My husband didn’t make me happy, so we divorced. He didn’t make me feel loved, appreciated or valued. I complained that he was always working late and when he wasn’t working he was asleep. I complained that he didn’t wash the dishes, he left his clothes on the floor and he never made the bed. I thought my husband was the source of my unhappiness, and just maybe, if we got divorced, I could be happy again. Simply put, I blamed him for my unhappiness.
So after two short years of marriage, we separated. Yes, we still loved each other. And no, nothing catastrophic happened. No infidelity, no gambling, and no abuse – it was simple – we just weren’t happy. But what in the hell is happy and how did we lose it? Did we ever even have it? Given that we left our marriage for it, it must be pretty important. But honestly, I had no clue what happiness really was or how to get it. So I started on my own personal journey to happiness.
The first thing I had to accept was that no one could ever make me happy.
Like ever. And not just because I’m hard to please, but because my happiness is my responsibility. I had to stop looking for external forms of validation. If I didn’t feel loved, it was because I wasn’t loving myself. If I wasn’t feeling valued, it was because I wasn’t valuing myself. Taking ownership of my feelings and my emotions was my first step to happiness. I had to stop blaming everyone (i.e. my husband) for my emotions. I took back my power. I would no longer let others’ actions or words dictate how I felt. I discovered that emotions are not just things that happen to you. The next time you feel yourself getting frustrated or annoyed, stop and ask yourself, ‘who does this help?’ Is my frustration going to make the problem go away? Is being annoyed going to hurt anyone but me? And after you realize that these emotions aren’t actually helping you, in that moment, you have the power to choose how you feel. And I started to choose happiness, peace and contentment. One micro-decision at a time, I was becoming happy.
The second thing I had to admit was that I got married for all of the wrong reasons.
I am a career oriented Ivy-League educated overachiever. And even with all of my success, all of my feminism and all of my education, I still saw marriage as an achievement. Getting married was a goal, finding a husband was an accomplishment, and somehow I felt more successful than my single friends. In other words, getting married was on my goal list right under ‘graduate from college’ and ‘buy a nice house.’ I felt more adult, more together and more professional with a husband. We did it right. We met in college, we got married, we bought a house and we got a Yorkie. All we needed to complete the American dream was 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. We had arrived with our Master’s degrees and six-figure salaries in hand — we had it all. But we were miserable. We were absolutely miserable. We quickly realized that all of these things — our marriage, our degrees and our money — could not make us happy. Real happiness can’t be bought, borrowed, earned, degreed or married. I couldn’t find happiness in another person. I needed more. I wanted more. And I had to admit that we weren’t compatible enough to find our more together.
And I just had to learn to let go.
My ex-husband was a great man. He met everything I wanted on paper, he was educated, attractive, tall, funny and gentle. He wasn’t intimated by me and I truly believed he loved me. So when things started to go bad, I just didn’t want to let go. I kept reminding myself of how hard it is to find a faithful, educated man. I was nervous that I would never find someone ‘as good’ as him again. I stayed out of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that he was the best I could get. Fear that I would be alone if I left him. I convinced myself that our problems were not big enough for me to let go of our marriage. But I had to learn to let go. And not let go of my husband, necessarily, but to let go of fear.
And what seemed like a huge mistake ended up being a blessing. Through my divorce, I Iearned how to be happy, healthy and free.
Writer: Dr. Kristian H