One Guys’ Strategy for a Thriving Marriage

I’m sure you’ve heard the old cliché “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” I’ve heard it many times and I’ve even said it a few times to friends of mine who have come to me with marital woes looking for advice. When you say “Happy Wife, Happy Life” to another man, everyone’s response is the same: ’ “I know, I know….” followed by a look of resignation on their face.

This cliché is based on the belief that if only you could make (and keep) your wife happy, then you too would experience a happy life. It’s meant as an admonition to husbands everywhere to focus our energies on making the women in our lives happy. Or else. “Trust us,” they say, “you don’t want to know what will happen to you if she’s not happy.”

Before I get into whether or not this makes any sense, allow me to first point out the inherent asymmetry in this philosophy. I have never heard anyone suggest the inverse of this principle, namely “Happy Husband, Happy Life.” Curious that this principle works in only one direction. I’ll let you ponder that paradox while I move on to my key insight.

Over the past few years I’ve been dealing with some challenges in my own marriage (who isn’t?) and I was often feeling down that things weren’t better, that things weren’t different and that we weren’t generally happier. I was trying to make her happy and it just wasn’t quite working. Sure sometimes she was happier, but I never felt that she was really and truly happy, in the deepest sense of the word.

Then, on January 1, 2018 I had the mother of all insights. I realized that it isn’t my job to make my wife happy. That is her job. My job is to make myself happy. In fact, that’s everyone’s job: to make themselves happy.

I’ll go a step further: it wasn’t even my job to make myself happy, rather, it was my job to just be happy.

Not make. Be. Just be happy. For no particular reason, not based on anything in particular, just as a way of being and as a place to start from and come from based on absolutely nothing.

I realized that I should stop focusing on what I can do to make my wife happy and focus instead of just being a happy person. Not just happy in an ethereal, philosophical sense, but happy in a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute sense. That is: joyful, energized, inspired, turned on, present and playful. That kind of happy.

My insight was that I didn’t need to wait for my wife to experience that kind of happiness in order for me to experience it. I could just move forward to that emotional place without her, then wait for her to catch up to me, if and when she chooses to.

The corollary to this insight is my belief that it is easier for my wife to achieve her own happiness when I achieve mine, and through my example encourage her to make herself happy without having to change the outer circumstances of her/our life.

I summarize this entire philosophy with the phrase: “HAPPY LIFE, HAPPY WIFE”

In other words: Get a happy life, then you will get a happy wife, which is the exact opposite of what people usually tell you to do, which is to first make your wife happy, then you will yourself be happy. Which sounds so logical, except for the fact that it never works in practice.

Please don’t interpret this insight to mean that you don’t need to care at all about your wife, what’s going on with her, what she needs, how you can support her, etc. That is not at all what I’m saying. Of course you must do all of those things in order to have a successful marriage, just do them coming from a place of your own happiness. In other words, you’re already happy and as part of your happy life, you are giving and caring towards your wife.

This is 180 degrees different from you needing to make everything right with your wife before you can yourself feel happiness. It’s the ultimate paradigm shift in what it means to be in a happy marriage and what it means to be happy in marriage.

Addendum July 6, 2020

I just came across this simple 3-word quote in a book I’m reading which reminded me on this essay:

Father of Five, Husband of One, Slayer of Dragons.