The Happiness Connection  

Don't be a marriage victim

Have you ever been taken by surprise by getting angry or emotional about something you didn’t expect to be affected by?

I’m sure it is something we can all relate to. Your emotions happen without your permission. You rarely get to summon them, but you are always in control with what you do about them.

Emotions exist to help with your primary drive to survive. Your positive feelings enable you to be creative, make new connections, and learn new skills.; your negative ones get you ready to protect yourself from perceived threats.

When your subconscious mind thinks it is under attack, it will go into fight or flight mode. This means it will assess the situation and then choose to either fight the threat or run away from it. This choice is made subconsciously and depends on the action your mind believes will give you the best chance of survival.

Anger is one of the ways your brain tells you it thinks you are being threatened. That threat may be physical, mental, or emotional.

Your drive to survive ensures that your brain is constantly on the lookout for threats.

It doesn’t matter whether you are being presented by a real threat or not. If your brain thinks you are in danger, it will react as if you are. Negative emotions mean you are preparing yourself for survival.

When I had only been married for a couple of years, my husband decided to go skiing for a week in France with the boys. My initial reaction was hurt and anger. I alternated between crying hysterically and shouting.

What threat could possibly present itself from my husband saying he was going skiing with a few of his friends?

Subconsciously, I perceived that my marriage was being threatened. My parents had never gone on separate holidays, so I saw this ski trip as a sign that my marriage was failing. My anger was helping me fight for its survival.

Anger is a very useful emotion. It alerts you when someone is overstepping one of your boundaries. The key to healthy anger is experiencing it, looking to see why you were triggered and then letting it go. If you respond with frequent bouts of anger, or if you let those feelings hang around and fester, you’ve got a problem.

Feelings like anger, disappointment, and fear can morph into resentment if they aren’t deliberately set free.

Resentment is toxic and destructive, yet it is a frequent visitor in struggling relationships. It manifests itself in behaviours like distain, criticism, and emotional detachment.

Resentment is your mind’s way of defending your ego. The more fragile your ego, the more resentment you need to protect it. Unlike anger that reacts to a situation, thought, or incident, resentment builds up over time and distorts the way you see what is happening.

You may come to believe that you are being treated unfairly and that your bitter feelings are justified. Even if your spouse does something good for you, you find a way to twist it and see it through the lens of bitterness.

For example, if your partner comes home and cleans up the house before his parents are about to arrive, you may focus on the fact that he never cleans up the house for you. You are annoyed that he can do it for his parents and you ignore the fact that he has done something good.

There is a warped perception that these feelings of resentment are allowing you to take control of your life. Thoughts of standing up for yourself by not letting someone walk all over you may swirl through your mind, but in truth these emotions give the control to the other person.

Every time the object of your fury behaves in an undesirable way, they spark those negative emotions. You have given the power to the other person and are taking the role of a victim.

If you want to take back control, you must let go of your anger and resentment, forgive what has happened in the past, and reconnect with your partner, or decide the relationship is no longer serving you and walk away — without the resentment.

That may seem like a tall order and you may think that plan of action is letting your spouse off the hook, but your anger and resentment is harming you more than it is harming them.

As actor and author Malachy McCourt said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

There is every chance that your partner either doesn’t know how angry you are or doesn’t understand why you are feeling the way you are. They may go on living their life in a reasonably contented way, ignoring your behaviour. Meanwhile you are miserable.

Resentment hurts the person holding on to it, not the person it is being held against.

If you recognize this situation as being present in your relationship, don’t give up hope. There is a way to move forward. The solution to overcoming resentment is forgiveness.

Forgiveness, like happiness yoga or meditation, is a practice. It isn’t learned overnight and may never be mastered, but every time you work on it, you will get a little better.

It will allow you to let go of the old hurts, fears, and disappointments so you can move on with your life.

By forgiving your partner for their part in the hurt and sadness you’ve experienced, you aren’t condoning their actions, instead you are cutting the emotional attachment you feel to what has happened in the past. Being tethered to these memories is keeping you from moving forward into a happier future.

Don’t expect your partner to apologize or ask for forgiveness. This may never happen as he or she may not think they’ve acted in an inappropriate way, and maybe they haven’t. It is all about perspective. Hang on to the lessons you’ve learned rather than the hurt you’ve experienced.

Accept that your spouse probably didn’t set out to intentionally hurt you and remember they are on their own journey of learning and discovery. Choose to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Start by letting go of all the things you’ve been hanging on to through your resentment. I love to symbolically do this with fire, or a shredder.

Write down everything you can think of that has contributed to the anger, hurt and bitterness you feel and then burn or shred the paper. Close your eyes and breathe deeply as you let all your negative emotions go. Visualize them disintegrating.

Just because you’ve let this negativity go, it doesn’t mean it won’t reappear, or that you won’t feel angry again. Remember, forgiveness is a practice not a single action.

Talk to your spouse about your feelings, don’t bury them. You should never be ashamed of how you feel or think that negative emotions are bad and should be hidden. They are your feelings; see what you can learn from them.

Don’t believe that you and your spouse should always feel the same way about situations, or that you need to defend how you feel. Practice acknowledging each others’ emotions rather than reacting to them.

Learn to live as a forgiving person. Declare to the world that you are no longer a victim of someone else’s actions. By replacing your resentment with forgiveness and choosing to recognize and then release your negative emotions you will see your relationship in an entirely new light.


Prince Charming's flaws

When I first got married, I expected my husband to meet all my needs, which he did.

Unfortunately, this period of perfect bliss only lasted while we were in our honeymoon phase. Once that was over and my husband began to turn his attention to things other than me, I suddenly had a lot of unattended needs.

Fact: No one can meet all your needs, not even Prince Charming.

No one tells you this fact while you are busy buying flowers and choosing a dress. I never thought past the happily ever after ending, even though the marriages I had witnessed were nothing like the fairy tale movies I watched.

I was sure the honey moon stage of my marriage would last forever.

Fact: What you know and the hope you cling to are rarely the same.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the secret to a happy marriage lies not with choosing the right person, but by being confident in who you are.

Few of us survive our teenage lives with our confidence intact. You may look confident, but that is likely to be an act that masks the insecure person living within. That inner persona wants to hang around people who will validate them and let them know they are a great person.

When you get married, you may assume that your partner will do this for you, and perhaps you’ve chosen someone who tries hard to fulfill that role. But that is a lot of pressure to put onto anyone and it is unlikely they will manage the task as well as you want them to, especially as your relationship matures.

The insecure, inner you may constantly be looking to other people to strengthen its wavering beliefs. You want others to tell you how great you are and that you are doing the right things, so you can believe that too. You don’t want them to highlight the flaws you know are hidden deep inside.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that a lack of positive feedback is the same as negative feedback. Of course, your partner may just be wrapped up in their own world and not thinking about what you need at all.

You are putting yourself and your marriage in a very vulnerable position if you are looking to other people to validate your belief that you are good enough, especially if you don’t think you are.

Fact: The best kind of validation comes from within yourself.

You will put yourself into the best position for a happy marriage if you look to yourself for validation. Know that you are doing your best to live a good life. Be open to seeing failure as a new opportunity to learn and realize that no one is perfect.

It is OK when you stumble; the important thing is to get up again and reflect on how you can do it better next time. Make your decisions based on what you believe is best. Ask for advice, but do what you feel is right and then take responsibility for that decision.

Fact: If you are working toward being the best you can be, you are enough.

When I was first married, my husband fell into what I call teacher bashing. I was a classroom teacher for many years and it really upset me when he teased me with the old saying “Those who can do, those who can’t teach.” This wounded me deeply. I hated it and it almost always started tears or emotional fights.

I appeared confident, but inside I was full of insecurity that I wasn’t even aware of. I was looking to my husband to tell me directly and in subtle ways that I was good enough. If he didn’t, the conclusion I jumped to was that I wasn’t.

At the time, I thought he was just being mean and trying to hurt me. As I look back, I doubt he realized that he was vocalizing a fear I kept hidden, even from myself.

I had no idea that I was such an insecure person, until I started some personal development years later. Being triggered by another person comes from fears about ourselves. I was looking for validation from other people to assure me that I was smart enough, capable enough, and any other kind of enough that I needed.

My husband’s words upset me so much because I was worried that what he was saying might be true. Rather than looking to myself for relief from the situation, I blamed my spouse.

Fact: When people trigger us, it is more about us than it is about them.

Before I understood the psychology behind my reactions, I used to talk about regular teasing and mean teasing. The former is given and received in good humor. The mean variety chooses a topic the person on the receiving end is insecure about. There is nothing humorous about that.

Unfortunately, we don’t always know what another person is sensitive about; often they don’t even know until it triggers them. This makes any type of teasing a minefield activity.

For much of our marriage, I looked to my husband for validation. I wanted him to say, “Good job” and let me know that I was valuable, because I couldn’t do that for myself. If I had learned to self-validate then like I have now, I might have made a request for the teasing to be kept to a minimum, but it wouldn’t have triggered a melt-down.

We rarely talk about change and growth before we get married. Humans are meant to learn and develop; this doesn’t stop just because we are cohabitating. What happens when your partner grows in a way that is different than yours?

Any time your spouse grows without you, it is scary, especially if you are looking to them for validation or have abandonment issues.

The key to repairing much of the hurt you feel from your spouse is to work on yourself. Take steps to love who you are. You can love yourself without having to be perfect. You don’t even have to be almost perfect.

Treat yourself the way you want other people to treat you. Accept your flaws as quirks, and your mistakes as opportunities to learn. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to try to be better. Growth is vital if you want to be happy. Keep learning and keep journeying through life with an open mind and accepting attitude.

You will know that you have reached a place of self-validation when you are no longer being triggered by other people’s opinions, or feel a desire to judge what other people do or say.

Fact: Inner confidence changes how you see the world.

Fairy-tale marriages

The 2018 Academy Award winners will be announced tonight. I love movies and have been on a quest to see all nine best picture nominations before today.

Did you know that Walt Disney holds the record for the most wins and the most nominations for an individual in Oscar Award history? From a total of 59 nominations, he has won 22 and been given four honorary awards.

In 1939, the Academy gave Disney a special award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature length animated film. They presented him with one full-sized statue and seven miniature ones. It is no wonder that Disney is synonymous with family entertainment.

I’m sure you have all watched Disney movies, either as a child or with a child. They may seem harmless enough, but these well told tales have had a part to play in the dissatisfaction many women feel about marriage.

I say women, only because little research in this niche has been directed toward men.

Fairy tales were originally told for adult entertainment. It wasn’t until 1812 that the first versions for children were written. Folk lore and myths weren’t intended to just be good stories, they supported, validated, and taught the accepted morals and behaviors of the society they were written for.

The Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella includes the step sisters mutilating their feet, so they could get into the tiny glass slippers. The prince discovers their deception because he sees blood on the shoe.

The evil queen in Snow White is punished by being forced to dance in a pair of red-hot iron shoes until she dies.

These stories were not meant to be sentimental or inspirational. They were meant to caution children about life and how they should behave.

These gruesome endings were removed from the Disney versions before being turned into animated masterpieces. The fairy tales may have been sanitized, but there are consistent underlying themes running through the stories that are possibly more harmful than those gruesome endings.

I believe the happily ever after endings portrayed in these films are making the already difficult task of staying married, even harder. From an early age, girls are forming beliefs and expectations of what the perfect grown up life looks like.

Boys are doing the same thing, but not enough research has been carried out to know if they are affected to the same extent as girls.

I don’t believe that there is just one person you are meant to be with for the rest of your life. There are many people out there you could be happily married to, but it takes work. Even if you are with Prince Charming.

I don’t believe that marriage is the ultimate goal for women. It is an option, but not the pinnacle of success. Nor do I believe that everything that happens up until her nuptials are just the prequel to her real life of being a wife.

I don’t believe that marriage guarantees life-long happiness. Being married has huge benefits if you can make it work, but making it work takes a huge amount of effort. Few marriages look like the ones at the end Disney fairy tales.

I don’t believe that you can change your man into the epitome of prince charming. He is a unique individual and although you can help him minimize his less endearing qualities, and maximize his good ones, he will always be a version of the person he was when you married him.

Research shows that although many people in western societies know the fairy tale themes that run through the Disney movies are fantasy, they cling to the hope that it will become reality. They compare the ending of Snow White to their own life and feel dissatisfied.

The more exposure you have to romantic popular media, the greater your chance of having unrealistic beliefs about marriage. You know that what you are watching, or reading is fantasy, and yet you believe it could happen in to you.

Disney isn’t the only one to encourage these fantasy beliefs, but I am singling them out because they are aimed at young viewers who are absorbing everything like a sponge.

This contradiction between fantasy and reality is causing problems for what people expect marriage to be like. You know marriage is hard, and yet you cling to the fantasy you unwittingly watched unfold on the screen as a child.

These movies are thought to play a major role in forming identities, goals, and dreams, especially for girls.

Children identify more with the characters than the plot of the story. They know they may never live in a castle, but they can be like the princess and be rescued by a prince, regardless of where he lives, or whether he appears riding a horse.

We see Disney as great family entertainment, so for the most part we don’t question whether our children should watch their movies. I am not suggesting you should boycott Disney, but I am advocating more conversations about the stories.

Talk about what happens to the princess once she is married.

Discuss whether you think it was best for Cinderella to do everything she was told to do, or whether she should have stood up for herself a little bit more.

Chat about what would have happened to the princess if she decided not to marry the prince.

Raise the consciousness of what is fantasy and what is reality to help shift this internal conflict between fantasy and reality.

The Disney studios have come a long way from the early fairy tales. They are trying to give their heroines more gumption and they don’t necessarily get married at the end of the story. They have also tried to create greater variety in the physical features of the heroines.

It is difficult enough to form lasting, committed relationships amongst the conflict and pressure of everyday life without clinging to the hopes of a fantasy life you created in your mind.

Why can’t happily ever after focus on finding meaning in your life and living to your full potential, whether that is with another person or not?

Let’s talk more openly about what long-term relationships are like and how to find a happy ending, regardless of the path you have chosen.


Shifting sands of marriage

A statement by Dr. Rose Backman while I was at the Okanagan Real Estate Investors Group’s Success Summit caught my attention.

She has asked hundreds of people why they got married and only 17 gave love as the major reason.

The number surprised her, it surprises me, and I’m sure will surprise many of you reading this. Isn’t love the most common reason people decide to marry?

Our culture encourages the belief that romantic love is necessary for a successful marriage. How can that be if so few people marry for love? I accept that Rose’s statistics aren’t from a scientific study, but somehow, they ring true.

The No. 1 drive that all people have is to survive, both as an individual and as a race. If we are going to survive as a species, we need to procreate.

Romantic love is a biological process that encourages the sex necessary to produce children. Many women have no desire for babies until they fall in love. Suddenly, they feel pulled to bear their lover’s child.

Marriage is not a new phenomenon. It has existed from the beginning of recorded history, and probably before that, but it didn’t look the way it does now.

For most of this time, romantic love has been a bonus, not a necessity in marriage.

Traditionally, matrimony was a contract between families and centred around the good of the clan not what the individuals being married wanted. Whether you were in love was not a consideration.

If marrying a man that was old and smelly was good for the family, a woman was expected to suck it up and start producing babies.

Social standing, economic security, money, political alliances and children were all common reasons for a marriage to be arranged.

If you watched Downton Abby, you might remember that the earl had a title and land, but the money he needed to keep the estate afloat came from an American heiress.

Her family had new money, which wasn’t respected by old moneyed families. The marriage provided her with a title and the respect her family craved.

For powerful clans, the decision to join two families through marriage was often made when the bride and groom were very young, or even babies.

Linking romantic love with marriage became a popular idea in the 1800s. Before that time, unless you were lucky, romantic love was something that happened outside marriage.

Although being in love with the person you married became popular in Victorian times, it wasn’t the sort of physical passion that we think of today.

An ideal marriage provided spiritual love through companionship. Sex was normal, but passion wasn’t valued. Sex was primarily for procreation, not enjoyment.

After the First World War, western societies perceived that the institution of marriage was in crisis. To help this problem, popular literature began to emphasize romance and the expression of making love became popular. Society was sold on the idea that successful marriages resulted from being in love and was necessary if you wanted a good sex life.

This belief is still held by many in our society. We grow up believing we should fall in love and experience the giddy emotions and passionate sex of our honeymoon stage forever. I’m not saying this never happens, but I suspect it isn’t common.

Relationships look different over time. That doesn’t mean they aren’t as good, it means they have grown and developed just like you have. I’m sure you are different now than you were 10 years ago. Anything that stands still becomes stagnant.

If you don’t understand that your marriage will shift, grow and develop, you may begin to wonder whether you married the wrong person. The answer to that is likely to be no.

It doesn’t matter who you choose to settle down with, you will have disagreements, challenges, and change to deal with.

I believe it is the change in our expectations of what marriage looks like since adding romantic love into the mix, that has sent the divorce rate skyrocketing.

There are far more options for our lives today, and our roles in society are not as well defined. Women don’t always have children, and if they do, they don’t always stay at home to look after them.

Men aren’t always the major bread winner and provider, or the one who is in the position of power in a family.

These changes in our society has made being married a much more challenging experience.

The old beliefs and reasons to marry are no longer adequate. We need to redefine the purpose of marriage and reimagine what marriage might look like.

Although there are many new looks for non-traditional families, marriage is still viewed in a conventional way.

I’ve seen descriptions for single family houses with two master suits. Your first reaction to this new layout may be puzzlement or even negative.

Surely, if you are in love, you want a single marital bed, doesn’t having your own space reflect a lack of love and the death of passion? Not if one partner is an insomniac, a heavy snorer, or just sleeps better in their own space.

This is just one instance of redefining what long-term relationships could look like.

If our society wants to continue to advocate for marriage, perhaps it is time to give the institution a makeover. Figure out what works for you and your partner and then let the fear of judgment go.

It’s better to be happy together in a marriage of your design, than in an unhappy one that has been designed by traditional acceptance.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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