Updated: Jul 3, 2019
Happy is not overrated. I love being happy. It's my favorite way to be.
But the pursuit of happiness -- national goal though it is -- can be the road to discouragement and shame if you're not careful.
I've been married for almost 19 years. Below, please see a cheesy picture of us trying to recreate a photo from our wedding, with our 10-year-old photo bombing us. I am grateful and glad to be married, particularly to my particular husband, who I love and admire. Admire -- which means esteem, approve of, respect, think highly of, rate highly, hold in high regard -- makes loving him easier. I truly believe he is a great man.
But he is also a bonehead guy. He still fails to intuit important things he ought to understand (Like don't go buy donuts when I'm on a sugar detox, for example). Unlike it says in the John Legend song, I do not love ALL his curves and all his edges, all his perfect imperfections. Some of them I love. Some of them drive me crazy.
It's mutual. Jeff always loves me. However, I fail to delight him at all times. I'm like Sally in When Harry Met Sally. As Harry said, "You're the worst kind. You're high maintenance, but you think you're low maintenance."
And in the almost 19 years we've been married, there have been times when we have been unhappy. Not with our marriage necessarily, but just with life. We've both been through tough seasons in our careers and in certain relationships. I've struggled with depression. That was not a barrel of monkeys for Jeff to endure. And then in our actual marriage, we have both found that being with one another did not ensure that we never felt lonely, discouraged, or misunderstood.
And yet, when I start to get to know new friends, or I speak about my family when I'm teaching on a stage, I find the urge to say, "I am happily married." What I really want them to know is that I'm happy I am married, because a lot of people aren't. I find I want to tell myself that, too: Amanda, you are a happily married woman. On the weekends, I find the pressure to see myself as this kind of excrutiating sometimes. If I am happily married, shouldn't I then be happier while my spouse is home for longer stretches of time?
Sometimes I am, but other times I'm in a bad mood on Saturday and it would be a little nicer to be alone and work that out with God and without a human audience. Especially if the bad mood is caused by a sugar detox. And the other humans are eating donuts. (There's a recurring theme here.)
I've decided that what would make more sense and would relieve the pressure is this: I am healthily married. In my healthy marriage we have mutual respect and admiration for one another. We have loyalty, faithfulness and commitment. We give grace. And when we fight -- we fight, we do, about a lot of different things, both small and medium (large, less so, as we have worked stuff out over the years) -- we make up eventually. In my favorite book on marraige How We Love, psychologists Milan and Kay Yerkovitch say it is more important to children's well-being to see parents repair what they call a "rupture" than that there is no rupture in the first place. The total absence of direct conflict in a family is not a sign of a "happy marriage," but a repressed emotional reality. It's important for kids to understand that there is no such thing as a conflict-free relationship, and to give them tools to make up after a fight and make progress.
The worst problem Jeff and I have in our conflicts is our perfectionism -- which we are both recovering from at our own pace. We have a hard time just saying, "Okay, that outing to the farmer's market didn't go very well. We snapped at each other at the Kombucha stand, and we shouldn't have. I forgive you. Love you. Let's move on." Instead we both lawyer up and try to make sure the other person knows just exactly why the public snapping happened so that we can never in our lives have that kind of conflict again. We might spend a whole Saturday on that. In other words, we're trying to make sure we have a happy marriage every day from now on, and we make ourselves quite unhappy in the process.
My 14-year-old daughter pointed this out to us (not in these exact words). Teenage children are good at calling you out. It's healthy if you listen to them.
So, forget happily married. Gratefully married? Yes. Perfectly married? No. Working our hardest to love each other for the long haul? Yes. And here's the great paradox: focusing on health and not happiness might make us a little happier after all.