In my last post, I explained why it’s a myth to believe that getting the life we’ve always wanted will make us happy at last.
Because of hedonic adaptation, we get used to anything. We get used to the good things in our life, and we get used to the bad.
What happens to us doesn’t generally change our happiness set point very much. How happy you usually are is probably how happy you’ll be in the future.
But there’s one moment in time when we think we’ve beaten the odds:
When we fall in love.
Those first few weeks after you’ve fallen for someone is heaven.
You feel like you’re walking on air, the sun is shining, nothing can bring you down, and the road ahead is paved with rainbows.
You’ve never felt this way before, and it’s all because of him.
He has changed your life. He’s the reason you can’t stop smiling. He is your happiness.
Now that you’ve tasted heaven, there’s one thing you’ve GOT to have:
You’ve got to have him forever.
He’s the source of all these good feelings. If he leaves, those good feelings go away.
Without him, the world is cold and gray. It’s routine and mundane and meaningless. You can’t go back to that…
Not after this.
Moving On from the Honeymoon
Savor that experience while you can, because it’s beautiful. It’s breathtaking. It creates the kind of memories that can keep you warm for a lifetime.
But it doesn’t last.
Even if you stay together—even if you stay together FOREVER—you’ll never feel exactly like this again.
Because this is the honeymoon period. So much is happening: you’re discovering one another, you’re taking emotional risks, you’re coming to trust one another, everything is new.
There can only be one first time. Our mistake is believing that it has shifted the world on its axis. We want to believe it always be like this from now on… this intense, this passionate, this joyful.
Except, of course, those intense feelings DO fade.
They morph into different feelings. Feelings of affection and attachment. Feelings of reliance and trust. Feelings of irritation and frustration.
If a couple doesn’t have a lot of relationship experience, they might assume that the love is fading. The stars in their eyes are gone. The relationship has become work.
But, in fact, this is the most important moment in a relationship, because it’s the time when:
- We see each other for who we truly are,
- We see the relationship for what it really is, and
- We can finally make a clear-headed choice: Is this what we want?
Not feeling as happy as before isn’t a sign that your relationship is over. It’s a sign that you’re ready to face reality.
But Isn’t Happiness All That Matters?
Most people enter into relationships because they believe they will be happier with each other than they’ve ever been before.
And most people find out, through hard experience, that relationships do not always make them happier.
Sometimes, relationships make them LESS happy.
They spend so much time trying to manage the relationship that they’re miserable.
We all know the statistic that half of marriages end in divorce, but we don’t often talk about the number of relationships that end in a breakup. It’s far, far higher.
Matchmaker Hellen Chen claims that 85% of dating couples end up breaking up, but I’d say that’s a conservative estimate.
If you fall in love, chances are it won’t work out. That’s just the numbers.
So what does that mean for us?
If falling in love will most likely end in heartache and despair, why do it?
Is it all just a gamble, risking your heart again and again on the slim chance you’ll find happiness with someone?
To make matters worse, even if everything works out perfectly, and you end up married AND that marriage ends up lasting…
You can’t count on being any happier than you were before. That’s hedonic adaptation for you.
So if relationships aren’t about making each other happy, what’s the point?
What do you think?
A Celebrity Couple Takes a Stand
Relationship counselors have long known there’s more to love than being happy together.
If you gauge the health of your relationship by how happy your spouse makes you, you’ll be divorced faster than you can say, “I do.”
I’m grateful to actor Will Smith for bringing this conversation into the public eye. In his recent memoir, he confirmed that he and his wife Jada had some rocky times in their marriage.
One time, after a disastrous argument, he told his wife that he quit the job of making her happy. He wasn’t going to even try anymore.
We agreed that Jada’s happiness had to be her responsibility and my happiness had to be my responsibility. We were going to seek our distinct, innermost personal joys, and then we were going to return and present ourselves to the relationship and to each other already happy—not coming to each other begging with empty cups, demanding the other person fulfill our needs. We felt this vampiric relational model was unfair, unrealistic, destructive—even abusive. To place the responsibility for your happiness on anybody other than yourself is a recipe for misery.“
That statement caused a good deal of controversy in the press, partly because it lacked context.
The problem was, Will was a people-pleaser.
He was hooked on people-pleasing. He worked so hard to make everyone happy that it exhausted everyone. It didn’t feel loving to them; it felt like control. Everyone had to be happy in his universe.
When you see yourself as the person in charge of making sure your partner and your family are happy, you put incredible pressure on yourself.
If you work and you work and you work to make your loved one happy, and that person persists in being just as happy or unhappy as they were before, wouldn’t you feel like a failure?
You failed in making them happy. Therefore, you conclude, you’re a failure as a partner.
Yikes! No wonder Will had to step back. It wasn’t healthy. Not for him, not for his wife, and not for his kids.
But what do we replace happiness with, if making each other happy isn’t the goal anymore?
Co-Creating Something Beautiful
The press also glossed over this part of Will and Jada’s story, perhaps because co-creating a conscious relationship isn’t salacious.
Conscious relationships are relationships that are entered into with a lot of care, clear intentions, and lots and lots of communication.
You don’t set yourself up to lose in a conscious relationship. You don’t promise to make each other happy forever, because that can’t be done.
What you can do is set an intention to co-create a beautiful life together, one that’s flexible and resilient enough to bend rather than break when times get tough.
Through constant communication, you update your vision of what you want your life together to look like. You don’t stick to the plan you set back when you first got together; you reassess and adapt to your changing needs as people and partners.
This process of co-creation takes the focus away from whether both of you are happy and turns it on the pleasure and work of creating something mutual and meaningful that stands the test of time.
You deserve a relationship in which you are happy, but you aren’t owed a relationship that makes you happy.
Not all of us can be Will and Jada, but all of us can be more conscious and intentional in our relationships.
What are we asking of each other? Is that reasonable?
What are we creating together? Are we creating it consciously, or have we just ended up here?
I wish for you a beautiful journey of exploring what makes you happy and what you can create in partnership with a man who loves you.