Happiness — 29 October 2003
Are you happy together?

“I am unhappy in my marriage” is often cited as the reason for seeking
divorce. Happiness is a widely sought after emotion. People yearn for
happiness, defined as : ” a state of pleasure or pleasurable
satisfaction,” as the highest existential state of being. So what
constitutes an emotional satisfaction within a relationship and how do
you attain it?

Research indicates that happily married couples of fifteen years

duration attributed their happiness to the stability of the committed
companionship. Knowing that their partners are there for them devotedly
and permanently created marital happiness. They did not speak of good
sex, easy communication, economic stability, shared interests, values or
ideals, as the primary factor of their marital happiness. Nor did they
seek excitement, bliss or felicity to feel happy.

Psychologically, it makes perfect sense that a committed, loving
companionship, is the appropriate environment for joyful existence. Those very ingredients are the ones needed for infants healthy and happy
growth. A consistently available and consistently warm caregiver
provides the infant with the safety to embark upon her maturation
happily. Secure attachment of the infant to the loving caregiver is a
preamble of future relationship attachments in adulthood.

Whether or not you have been blessed with this early nurturing
validation, the desire for unconditional love- is a lifelong quest. When
you find yourself in a mature love connection in which you feel truly
appreciated, your happiness is secured. When you feel unhappy in your
relationship, most likely you do not feel valued enough.

In my years of working with couples I concluded that main factor leading
to divorce is the sense of not mattering- not feeling valued, special or
appreciated enough. The stated reasons for the discontent vary, but when
one or both partners no longer feel valued enough, the relationship may
end. Partners who feel appreciated, respected and honored within their
connection, are able to withstand enormous stresses and stay united.
They may be unhappy about their circumstances, but empowered and by
their union. Mattering to your partner is the single most important
factor in feeling happy in your relationship.

To affirm our value we expect our mates to be, as our parents may have
been, our main source of gratification. When I was a child and rubbed my
eyes, my mother knew I was tired. When I had not eaten for a while, she
guessed that I was hungry. And when I enviously stared at another child
licking an ice cream cone, she bought me one. I thus concluded that my
mother could read my mind and knew all my needs and wants. I also
surmised that this capacity would extend to anyone who truly loved me.

This type of misperception is common. Knowingly or unknowingly partners
expect their mates to intuitively figure out what they desire and
provide it graciously. Statements like “you should have known”, or “you
know me well enough” or “isn’t it obvious?”- Are based on the erroneous
assumption that love and familiarity makes one a mind reader and since
the need was not fulfilled, it is an intentional hurt.

This logic is blatantly false. No one, no matter how loving or familiar,
is able to guess what you desire at any particular moment, without you
expressing it. It is your responsibility to ask for what you need. If
you do not receive it, trust that your partner may not be able to
provide it right then, rather than he is being punitive.

There are couples who experience repeated frustrations at not being
cared for even after they articulate their needs clearly. Those
situations may require professional assistance. However, for the
majority of partners the failure is in communicating the need rather
than in the compliance by the mates. Most couples deeply desire to make
each other feel valued and loved.

  • Hold yourself _ not your mate-responsible for your happiness within
    your relationship.
  • “I feel unhappy because he/she does not make me happy” is an illogical
    reasoning. The correct one is “I feel unhappy because I have not made
    myself happy.”
  • Learn to express your needs and wants clearly- not abstractly. Rather
    than saying “we are not close enough”, say: “I would like to spend
    twenty minutes a day talking to you.” The more specific the request is,
    the more likely it is to be granted.
  • Use positive language stating what would please you, rather than
    complain about the relationship deficits. “I would feel more loved if
    you would call me from work to chat briefly every day.”
  • When your needs are not met, question your partner about the reason,
    rather than assuming her motivations. “I wonder what was going on for
    you today- that you did not run this important errand for me- as
    promised?” Ask lovingly and with concern, without sarcasm.
  • When your wishes are granted, express your pleasure. Tell your
    partner- “I felt so considered when you told your friend you will check
    with me first about our plans.” Appreciated behavior is more likely to
    be repeated.

Happiness is a self- generated emotion. Relationship happiness is not a
given but an earned state. To be successful in attaining it requires
self -knowledge, effective communication skills, and affirming your
partner’s value.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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