How I GOT MY “HAPPY” BACK!
I have studied people’s behavior and relationships throughout my whole life. Because of my father’s job, my family moved from city to city often throughout my childhood and I observed each new group of kids to see the similarities and differences they had with the previous one. Then I decided how or if I wanted to fit in. I studied psychology in college and earned a master’s degree in counseling before becoming a certified life coach.
My marriage and the rearing of our three sons were adventures in relationships, too.
Marriage is like a laboratory experiment using ingredients from the past. You bring your past, your spouse brings theirs, you stir them together in the “beaker” of your home and expect to get a smooth mix of your “normal”. The problem is that “normal” for each of you is different! There may be an explosion instead of a delightful blend.
I met my husband a few months after I graduated from college. I had decided not to return to my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and I moved to the excitement of New York City, where 2 friends and I lived in a low rent area of the Bronx that was near Harlem. My roommates were from small towns in Alabama and Massachusetts, and we were often surprised by people’s reactions when we stopped, wide eyed and open mouthed to watch something that was happening on the street, smiled at neighbors and fellow pedestrians, stopped to say hello, or chatted with even the strangest of strangers who walked up to us. Our expectations were different from those of the people around us.
My husband had moved to New York City from Detroit, had finished graduate school, was older, protective, and understood everything about the city. Each of us was still wounded from a relationship that had ended badly. He had an unresolved relationship with his mother, while I had a similar situation with my father. It was love at first sight. We were made for each other! Neither of us ever looked at anybody else after our first conversation. Really! We were together for 40 years and married for almost 37 before he died!
Relationships can be a cycle of crisis and victory.
This is how I lost my “happy” and then got my “happy” back.
We knew we would have many challenges in our marriage because we had been blessed with so many interesting situations. One of our twin sons was deaf, the other was hard of hearing, and the law guaranteeing public school for handicapped children wasn’t in effect yet. We didn’t want to put our deaf toddler in a residential institution, so when both of our well paying jobs ended, we moved across the country to California where the boys could live at home with us and still get decent educations. It was a while before my husband found employment and at first he only found poorly paid work. I stayed home to take care of the children and do the required volunteer work at the preschool for the deaf. Occasionally, we had so little money that we went to the grocery store with a pocketful of change to feed a family of four, but the boys thrived.
In a couple of years, we were doing better financially and had a third son. A few years after that, we had become financially stable enough to buy a house I chose and he agreed to. It made me feel blissful whenever I drove up to it. The ranch style house was in a town on unincorporated land without sidewalks, walking distance from a nature preserve. Peach, apricot, kumquat and lemon trees grew in our yard. It was just north of Pasadena, on a cul-de-sac on the side of a mountain, near a goat farm where we got fresh, raw milk. Did I mention that my husband grew up in Detroit and loved living in New York City? He spent as much time as possible down the mountain in Los Angeles. In addition, I had become a member of the Baha’i faith, which has no clergy, and my husband was not only Christian, but was soon to become a Methodist minister.
Neither of us was happy. We were frustrated, depressed and stressed. We didn’t fight – that wasn’t polite. We just didn’t talk to each other. (Does that sound familiar to anyone?) Then, my husband accepted a job offer in Brooklyn. I hadn’t even known he was looking for work there!
I acted like an unhappy but reluctantly dutiful wife; he was eager! He wanted to live in a high rise near the Brooklyn Bridge. I refused on the grounds that our sons weren’t prepared for the sudden culture shift living there would require and they’d have to ride the subway through rough neighborhoods sometimes to get to the area he wanted to call home. I wanted to live in the quiet greenery of Staten Island in a house with a big yard. While I was settling affairs and selling our California house, he rented a large apartment without a yard, in downtown Staten Island, a few blocks from the ferry, and enrolled the boys in school. I think he felt that it was a good compromise. We didn’t discuss it.
When I arrived, I decided that our differences were too great and I wanted a divorce. Neither of us would give up full custody of our children though, so we went to marriage counseling to work out the custody arrangements.
Our counselor saved our lives!
She pointed out that it was clear to everyone but ourselves that we loved each other but we had abysmal communication skills. She offered to teach us better communication skills. She pointed out the effect of the unresolved relationships with our parents and we realized that we would each have to make changes within ourselves if we were going to have happy relationships with anybody.
After that counseling session, we went to one of our rare dinners without children and digested what she had said as we digested dinner. We agreed that if we were going to have to change ourselves to be happy with other people anyway, we might as well change ourselves, stay together and try to find happiness with each other.
WE DECIDED TO STAY MARRIED!
We decided that we would treat whatever challenges came up as opportunities to learn about each other and ourselves. We knew there would be plenty of challenges! We decided we would get help with our relationship whenever we needed it. Over the next few days of talking and praying, we realized we could choose to be happy instead of angry if we looked at the positive instead of the negative, if we made an “assumption of good intent” when some behavior seemed odd and then asked each other about it. We decided ask enough questions to understand our differences and to choose happiness. We made more appointments with the counselor and she helped us launch our new lives.
I got my happy back! I was free to be myself. He was free to be himself. We were free to say, “Why on earth did you do that?”, or “Why do you want this instead of that?”, or “This is what I heard you say-….. Is that what you meant?” and then we promised to listen to the answer with an open heart and an assumption of good intent.
Even though each of us had dark moments and revisited thoughts of divorce, those thoughts sent us to counselors, not lawyers. He was a 10-year cancer survivor and only death parted us.
I want to do for you what that counselor did for us.
I want you to see yourself clearly, learn to use some appropriate tools, see what is possible and get your “happy” back!