Do You Just Want To Be Happy?

Relationship Design

At the beginning of 2009, I wrote this post – What’s Your Big Idea? In it, I discussed my reaction to Steve and Erin Pavlina’s decision to explore the realm of a polyamorous marriage. For those not familiar with this term, polyamory is the practice or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of all involved.
If you’re relatively new to Simple Marriage, I’d suggest you follow this link and read the post before proceeding. See you again in a few minutes.
Okay, now that you’re back, allow me to give you an update.
Last week, Steve and Erin announced that they have separated and are getting divorced. They both wrote at length about this and admit that their decision to become polyamorous played a role in the separation.
While it is likely that deciding to be polyamorous would harm most any marriage, what troubles me is what’s underneath all this.
First, a brief disclaimer: I do not view things fundamentally the same as Steve and Erin (at least from what I have read on their blogs). And when there is a fundamental difference in beliefs, it’s easy to come across as judging or harsh – which in no way I am wanting to do.
Divorce is a major thing in our society and there’s no such thing as a divorce without fallout – or pain and suffering. A family is a system – what affects one – impacts all.
Here’s a few quotes taken directly from their writing about this:

Human relationships have a lot of fluidity to them, and marriage is only one of many forms they can take. In this case the most conscious decision we can make to improve our relationship is to end our marriage.
Our desires in life are no longer as compatible as they were in our early years.  We both want to live in ways that the other is not interested in, so we were constantly compromising what we wanted to make the other person happy, which left neither of us truly happy.

It appears as though their belief is that marriage is supposed to make them happy and if its not – that means something’s not working.
I simply do not agree.
Marriage is not designed to make us happy.
What makes you happy is way too vague and elusive. What makes you happy changes with the seasons and the stages in life. And often, once you obtain whatever it is that would make you happy, it’s short lived and fleeting. If I define my life and live my life only by what makes me happy – I’m going to harm a lot of people along the way.
Marriage is designed for one thing: growth.
Marriage creates a natural container to facilitate our growth and development as people. As Hayden stated this before:

Marriage is personal development boot camp. You will demand much from your partner, as they will from you. You will be challenged to open your being in love, even as you are angry. You will be challenged to fully forgive transgressions both major and minor. Your marriage, in short, is the daily practical exercise of the opportunity to be your best self. And what you master at home, you take into the world.

We live in relationship to others all our lives. Some relationships carry more importance than others. Obviously my relationship with my wife is going to create more possibilities for growth than is my relationship with the drive-thru attendant, but the same principles apply.
One more quote from Steve:

The desire to relate to other people as consciously as possible eventually made it impossible to continue giving my power away to an external structure like a marriage. That was a problem for both of us. For years we fell into the trap of treating the marriage as something more powerful than ourselves, something we must preserve at all costs even when it didn’t make us happy to do so. I’m glad we finally saw the folly in that mindset.

Most every person I’ve worked with has come in to their sessions with the belief that they want to work on their marriage – as if their marriage was an outside entity that could be “fixed.”
They’ve got it backwards.
The marriage is doing what it’s designed to do – work on the people involved.
Rather than working on improving the marriage, the marriage works on improving the people. While the work required is difficult at times, so is our own growth. But what you discover when you put in the work is that you value the relationship more, you value yourself more, and you’re both better off than you were before.
In fact, research has even discovered that the tough times in marriage (as well as the times when you laugh together) increases the levels of Oxytocin in your brain. Oxytocin is the chemical that creates a deeper bond with others. So the higher the levels of Oxytocin, the deeper the connection and bond.
The only way to truly connect with another person is to put in the work to be more present and “grown up” with them.
Happiness ebbs and flows. So do all our emotions.
Growth lasts.
When you find yourself in the midst of unhappiness, perhaps it’s a great time to work on your own growth.
And if you do that – you’ll likely end up more fulfilled.
And you know what?
So will your spouse.

Photo courtesy Joe Shlabotnik