I read an interesting article as part of a family law class that compared divorce rates in different countries and looked at some of the deeper cultural diferences within those countries. One of the things it highlighted (just food for thought, I’m not necessarily agreeing) was that American culture often views marriage as a form of self-expression and self-gratification. The same way that our career, our social behaviour, our lifestyle choices, our appearance are all expressions of what kind of person we see ourselves to be, our marriage and our partner are also an extension of that. Therefore, when a person feels ungratified, or if they feel that either they or their partner has changed, the result is that their marriage and their spouse no longer jives with what image they have of themselves and their own life … which inevitably leads to “if this person isn’t making me happy, i OUGHT to be divorced.” This of course not true of everyone, and it’s certainly not to say that a husband is only a means of self-expression just like your hair color is, but I can see some of the point it’s making. I think a lot of us think to ourselves that the point of our spouse is to make us happy. And that if our spouse isn’t making us happy, the point of our marriage isn’t being fulfilled. I’m not saying this is totally wrong – but it is different from the perspective that a marriage is meant to produce children, or to function as the basic unit of society, or to create a partnership and companion in going through life’s successes and difficulties. It’s okay to be annoyed with each other, it’s okay if you’re not completely enamoured with each other every day, it’s okay if periodically one or the other of you is a little self-absorbed. Those things are normal, and they are not a justification for you to think that because your spouse is not fulfilling you, it’s time for you to reciprocate and move on to bigger and better things (or people).
That being said, my own personal thoughts stems from it – that often times we become upset with another person for not making us happy. “You’re not listening to me enough, you’re not doing things for me, you’re not taking care of me, you’re annoying me” etc. Two people who are married to each other who are individually thinking like that will basically almost always fail to improve their situation. Imagine if two people got married and thought to themselves “how can I make you happy”. If you are both always looking out for the other one, you will basically both always be taken care of. If you are both always looking out for yourself, a lot of times you will be fighting to get what you need. The difficulty is that this approach only works if BOTH people do it. If one person does it without a somewhat equivalent measure of reciprocation … well, that person is getting taken advantage of.
And further, the communication part is key. Other posters have said it. It’s difficult to toe the fine line between being open and honest and addressing things before they become issues … vs. nagging about every tiny thing. When my fiance and I have an issue, say I am sad that he didn’t listen to me, I come and say “I’m a little sad because I feel like you’re not listening to me. I appreciate the times that you do listen to me, and you do a very good job of it, but it would make me happier if you could try a little harder at this. Can you help me understand if I’m doing something that’s contributing to this.” My fiance will turn around and say “sometimes you start talking to me at bad times – I’m really tired, or I’m in the middle of something. If there are things you want me to be really attentive to, save those for times that I’m not occuppied. If you’re just chatting to me while I’m doing other things, then I’ll still pay attention to you, but not 100%”. This kind of scenario allows me to say what I dislike, appreciate him for what I do like, come across as reasonable, open the door for him to give his side, and look for some common ground to reach a solution. Contrast this with saying “you asshole you don’t listen to me and it’s making me really mad.” It’s taken us 4.5 years to get to this point, and I honestly think my fiance still thinks it’s “too much talking”, but I’m pretty sure it’s the reason we have way fewer fights than we used to have.