Are you a half-happy? Sticking out an OK relationship …
Happy marriage myths tend to centre around extremities. There’s the Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward model: blissfully in love, romance and respect, holding each other’s hands with touching affection even into their sunset years. Then there’s the Everybody Loves Raymond nightmare where both parties trudge on in clench-teethed misery: the nagging, harassed wife and feckless, put-upon husband. But we rarely hear about the “in-between” marriages: where everything limps along uneventfully and both parties exist in a sort of stagnant rut: not happy, not unhappy.
When author Pamela Haag realised her own marriage had been languishing in this semi-happy limbo she decided to find out whether other women were in a similar spot. They were. The majority of women she spoke to as research for her new book Marriage Confidential described how their marriages had lost their excitement they and fallen into a “predictable routine”. Long gone were candle-lit dinners, staying up late into the night whispering secrets or breakfast in bed. No one was unhappy exactly. These relationships weren’t bad enough to end. But no one was exactly doing cartwheels, either.
Millions of wives and husbands have these feelings each day…they are troubled by a feeling that there is something in their marriage that doesn’t work, possibly cannot be made to work, and that it is not going to get any better. As far as their marriages are concerned, they fear that this is, indeed, it. These spouses are sad more than miserable, disappointed more than chronically unhappy. As psychiatrists would say, their marriages are “melancholy”: They have a brooding sadness about them that often lacks an obvious, tangible cause.
I know these people well, as their thoughts are mine. If you too happen to be someone who has come to this uncomfortable realization about your marriage, you also know the drill that follows. You shadowbox with yourself. In quiet moments when you ask yourself, “Is this all it is?,” you simultaneously beat up on yourself for asking the question at all. You accuse yourself of being selfish to want more than you already have. You feel guilty thinking about lost or deferred dreams, and you wonder whether it is noble or useful to demand more from a marriage than the good things you have. You might even question your desires. Perhaps the longing for more out of marriage is just the vestige of a callow, self-defeating romantic ideal that you don’t even entirely trust anymore, but can’t entirely purge from your mind.
Am I happy or unhappy is a frightening question to ask yourself about a relationship or marriage. Or is it? Do the women in these half-happy relationships have any real cause for concern? Or is a cooling of passion and a certain comfortable ennui to be expected when children, work, life in general marches inevitably onwards?
Are you in a semi-happy relationship? Do you feel like you need to shake things up, or is firework-free status quo a reasonable outcome when people commit to each other?
Alexandra Carlton – Editor
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