Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Do You Want a Happy Marriage? Or A Meaningful One...

There's been a fair bit of discussion on this site recently about the Other Woman. A few OW have posted their side of the story, and many betrayed wives have responded.
But it wasn't until I read this post by the thought-provoking Penelope Trunk that I had something of a eureka moment.
It's about the difference between happy and meaningful.
To some extent, our culture has sold us a bill of goods. There's much talk about happiness. The pursuit of happiness, or at least understanding happiness, has become something of a cottage industry. And if we're not happy, we're left to feel as if we're clearly doing something wrong. Happiness should be our goal, right? And for many of us, it is.
Trunk, however, backed up by considerable research, points out that happiness is empty.
Happiness is getting the job, not doing the job. It's getting the guy, not facing him day-in and day-out. Happiness is fleeting. Which is why, if we're asked, many of us kinda shrug and say, well, we're kinda happy. Or happy-ish. But a lot of us are thinking to ourselves, what is happiness anyway? Is this happiness? What does happiness look like?
What Trunk et al point out is that most of aren't so much interested in happiness...but in meaning. It's meaning that makes our lives worth living more than happiness. It's meaning that gets us up out of a sound sleep to rub our children's backs when they're scared. It's meaning that keeps us working on marriages even after the devastation of betrayal.
And where my eureka came in was when I recognized that the OW who have posted on this site are pursuing happiness. They think that it comes in the form of a man, even a married one. And they think that these men can't possibly be "happy" if they're seeking something outside their marriage.
And perhaps they're right. I think there are plenty of guys who feel a vague unhappiness and wonder if that feeling can be captured in an affair. But happiness isn't the point. Both sides are missing the point, which sets them up for an affair that generally only brings misery, with intermittant bursts of what they think is "happy".
If we're chasing happiness, I think we're doomed to disappointment. If we expect a "happy" marriage, what does that mean? An absence of conflict? Or is what we really seek a meaningful marriage? One in which there's a shared set of goals, a shared belief that the sum is greater than our parts?
Happiness is great. I'm all for it. But to make it a condition of commitment is dangerous. Happiness ebbs and flows. Sometimes life just isn't...happy. There are challenges with kids, with our health, with jobs, with the economy. There are the small things that get in the way, like who gets to decide how often the tile grout gets cleaned...and by whom. Sometimes there are big things that get in the way: addictions, family of origin issues, and plain old stupidity.
But meaningful? That's something that lasts. And that's something that too many OW just don't get.


  1. I read this with great interest today as I have always firmly believed that happiness is a very transient thing and when I look back at my marriage, before and post betrayal, there has always been a meaningful relationship between us, with one proviso, the 6 months the affair lasted. During this time there was a void, nothingness. We kinda know before we know and there was that feeling of living in a refugee camp.

    I saw my husband age beyond belief during the affair -so much for men taking greater pride in their appearance. He was ashen, had a constant frown on his forehead and even simple pleasures that he once enjoyed seemed to have no meaning. I could see the look of pain and shame on his face when the kids brought friends home and they commented " what a cool mom" I was, I could see the shame when my parents were so kind to him, the uncomfortable feeling when friends were talking about a work colleague having an affair.

    I asked him what his affair brought into his life, and hers for that matter. He said it was a 30 second rush before he met her and then pain, guilt, self loathing and despair. This compounded as the months went on. I asked what he thought she got out of it. He gave this some thought. He said she was a very needy person and he knew what crap to come out with. Half the time he was amazed that she believed his bull shit as it was so over the top in his opinion. She enjoyed her ego being stroked, she enjoyed the money spent on her, she said she enjoyed the sex but he even felt that was below average.

    Meaningful is a wonderful state to be in. The nights we talk until 2.00am and laugh about life, the nights we watch our kids in school plays or receiving awards, the time I spend with his folks hearing their tales of days gone by... for the 70th time. Being able to talk about the affair in honest and open terms ( although it took a long time to get past the crap and lies) realising we both feel the same about something.

    Some of these moments I will call happy, some joyous, others boring, many stupid, mundane, tender, argumentative, loving and sexy, but they are all MY MEANINGFUL. I never want to return to that void or see my husband lost and lonely.

    What does the O/W get? Her 5 minutes of glory.

    1. Anon Oct 10,
      I want to be where you are and sounding so clear that you are both in a better more meaningful place. I see moments, but nothing distinct and new. I saw the aging too and the sadness and the guilt in the time of knowing before knowing. But now it is 6 months from DD after a 5.5 month affair. The refugee camp feeling comes and goes. We both seem to be aging still. How long have you been together and how long did it take to really get past all of the crap and lies? How did you know that you had got there?

    2. Hi Anon,
      It took about 8-10 months for the truth to finally come out. We can now talk really openly about it and sometimes he remembers something about that time with the OW and he will openly mention it; nothing important, just something like, she had weird looking hands or she liked that film.

      At first the pain was so great that I couldn't put anything in order, just wanted to shout and scream at him and I know he felt so scared about admitting everything, I needed to know everything NOW, but looking back, I needed time to just get over the sleeping with another woman.

      We've been together 14 years and he is looking happy and healthier than he has for a long time. His sadness will always be there, he says that it can overcome him at the most unexpected moments. We were on holiday and met another couple with kids, we all got on really well but that evening he seemed really down. When I asked him why, he said, if they knew what I had done to you they really wouldn't want to know me.

      6 months is no time at all, and the fact you can see a moment is encouraging. Do not put a time scale on things. Knowing that I had got there is something that I would prefer to refer to as, we're getting there.

      Good luck with your journey and creating your own meaningful.

  2. Well said! This was absolutely awesome!!! What a great writer you are!!! Yes as a betrayed wife my version of "happiness" has changed and matured. I was happy; or so I thought I was until D-day. Yes there is a huge difference between happiness which I agree is momentary and meaningful (contentment?). Great article! Thank you!

  3. VERY profound thanks for writing it something I really needed to hear right now!

    1. I agree! Indeed profound, & put me in a better place emotionally as I deal with a lapse

  4. My husband was also pursuing happiness, in that shallow and selfish sense. I read Penelope Trunk's article to him, and he agreed with me that while what he was missing in his life was a sense of it being meaningful, what he pursued instead was happiness in the moment without thought for the future.

    There's a lot to be explored in this very simple concept, from what the parties in the affair were seeking, to what we should be striving for now. Thank you for this!

  5. I desperately wish this could be me. I'm 99% sure h is going to divorce and go for the OW. He is firmly in the affair fog (it's only been 16 days since he stopped talking to her) and claims he fell in love with her and out of love with me. He says he wants to try but is still pining for her and fears of he tries for too long someone "he has a connection to will slip away". What about your wife? Your "best friend"? Your life? That is slipping away too! He can't see past the end of his dick that true companionship and compatibility and love are more important than feeling new and sexy and needed by a disfunctional mess. I'm so sad right now. I know it will get better and I know that they are at least 75% likely to end up broken up but it rips my heart out that someone I love so deeply and connect with so deeply could do this to me and not realize what an idiot he is being. He's going to therapy on Friday not that that will do him any good! He's too blocked up and guilty and shameful to see that this was a series of bad choices being topped off with the worst choice of all. So sad.

  6. Thank you for this post (yes I know its old). Having a happy marriage is different from having a meaningful one. I had a meaningful one before this last affair. It had mended and was a pretty good marriage after the last affair. This one...

    This one has broken me. There is no meaningful marriage. No happy marriage. Just roommtes.



Related Posts with Thumbnails