Masks… We don’t like when others wear them, but we’re no stranger to wearing them either! You could be having the worst day, but you’ve mastered the art of being able to keep the world from knowing it. After all, you learned to keep your feelings to yourself and never learned how to ask for help. It is because of issues like these that we fall into the destructive pattern of suffering in silence…
Of the many expectations I had for marriage, one of them was a fierce sense of privacy. No one else needed to know our business, and any issues that needed to be resolved were to be addressed between us. I can’t tell you exactly where this expectation came from. Maybe it was a mix of seeing the sometimes public impact of my parent’s relationship, especially after they chose to get divorced. Or maybe I was influenced by the couples around me, as no one seemed to want to get personal and really talk about marriage. I concluded that my marriage was something that needed to be confined to the two of us.
Over the years, I have learned that privacy is very much needed for healthy marriages, but what isn’t healthy is when privacy becomes suffocating. Now that I am on the side where the grass can often seem greener to someone who would like to be married, I can speak openly to the truth of what marriage is:
- Marriage is where you will experience the best and worst moments of life together
- Marriage is where you need to share a sense of safety to be truly vulnerable
- Marriage is where you won’t always be happy
Sure that last point is something that you’ve no doubt heard before; “Your marriage won’t always be roses” or “Your spouse isn’t there to make you happy”, but what we don’t talk about is what to do when we are no longer happy.
Your spouse shouldn’t be responsible for your happiness, but this doesn’t mean that you should just sit in a place of misery!
Let’s be real – it sure does feel like our spouse can make us feel equally happy and sad, and these reactions shouldn’t be discounted. It’s okay to feel happy because your spouse does something special for you, just as it is okay to feel disappointed when something you care about doesn’t seem to matter to them. But what isn’t okay is when you are entirely co-dependant on this person being your source of emotional stability. It’s like jumping on your spouse’s back and expecting them to carry you, and then getting frustrated with them when they get tired and need to put you down.
Essentially, when you rely on your spouse for your happiness, you are expecting them to carry you while they also try to carry themselves. Their own emotions are just as unpredictable as yours, so the need to put you down is inevitable. You need to learn how to carry yourself, and then your rollercoaster ride will come to a swift end. Of course life will still come with its ups and downs, but external factors will no longer be able to dictate whether you are up or down. Finally, you get to decide.
You also get to decide when to take the mask off…
One of the most freeing experiences of my entire life, was being able to set my mask down and sit with a counsellor. To share the things I had struggled to say, and to unpack the baggage I had tucked out of sight. To share the things that made me happy, but more importantly to be able to be vulnerable enough to face the things that had been making me unhappy.
When we feel cornered in our marriage, the worst feeling is to believe that you have nowhere you can turn. Fear keeps us right where we are, and there are many of us who are hiding things from our spouse, family members, friends, colleagues, and anyone else within our sphere of influence. As far as they are concerned, you are fine.
I don’t believe that it is for everyone to know when you are facing issues in your marriage, but it isn’t right that no-one should know either.
Issues have a way of snowballing with time, and what started out as something treatable can turn into the very thing that forms a solid wall between you and your spouse. I’ve seen this happen so many times, especially with my parents’ generation who have negative perceptions of the need to seek help for your marriage. With more education and awareness, I have seen a shift take place for my generation who are beginning to dismantle the myths around therapy, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
Far too many people are continuing to stick plasters over a wound that has been infected for years and requires professional care. If you can do something about your discontentment, then you should. Life is far too short not to try and improve it, and shape the kind of happiness that brings you a sense of purpose. The key is you, and you can’t wait around for your spouse to do the work that needs to begin with you.
Most of us are driven by the fear of others finding out our ‘stuff’. Vulnerability can be a scary experience, but it is also very necessary to the health of any relationship.
Fear of what others think will keep you stuck in a place of inaction.
What if I speak to someone, and then others find out the truth about our marriage issues?
What if our friends get the idea that we’re having problems?
What if my parents find out and they are disappointed?
What if others stop taking us seriously, and are expecting our marriage to end?
When you start thinking like this, you need to replace these thoughts with the positive over the negative:
What if I speak to someone, and then they are able to help with our marriage issues?
What if our friends support us?
What if my parents love us enough to encourage us to keep working on what we have?
What if others appreciate and can relate to our struggle, and feel encouraged to remain committed to their own marriage?
Straight away, you can see how your difference in mindset can build steps for positive change over the cycle of negativity that comes with inaction. Naturally, we always think of the negative when we are in a difficult place. In an ideal world, we would all be more vulnerable and create space to not just learn from each other’s weaknesses in our marriage, but to be able to learn from the weaknesses shown in other marriages too. The more we would relate to each other’s journey and recognise that we are far from alone, the more we would allow ourselves the grace to be human, and nurture the kind of marriage that can withstand the reality of life.
I’ll end by reiterating that privacy is still a necessity, and you need to apply both caution and wisdom to who you share the vulnerable parts of your marriage with. With that being said, it is also essential for you to be able to discern when help is needed. To be able to lower the drawbridge and let others inside your fortress, so that they can help to reinforce your entire marriage with the kind of material that lasts a lifetime.
It’s okay to accept that you are unhappy, but it isn’t okay for you to stay unhappy. Acknowledge how you feel right now and give yourself the room to explore how that feeling is impacting the rest of your life. The following questions can help you to start talking about those things that are keeping you stuck in a place of unhappiness:
- What is causing you to feel unhappy in your marriage and why?
- When was the last time you felt genuinely happy? What about this experience made it memorable?
- Does the idea of asking for help feel uncomfortable for you? Why?
- If you could change one thing about your marriage right now, what would it be and why?
- If you were to ask for help to make this change, what would be the best case scenario to happen as a result?