In my work with couples the most common resentment I encounter is over the failure of partners to make each other happy.
And that’s because many of them have signed what I call the Codependent Suicide Pact.
It’s an agreement — usually unstated, often unconscious, always a potent shaper of feelings — that goes like this:
“I’ll sacrifice myself to your happiness, and you sacrifice yourself to my happiness, and that way we’ll both be happy.”
Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so.
But it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because self-sacrifice of this sort tends to breed not happiness but disappointment, not contentment but anger.
Because happiness is ultimately the responsibility of each individual, not anyone else.
Because happiness comes from figuring out what you need, and learning how to get it.
From listening to and taking care of yourself, not relying on others to do the job for you.
And because all this takes work and learning and practice that only the individual can do.
When offered this idea some couples respond angrily: “Then what’s the point of being together?”
“We’re social animals, wired for relationship. We’re supposed to pair up. Human beings need other human beings. Period.
“So sure, you can and should expect to be happier together than apart. But that’s not the same thing as being responsible for each other’s happiness.
“A couple’s happiness come from discovering each other — and themselves — within the context of relationship.
“From learning who each of you is, and what each of you needs, and how you can combine both identities and both sets of needs in one package.
“It’s like learning to dance. You set out to learn how to listen to the music and respond to it together. It takes practice. You start off bumping and stepping on each other’s toes. But you keep at it in hopes of learning, over time, how to move in harmony.
“Difficult? Sure. Not every couple succeeds at this.
“But working at relationship in this way is always a better approach than expecting your partner to pick you up and carry you around the dance floor.”