When I first read Seth Adam Smith's overly emotional article, Marriage Isn't For You, I didn't get the warm and fuzzies many of you may have gotten. In fact, I felt a little throw up in my mouth. Seth's article hinges on some heartfelt but wonky advice from his father:
Marriage isn't for you. You don't marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn't for yourself, you're marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn't for you. It's not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.
My first marriage lasted 19 years. Once the divorce cloud settled I was able to sort through the lessons I learned.
Lesson 1: I can't make anyone happy but myself. Happiness is a response to something that happens. How another responds to any given situation is not something I have control over. Happiness is and always will be an inside job.
Lesson 2: Marriage is about two people, not one or the other. The marriage must be mutually beneficial and add value to both people who invested themselves inside the sacred marriage commitment.
Lesson 3: One person cannot be the constant giver while the other is a constant taker. Marriage requires regular deposits from both partners.
Lesson 4: If you do not make the time to value yourself no one else will either.
Lesson 5: If you cannot be who you are inside your marriage and you're constantly morphing into the expectations of other people -- your parents, your spouse, your friends, etc., -- you will end up resentful and most likely divorced.
There are other lessons I learned but these are the lessons that I write about the most often because I carried them with me into my second marriage. The coolest thing is that my husband, Richard, learned similar lessons from his first marriage as well. Try as he might, no matter what he did to make his first marriage about her, it just didn't work.
Before Richard and I reconnected (we were high school sweethearts), I was perfectly happy being the empty nested, yoga teaching, dog loving, granola eating, 40-something woman that I was. I was very happy with my life. And then Richard showed up. I married Richard not because of family, in-laws, out-laws, or my burning desire to forget about me and make him happy, but because I was truly, madly, deeply in love with him. I don't think Richard asked me to marry him so he could be a door mat and cater to my every whim or fancy.
Richard doesn't make me happy any more than I make him happy. We are two whole individuals. He is not my better half and I do not complete him. We both have goals, dreams, and aspirations. I do not have to give up who I am so he can realize his dreams. He does not have to dim his light so I can shine brighter than him. When we both shine brightly, we give everyone around us the courage to do the same.
My ex-husband hated that I had a light that no matter how much I dialed it back, it always came through. My ex-husband hated that I had interests, friends, goals, and dreams outside of him. He wanted to be the sole object of my attention. I made my first marriage all about my ex-husband. I tried to be the person he wanted me to be except what he wanted was always a moving target. Guess what? That's right -- after 19 years of tilting at windmills we became just another divorce statistic.
Through the lens of my own experience, I can't help but feel sorry for Seth and his wife. Seth most certainly has a lot to learn about marriage.