Don’t Keep Me Happy

Our marriage improved dramatically when we stopped trying to keep each other happy.

[I’m going to pause now for reactions, including:

  1. Wait, what? If the person who vowed lifelong love to you doesn’t try to make you happy, who will?
  2. Oh, haha. You don’t actually mean that the way it sounds. I am so onto you.
  3. In a Christian marriage, God’s purpose isn’t really for us to be happy. It’s for us to be holy. 

Good! Moving on…

3. …And we shouldn’t depend on other people to make us happy anyway. Only God can satisfy our deepest needs…

Okay. All done?

3. … And besides, happiness is merely an emotional state. We should strive for a state of joy, which is not affected by our circumstances…

It would give me great joy if you would hush. Thank you.

3. *whispering* True joy is found in submitting to your husband’s authority and deferring to his wishes…


Moving on.]

“I don’t have to keep you happy” was a big step in our marriage. In case I have to clarify, this doesn’t mean we don’t go out of our way to please each other. I leave him love notes on the bathroom mirror, he still asks me out on dates, I make new recipes for him, he buys me Nancy Drew computer games.

But when we were younger, we could hold each other hostage with a bad mood. If I was unhappy, DJ would spend all day thinking of ways to make it all better. If he was stressed, I tried to alleviate all irritations so he would feel better. We weren’t motivated by love, but by guilt and  obligation.

The flip side was that we weren’t free to admit to being grouchy, because the other immediately went into damage-control mode. My bad mood became his problem, and vice versa, and both of us suffered.

For many years, we didn’t understand that we weren’t acting in love. After all, we were supposed to serve one another. He was supposed to “love me” and I was supposed to “respect him,” and obviously if one of us was unhappy then the other one wasn’t doing something right.

Counseling helped us see it, and getting out of a chronically painful church situation let up some serious pressure on our relationship.

Plus, we had that bad day a few years ago.

It was the day before school was about to start. I was barely emerging from burnout and mild depression. DJ planned to take on the bulk of the schooling by himself because I would hardly even talk about it.

The whole day, DJ was tense and hard to please (which is very much out of character for him). I spent the day trying hard to figure out how to keep him happy. Nothing worked. Finally, I gave up.”I can’t take this anymore. Nothing I do does any good.”

He was immediately sorry. He wrapped me in a tight hug in the middle of the kitchen. It wasn’t really my fault, he admitted. It was that he didn’t know how he was going to handle all the schooling on his own. A long conversation followed… almost literally heart-to-heart, as we held onto each other the whole time… in which we admitted problems, came to a possible solution, and apologized for handling the entire situation so badly.

And in a far-reaching decision, we gave each other permission to not keep each other happy. Either we would address the problem between us, or we’d say, “I’m just grouchy. It doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

Released from responsibility, the non-bad-mood spouse could go on with life and let the bad-mood-spouse sulk and stew until it passed.

Something happened. Now that we’re not obligated to make each other happy, we’re glad to make the effort. I give him time to watch shows, he brings me treats, and we often will brush a shoulder or kiss a cheek just to remind each other, “Your bad mood isn’t my problem, but I love you.”

[4. Excuse me, I have another objection. Are you saying you’re perfect now?

Seriously? You need me to make that disclaimer?]

So like I said, our marriage improved a lot when we stopped trying to keep each other happy.

[Right, you knew it would be something like this. You are totally onto me.]


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