Sometimes happiness comes under the most unexpected of circumstances.

Happiness is an Inside Job

Posted: June 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: challenges, happiness | Tags: , , | 16 Comments »

My friend Jackson once told me that it is typical to turn to your ex for therapy because they know you so well.  That is exactly what my ex is doing right now, and I get it.  I have known him for 16 years, and while I may have preconceived notions about him based on our past, I also really understand his life history and his psychological tendencies.

He’s clearly going through a rough time right now.  As my friend Tobey insightfully pointed out, in the last three years he lost his wife, his job and his father.  That’s not the trifecta that most people look for.  All of those factors, especially the last one, have contributed to his current state of confusion about what he wants.

I feel compassion for him, and I still really care for him.  So when he brought up his feelings of nostalgia for our relationship, I didn’t react with an “I told you so” or a “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” (I’ve got to get a Joni reference in here from time to time).  Instead I invited him to look at what is really going on.  He’s unhappy right now, and neither his girlfriend nor I can make him feel better.

As much as we’d like to think that our romantic partners “make us happy,” the only way to find happiness, in my opinion, is inside ourselves.  I feel like I learned this the hard way.  I relied on my ex to make me happy for many years.  The rub is that in the beginning of a relationship, your partner can make you feel blissful, but eventually that high wears off and you are left to your own devices, so to speak.  I was particularly deluded in my relationship with my ex because that joyful stage lasted for many years, what seemed to me long much longer than the typical infatuation stage, so I had convinced myself that it would last forever.

However we eventually had new life stresses in our careers and by having children, and we started to look at each other and wonder why the other wasn’t pleasing us (and I don’t mean in the bedroom).  In fact, I actually believed that my discontent with my life was his fault.  I had turned down a tenure track job opportunity in Portland, OR because the offer had come after he had already accepted a job here in Massachusetts, and that stuck in my craw for years.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the academic job market, it is very difficult to pick a geographical location and decide that’s where you want to work.  You really have to have the flexibility to move anywhere in the country that you get an offer.  I applied to jobs locally and only got adjunct gigs.  Every time I would be turned down for a position that I wanted or felt unappreciated in my job, I would resent my ex for the sacrifice that I made.  He, on the other hand, was commuting 90 miles each way for three years (only three days a week during the academic year, but it still took its toll).  So we each had our reasons to be cranky.

Once we broke up, I realized that it was my responsibility to make myself happy, and I started actively working towards that.  I got back into my yoga practice that had fallen by the wayside after Layla’s birth, and I made more of an effort to have a social life and spend time with friends.  My family noticed that I seemed like my old self again, upbeat, effervescent, and outgoing (could I have really been more introverted?).

I certainly can’t sum up all the factors that have come into play in my current happiness in one blog post, but I will say that my biggest lesson has been that happiness is an inside job.  That is why I want to date someone who is already happy and not looking to me to make them feel good about themselves.  And that is what I said to my ex when he wistfully talked about “us.”  I couldn’t make him happy in the past, and I wouldn’t make him happy now.  He has to figure that out for himself.

I want to end with a quote that I found by Garrison Keillor that I revisit a lot as a reminder to me of this lesson.  “Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.”  I sacrificed the job that I thought I wanted to be with the man that I thought I wanted to be with forever.  Now I have neither yet I am happier than I have perhaps ever been.  Hmm…

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16 Comments on “Happiness is an Inside Job”

  1. 1 Michelle said at 12:46 pm on June 16th, 2010:

    Wow! This is just what I was thinking about. My husband is having the same problem, thinking that I will and should make him happy if I would just act a certain way. It has been a great lesson for me because I have thought the same way for so many years and I am really trying to move beyond the idea that some else will fix me. My ability to see this behavior in him shows that I have grown a little and it allows me to feel empathy for him, although the defensiveness does rear its ugly head at moments. Thanks Molly I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love your blog.

  2. 2 Molly said at 2:46 pm on June 16th, 2010:

    I’m so glad that you love it, Michelle. It’s a delicate dance because you want to be compassionate and giving to your partner but if you give to him and aren’t happy yourself, it’s not good for either one of you. I think my ex is finally getting that because he agreed when I told him so. Take care of yourself and make yourself happy and then you can be best partner possible. That’s why he’s feeling the desire to come back. I’m much happier now than when he left the marriage so I seem much more attractive. Interesting dynamic, huh?

  3. 3 marilyn Pelz said at 5:38 pm on June 16th, 2010:

    This is terrific, Molly! i want everyone in or out of a relationship to read this!

    As a counselor of couples this is the first thing I mention in a counseling session–it seems to take much longer for people to “get it”.

    Their reply is…but, but.. but..”if only they would do ______, I would be happy!

  4. 4 Marian said at 10:11 pm on June 16th, 2010:

    Good for you! Some kind of lightbulb moment, that’s great. Love the Garrison Keillor quote too, it makes you stop and read slowly to take in its meaning, my favorite thing. Hey, maybe there’s a relationship lesson right there. Stop and read slowly to get the meaning. :)

  5. 5 Barb said at 12:31 am on June 17th, 2010:

    Other than the fact that I despise Garrison Keillor, that was a great post. Also, I am very sorry to hear about Hugo’s dad. I will never forget spending 3 kings with them in Puerto Rico and all of Hugo’s cousin’s thinking he was such a smooth operator with three ladies on his arm ;)

  6. 6 Molly said at 7:34 am on June 17th, 2010:

    Marian, from a writer’s perspective, I do believe the Keillor quote could use a few commas…or maybe a sentence break? Slowing down and savoring a moment is a great relationship lesson.

  7. 7 Molly said at 7:37 am on June 17th, 2010:

    I am not a big Keillor fan, but I do love the quote. Thanks for sharing the memory, Barb. I will pass i on to Hugo. I think him losing a piece of his family is really what is behind his longing to reunite ours. I keep reminding me that our family still exists, just in a different form.

  8. 8 A Happy Marriage is an Inside Job // Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce said at 10:55 am on July 13th, 2010:

    […] my forty years, I have learned that happiness is an inside job.  The freedom, fun, love, and acceptance that you are searching for are all within you.  It is […]

  9. 9 Traveling and Texting | Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce said at 11:26 am on July 29th, 2010:

    […] for several men from my past.  First it was my ex hubby, who you might remember was feeling nostalgic himself right before we left on our trip.  When I talk to him on the phone in Cali, he is so funny, […]

  10. 10 Audrey said at 2:35 pm on October 13th, 2010:

    Hi Molly. I am so glad I found your website. I was obviously searching for info on divorce. My husband and I have not yet used that word, but it is the direction we’re headed. This particular post hits a nerve with me as I’ve come to this realization a little too late. I am still willing to try but I think my husband is done. I really like that you describe that you were soulmates, but that things just didn’t work out. I am so persistent and think anything can be fixed if you try. I know that is not always the case. Sorry if this is disjointed, I am a little off. : ) I’ll be reading more. Thanks so much.

  11. 11 Molly Monet said at 2:48 pm on October 13th, 2010:

    Welcome Audrey! I hope my words and experiences can be helpful to you. One thing I will recommend is that if your husband wants to leave the marriage, you can release him in a way that can be loving and not shutting the door on him. I found that I tried so hard to make my husband stay that it just built up another resistance and thing to fight about. You might want to check out my article “Walking After You” that addresses this issue. Good luck and keep coming back to visit and share!

  12. 12 Lessons Learned from My Divorce | Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce said at 10:22 pm on December 6th, 2010:

    […] him for my own lack of contentment.  Once I shifted that burden back onto my own shoulders, I felt so much better.  However, I have also learned that I am better off with a partner who doesn’t see melancholy as […]

  13. 13 Lucia said at 9:14 am on January 3rd, 2011:

    Hi, Molly!
    It’s amazing the knowledge of your own personal struggles you had had, your thinking is clear. You write in the most delicate way .You are brave and honest to describe your own ingredients you put into your marriage, brave again to regain your happiness that comes from the inside. Thank you for the sharing!
    Lucia

  14. 14 Molly Monet said at 10:18 am on January 3rd, 2011:

    Lucia,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and appreciative comment. I see that you are now following me on Twitter. If you do Facebook, I also have a page there at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Postcards-from-a-Peaceful-Divorce/129942527046401

    Great to hear from you-Molly

  15. 15 Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce » Blog Archive » The Right Approach to Divorce? said at 8:21 pm on April 20th, 2011:

    […] bad moods and let some of his habits really get under my skin.  I realized that I blamed him for my own unhappiness and that wasn’t fair.  I set about the process of forgiving myself for these faults, forgiving […]

  16. 16 nancy said at 3:21 am on November 25th, 2013:

    Hi,

    wonderful blog..I have been separated from my hubby for mroe than year now.He wants me back now,but I am not ready to go back..for the exact reason..he tells i hold the reigns of his emotions it seems..and i let prople free..to express and live as they want..so i am not able to think to even work it out..


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