Last September, l I received a call from a woman who was truly at her wits end in her relationship.
Something had changed, a shift had occurred earlier in the year and she no longer seemed to be able to make her partner happy. The tension in the partnership was escalating and she was beginning to question, if she even loved her husband anymore.
I asked her, if there were any major events that happened in the last year? Births? Death? Marriage? Job loss or gain?
She confided to me, her partner’s father had died in January and she suspected he was in depression however she couldn’t seem to break through to him and help.
She proceeded to list of TWENTY different very creative, furtive endeavors, ideas and failed attempts, to make her partner happy. To reach him through the fog of grief and depression that seemed to have consumed him, since his father’s passing.
I asked her if she was a grief counsellor?
NO, she replied.
I asked her if she was a therapist, trained to diagnosis and treat depression?
NO, she replied.
I asked if her husband had sought any professional help since his father’s death?
NO, he’s not willing to go, she said.
I asked her what she did on a weekly basis to that brought her, and her alone, happiness?
I got mostly silence and then she stuttered, teary eyed… “I, I, I don’t know.”
I asked her why, without any qualifications or training was she taking on the responsibility to treat her partner’s possible depression?
She said “It’s my job to make him happy!!!”
No, it’s not. AND, even if it was, it’s impossible role to fill.
We are not responsible to ‘make’ others happy. I am not saying that, with our words and actions, we cannot bring more happiness to our relationships OR, the opposite, bring more UNhappiness to a relationship, but we are never EVER solely in control of someone else’s happiness. Nor or they EVER solely responsible for ours, either.
Someone gave me a fridge magnet, many years ago, that said...
“When we think about how hard it is to change ourselves, we can see clearly how little chance we have of changing others”.
For a bit of a control freak like me, that fridge magnet kicked me in the stomach every time I went for milk in the morning.
In the work that followed with this client. We got to the core of some very co-dependent mind-sets she had been carrying around her entire life. Her own mother had been an alcoholic, and she had to take over as the carer in the family, for not just her siblings but her mother as well on most days. Her upbringing had instilled the legacy that, it was her ‘job’ to make everyone else around her okay.
AND that IF she accomplished that, only then she could be happy.
It took a few sessions, however once she came to believe that if she let go of the reigns, her self appointed position as bringer of happiness to others, we could focus on her own self worth, confidence and ability to give and receive love in a healthy, balanced way.
We started from a place of, if we are not filled with happiness ourselves, what could we possibly offer it to someone else?
We changed how she communicated with her husband. The reality was, he did need help, but he didn’t want it and couldn’t hear it from her. With every verbal push she gave to get closer, he receded back into the darkness that much more. She was offering help, desperately attempting to make him happy again, which on the surface sounds like what a partner should do… however, it felt more like adding to his burden then relinquishing it.
About 45 days into our work together, we succeeded in that shift. And the earth moved in her relationship.
Her husband, asked her what had changed? He also, decided he wanted to come to a session too! That session turned into them completing the program together. It also resulted in, HIM, taking the steps to seek grief counseling and therapy. BOOM!
I am happy to report, that these two clients are happier individually and as a couple, then they have been in the last 10 YEARS!
More often than not, its in the midst of doing what we believe is the right thing, that we are causing the most damage in the dynamic.
We just can’t see it, alone. We just can’t change it, alone. And our partners, alone, are not always the best team mates in facilitating change, cause they are cemented into their own roles too!