fulfilled at our first home. Expecting from our parents the understanding and recognition and love that for one reason or another they were unable to give us.
Now marriage comes into our lives with the promise that this time we will have someone who really knows how to love us and will heal our childhood hurt. This hope is mixed with a basic fear of being neglected, abandoned, or not appreciated enough again. But, now, that past hurt will not happen! I will ask and demand and command all the love that I deserve, so I will be healed from my past!
Funny thing is that the other side is more or less under the same childhood love and attention frustration and expects us to deliver them the affection and tenderness never received as well. The hidden marriage contract binds together two hurt children, and the romance of getting married hides this huge expectation that now we will love well.
If this push and pull between demands and promises, followed by deception and frustration, happens too many times, the gap between the two widens. He is failing at making her happy, because he doesn't know the immensity of her past childhood hurt. He only knows that now she accuses him of not loving her enough, and of "not being good enough for her."
Usually, unhappy wives refer to the origin of their unhappiness as provoked by their husband's behaviors. Here we have the paradox: a husband that is already made to feel he is "not good enough for her" and has to make her happy by changing his own behavior.
Here we have a toxic trap: he has to make her happy by acting as if feeling "good enough," while dealing with his own abandonment fears by himself. If the husband himself is insecure, and feels or is made to feel that he is not good enough, he can't listen to the distress signals of the wife. He is too busy defending himself from a hypercritical wife.
Let's stop this toxic trap, now!
A marriage is a shared trip into the complete self of each other. It forces you to see and improve those aspects that keep interfering in your own progress.
If you, as the wife, keep raising only the negative aspects of the marriage, the things that need "immediate improvement," do you realize that this way of talking forces the other person to defend himself and or counterattack in due time?
If you can take responsibility about how your constant evaluation of your degree of happiness is pushing the other side to feel evaluated as "not good enough," can you see how you cause half of the conflict?
Stop the automatic request for the other to change and instead ask yourself what hidden anxiety is causing your demands. Listen to the answers coming from your soul.
If you can take full responsibility for regulating your own sense of emotional safety (know what makes you happy; don't panic easily when frustrated), can you invite the other side to do the same? Knowing your basic childhood triggers, and sharing them is a prerequisite for marital happiness.
When you get to know each others childhood triggers (fear of abandonment? fear of being hurt?) you can do an honest attempt to watch out, and balance the conversation when something comes up: "Is this business trip triggering your fear of being left behind? Because I really need to do this trip, but I'm also aware of any impact it can have on you. How can we manage better?”
Neither is in complete charge of making the other person happy, if this means having to compensate for childhood insecurities and anxieties. We owe to the other person to know ourselves, and our weaknesses and to be able to express our needs for love and security without blaming the other for not causing our automatic happiness.
In this way, we can be sure that marriage helps each spouse in their respective development process, and doesn't get anyone stuck in the endless task of covering old wounds.
The final step on making each other happy is to think: "Can I begin appreciating first his/her positive aspects, so their automatic defenses are not triggered, but he/she can receive my love and grow to the person he/she can be?"
Nora Femenia, Ph.D. is a conflict expert focused on the impact of childhood experiences in our adult relationships. She works with women in situations of marital distress because of bad communication, empowering them to recover their life mission and their self-esteem.