Happiness is a do-it-yourself job

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com.

Recently I’ve had more than my fair share of emotional meltdowns. To be sure, they were justified but we may need to remind ourselves that emotions don’t need justification.

Emotions are responses to life circumstances and events — both positive and negative. My emotional responses recently have been more negative than positive. What surprises me is how rare an occurrence my meltdowns are. Most of the time, I am happy and optimistic. When I’m not, it throws me off.

Emotions serve the same function as warning lights in our car. They alert us when something is not right and needs attention and when something is broken and needs to be fixed.

I have allowed my husband’s struggles with finding meaning and purpose in retirement to spill over into my life. I took on his struggles as my struggles and his unhappiness as my failure to help him be happy. But happiness is a do-it-yourself project. If my husband’s happiness depends on me, then we’re both in trouble.

I keep on falling into the same trap. My husband gets depressed. I step in as a wife, coach, and friend and try to help him find his way out of his depression. I make suggestions I think are great and will help him. He gets resentful and resistant. I throw up my hands and feel angry because he doesn’t want my help. He then retreats, feels more depressed and uses our interaction as a stick to beat himself. The cycle will continue until one of us stops the dance.

I’m trying to take control of the situation because I feel out of control. I realize what is happening is a threat to our marriage and to our happiness. I am a natural caregiver and care taker and when my actions are ineffective I take it personally. The reality is I can’t help someone who doesn’t want help.

Possibility and potential are powerful hooks I’m hooked on the possibility if I just come up with the right words, the right suggestions, things will change and that my husband can fulfill the potential I see in him. But what if that doesn’t happen? I have to let go of what I think things should be like and the potential I see in my husband and let him find his own way.

The brilliant Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, said of negative situations “Just be with it.” The tendency is to run away as fast as you can. “We have the capacity to feel pain. It’s part of the human condition.” But most people, myself included, don’t want to experience pain. Parts of retirement are painful just as parts of life are painful.

Do you have the courage to wade into physical and emotional pain? Numbing ourselves only postpones dealing with the pain and often exacerbates the situation. When we are in the midst of pain, we don’t need to be reminded that there are lessons and blessings that will come from the pain. We only want to have someone acknowledge that we are in pain and to encourage us we have the strength to get through our situation.

But taking on the pain of others as our own doesn’t lessen their pain. It only leaves us feeling frustrated, drained, and exhausted. I know my husband will figure out his path to happiness and fulfillment, He has the tools, skills and abilities to find his way forward. Wanting to fix his life for him only leaves him weaker and disempowered and leaves me carrying a burden that is not mine to bear.

Focusing on my happiness, my fulfillment, my future, nurtures and expands me. This is a time to lead by example and to disengage from the powerful pull of codependence. I am painfully aware of how difficult it is to choose to respond to my husband’s malaise instead of react to it.

However, by focusing on filling my own wants and needs I free myself from my desire to have my husband be happy so I can be happy. It’s time for me, too, to recognize happiness is a do-it-yourself job.

Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.