We all know that roughly 50% of all marriages end in divorce, right? I like to think of myself as a “glass half full” kind of person, but ironically, I also tend to catastrophize about worst possible outcomes. I am also a “Questioner” (check out The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin), which brings me to my next point. If it’s a given that half of all marriages end in divorce, what about the other half? If you’re like me, you’ve wondered about the 50% of marriages that stayed intact. Are they even happy?! Umm, NO! At least not all of them.
You know who’s included in the pool of 50 percenters who didn’t divorce?
- People who are permanently separated
- People who are separated but not moved out
- People who are planning to get divorced when the kids are older
- People who are having affairs
- People who are financially and emotionally codependent
I just freaked myself out writing out that list because it is so sad! No one gets married to feel stuck and unhappy. What’s the percentage of happiness for couples that stick it out? Maybe half of them? That seems like a solid guess, and it’s depressing. After looking at this list, if I wasn’t already married, I would think twice about getting a ring put on it. (Ok, probably not because I would be dreaming about getting married to my husband if I was single. But still…)
So now we are down to 25% of all married people are actually happy- and you KNOW that they fight from time to time, at the very least. They weave in and out of happiness, depending on the day or situation, but overall would describe their marriage as happy. How do they manage? What is their secret?
Here is my theory. It’s all about expectations.The bigger the gap between what you expect and what you actually get, the more disappointed you are. And if I was really splitting hairs here, I would say it’s not just what you get, but what you PERCEIVE you get. The way you interpret and judge your relationship is your reality, rather than a perfect reflection of the facts.
“Set expectations- and then expect to be disappointed”. Right?? So true. Even with best intentions, we are merely humans interacting with other humans. We don’t handle our emotions and reactions perfectly and we can be moody beasts. Communication is challenging because of the nuances of verbal, nonverbal, interpretation, intention, etc.
Still, I don’t think a lack of expectations is the answer. If it was, why not just marry a tree stump? That would be pretty lame and not having SOME expectations is counterintuitive, so I am not going to try to sell you on the idea. I believe we need to have a minimum baseline of what we expect from our spouse and ourselves. We can and should expect not to be cheated on, manipulated, or physically/ emotionally assaulted.
After you name your non-negotiable expectations, the real work begins! This is the area that you can finesse in order to beat the sad marriage statistics.
The unhappiness-causing issues will fall into one of three buckets: the things that can be changed, the things that won’t change, and the purgatory bucket (things that are in the process of being determined which of the two buckets it goes into).
You think that you can’t be happy if all your expectations are not met, but look more closely at what creates happiness. If level of happiness is determined by how closely your expectations align with your perceived reality, AND you can adjust on either end- lower the expectation and change your perception, THEN being happy is up to you. You’ve already named your non-negotiable expectations, so you still get to have that. However, the other tweak is to change your other expectations and/ or perception. I am not saying it’s easy but I definitely think it’s necessary. And healthy. Learning unconditional love is a good thing.
Phrases like “You’re never happy”, “Nothing I do is good enough” or “All you do is complain”, usually mean that there’s not a lot of unconditional love or appreciation being felt. Sure, it could mean that someone is gaslighting you or victimizing themselves, too, but not necessarily. If you’re not sure, take steps to find out. Talk to a friend. Confide in a counselor. Email me.
Think about this in reverse. Remember when Mark Darcy said “No, I like you very much, just the way you are” to Bridget Jones? Oh man, I melted. “Just the way you are!!!!”, no changes necessary. Bottom line is that happiness is a side effect when you move from focusing on what’s missing to what’s already there. When you release expectations that exceed your basic qualifying standards, you can love your spouse for who they are, not who you wish they could be. That’s how you beat the odds.