We all know that marriage isn’t easy. There are periods when the relationship needs lots of work and isn’t fulfilling and hopefully these are outweighed by periods of blissful harmony. What do you though when our marriage seems like plain, old hard work all the time?
My current guest, Stacey was unhappy for many of her twenty married years. She turned to Al-Anon and found help at a fundamental, life-changing level. Here’s Stacey:
There were years of being really unhappy, and I went to several therapists. At one point I was with a therapist who was not helping me at all. She was the second person to say, “Have you considered Al-Anon?” And I was like, “I guess I should do that.”
I often talk about, how when I first went into the program, I thought that if I had a sieve, where I could say, “Oh look, here’s mental health, here’s drug abuse and here’s alcoholism,” and I could just make the grains of sand divide somehow I could understand it better. But you realize it doesn’t really matter, that what really matters is how you’re acting. And it doesn’t even really matter what the people in your life are doing or not doing.
I don’t know if this is when I realized that our marriage was over, but there was an instance, business related, where my husband wasn’t a slouch, but he was making really bad, I thought, business decisions and was staying out many nights of the week, trying to convince our partner to do stuff. I was crying on the floor. I was like, “I’m crying on the floor,” and I think that was a real turning point. And I don’t think that’s when I got into Al-Anon, but Al-Anon taught me about loving detachment and I got happier.
I felt less responsible for his decisions and I felt more responsible for my own happiness. I was looking at me and going, “Wow.” I started to have, at least, some detachment and started to address the elephant. Beforehand, I was addressing the problems but I wasn’t talking to the right people I didn’t mean to be a bitch, but I was telling way more people my story than I should’ve been, because I was looking for some release, some like, “Couldn’t you tell me the answers? I don’t understand what’s going on. I need the answers.”
It’s not attractive behavior. I didn’t even want them to say, “Your husband’s terrible,” but I really wanted some answers and I got them. I didn’t get the answers about how to change the marriage or my spouse, but I got more information about how to be a little happier.
Al-Anon provides support for friends and families of problem drinkers. Members share their personal stories and experiences giving other members ideas for strategies that may help them. The focus is on the members themselves, and not “fixing” the problem drinker which is why I think Stacey didn’t want to talk about the specific circumstances that led her Al-Anon.
I also think the lesson about being responsible for your own happiness applies whatever your circumstance. It’s not just for people whose spouse has a drinking problem or other form of addiction. It’s universal. I also think it’s extremely important to spend time on your own following a divorce before committing to another relationship. Find out what makes you happy.
I was also unhappy for many years prior to divorce. I was approaching fifty and realized that I didn’t want/couldn’t continue living my life as I was. I wanted to be happy. At first I felt guilty about making my happiness a priority especially as I came to the belief that it would mean ending my marriage. I felt guilty about wanting to be happy if that would make others unhappy in the process.
However, the principle of self-responsibility for happiness applies as much to your spouse as to you and I got that. I struggle with it however with respect to children – like my son said recently to me, he has to do the work of moving between two houses and I don’t. I’m not going to say that our divorce made life more difficult for the children; there’s no way of knowing what life would have been like if we had stayed married but for sure, it changed life for our children and gave them some challenges to deal with. Ultimately, I decided I would be able to be a better mom if I were happy and six years on from my divorce, I believe I have been and continue to be.
P.S. If you’re curious about happiness, check out The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
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