Many years before I separated, fairly early on in my marriage, I was told emphatically by a helpful professional: “You are NOT responsible for your partner’s happiness. They are 100% responsible for their own happiness and unhappiness. It has nothing to do with you.”
I felt such an amazing flood of relief. I remember crying very hard, full-on messy sobbing. I had felt tremendous responsibility for a clinical depression. Over the years we had talked about things a lot, worked on ways to improve our lives and eventually sought professional help.
I had found that most of what I did to ‘fix’ our relationship was not helping much. I was at a loss on how to improve the situation. What I was doing to try and buoy my partner up was making me more miserable and not helping him. Looking back I want to emphasize that “I” was part of the problem.
Over time I had given up much of my own identity. I stopped doing what I liked doing, stopped having time or energy to do what brought me joy and worked hard and focused on trying to solve the problems that kept coming up in our relationship around unhappiness – not my unhappiness but the unhappiness of my partner.
I gave up my hobbies, my joys, my dreams and even most of my social connections and my job. (Yes – I encouraged a moved away from my entire support system because he was unhappy and I thought moving to another company in another city would help!) Trying to make or keep someone else happy is exhausting. Of course, the new job in the new city was great for a short while. Then the same issues surfaced and we were right back at square one. This time I had little support as all my friends and family were miles away.
Finally being told that I was not responsible for another person’s unhappiness was a true gift. It was not my job to drag another to find happiness – especially since I now realize that they did not have the same ideals or values.
I still worked on things for many years before my marriage did finally end, but knowing what I know now I think I would have done more to improve my own situation much earlier. I had felt a sense of duty and obligation which kept me invested in an unhappy marriage far longer than I should have stayed. I was throwing everything I could at fixing the problem when it wasn’t really my problem to fix.
I have since figured out that:
- Happiness really is an ‘inside’ job.
- You choose how you feel and can to a large extent control how you feel.
- No one ‘hurts your feelings’ – you choose to be hurt.
- Not everyone wants to be happy.
- You cannot change anyone except YOURSELF. You can do things that affect others but you cannot change or control how other people think, feel, react and act.
- Others need to WANT TO CHANGE themselves to create any change.
- Changing oneself is hard work. You need desire as well as time, energy and persistence.
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Take good care of yourself!
The Divorce Coach in Dundas