I was hanging out with some friends one night and the question was raised... Are you happily married? It was a real question for a real conversation. And so I answered, but there was this pause. I knew a little about the group I was in and a bit about their relationships, and I decided I was in a safe place to answer, and so I did. I told the truth, and the truth was, yes. I added that lately due to some stressful times, we have been a bit hard on each other, but yes we were happy.
It got me thinking about my thinking.
Why the mental pause? I knew the answer. Why did I assess whether I could simply say yes? Why did I add a bit more?
In this case, I felt comfortable with both. However, this direct question on my personal happiness had a feeling like it could be a loaded question in a less familiar situation. It is different then “are you enjoying the training at your work?” It is asking for an assessment on my view of my life, my marriage and even on my spouse. Or at least that is how it can feel.
What does this question conjure up for you? Does it make you feel sad, happy, guilty, unsure, angry? So many feelings can come that unless you know the answer when you are asking, it is almost taboo to ask. What does the question mean? Who is asking? Why? And then how much do you say? Do people want a fine? Does it matter what they want?
I think it would feel the same to be asked if I was happy. I think so many great mom bonds are formed with a fair bit of self-deprecation. An attempt to keep it real, to bond on the challenges of being a parent. It is hard to say “happy” without a little comic relief added in on the downsides or a little marital trash talk.
I have an long term friend who was not happy in her relationship, recently some of us discovered that we found ourselves talking a little less positively about our own relationships in her presence. We almost looked for examples to share in support of our friend. The support is great, but at what cost. Were we risking taking a negative lens to our relationship and therefore feeling negatively? And was it really support? Does misery really love company?
When looking quite consciously about the topic, I think more of us should own happy when we can. Own it if we like our jobs, that we are enjoying our kids, that our mother in law rocks, and say that we are happy in our relationships. I think we need the good news in our friendship circles and also in our identities. Sad, mad, disastrous will come without us having to look for it or manufacture it.
Happy? Absolutely. Thanks for asking!
Family relationships can be tricky even when everyone gets along — and when you marry, you add in another family, their norms, values, culture and history. It's no wonder issues can arise. Miscommunication, cross purposes, assumptions, well-meaning acts — they all cause strain on family bonds. So what do you do when an issue comes up? And how do you keep the peace without relationships falling to pieces?
Sometimes the answer will be a resounding yes, but sometimes it is more of a feared potential issue. Certainly in the beginning of a relationship everyone is feeling each other out and wondering if a situation is a one time occurrence or if the stage is being set for a new norm. You might fear that three Sunday dinners in a row means your Sundays are tied up for life; in-laws might fear your parenting strategy on one occasion means you will overly indulge and fail to ever discipline the grandchildren. So stay in the moment and address only the matter presented not what you fear could happen.
It's okay to have boundaries. Everyone does better when they know what to expect, just like in parenting, and expectations can be laid out kindly. For example, if you find drop-in visits stressful, share that you enjoy the visits, but find yourself less stressed when they call ahead and let you know when they are planning to come over. Explain that it helps you do a quick tidy (ie. shove everything in the closet), set aside the time (pause Netflix) and put the kettle on. It's a veritable win-win for everyone.
What worked for each of your respective families might not work for yours and that is okay. Diversity breeds innovation, Harvard even says so! So as you go through the growing pains, the changes and the disagreements, try to maintain an openness to learn from each other.
Relationships have varying degrees of ease and for the more difficult relationships there might not be any easy solutions. It will be important for you to keep calm, kind and clear in a way that doesn't get you pulled into unhealthy actions. Parenting without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence author Susan Stiffelman teaches parents to be captains of their ship, navigating rough times with a steady and reliable approach which is a place to draw from in these relationships too. Lead where you can to make these relationships more positive. So keep calm and carry on! And keep being you.