Friday, June 10, 2011

Deconstructing The Semi-Happy Marriage

Credit: sarah_is_looking

I read this Yahoo article yesterday talking about the ‘semi-happy marriage’ and how more and more are considering themselves to be under this category.  The article continued to say that it’s these couples who are most predisposed to divorce. 

I have no idea how the studies were done, and what criteria were thrown in but my initial reaction is to ask how the respondents defined ‘semi-happy’.  According to the article, semi-happy marriages are mainly characterized by low conflict, low passion and low satisfaction Historian Pamela Haag said in the article, "One minute, you love the stability and contentment. The next minute, you think it’s not the right marriage, and there are flaws in the marriage that are serious, even though there are also great things about the marriage". 

Is it just me or does this sound like maybe 98% of marriages?  This article differentiates the semi-happy respondents from those that said they are ‘happily married’.  Does that mean that when you say you are happily married, that you are happy and satisfied almost all the time?  And what is wrong with being semi-happy anyway?  If most divorces are indeed comprised of these semi-happy people, isn’t it possible that there could be a major flaw with expectations and definitions of happiness?  Are we really supposed to be happy all the time?  Isn’t it more realistic to expect only pockets of happiness rather than a continuous flow of it?  Could it be time to admit that complete marital bliss is overrated, not to mention, an unrealistic aspiration that sets most of us for failure?

For a thinker and over-analyzer such as myself, I don’t think it would be easy for me to answer if someone indeed asked me if I’m happily married.  I don’t think it’s fair to ask that without breaking it down to specific criteria and operationalize the whole concept.  Do I think my husband is a wonderful human being and partner?  Yes.  Do I genuinely like and respect him?  No doubt.  Do we get along?  Generally, yes.  Do we have the same values that are important cornerstones for our partnership?  Absolutely.  Do I think he’s the perfect man for me and that we fit like two puzzle pieces?  Absolutely NOT.  But is this lack of complete compatibility enough for me to believe that our marriage will not survive and that we will not thrive as individuals in this marriage and ultimately end in divorce?  No and I hope not.

It’s cliché to say that there is no such thing as a perfect marriage but it’s true.  I’ve always been wary of people who openly give the impression that theirs is a perfectly blissful union because I just don’t believe in its existence.  Marriage is too complex to believe that it can all be smooth-sailing.  You’re uniting two imperfect individuals so naturally that can’t be effortless.  I think an important key to a partnership is to cease believing that your partner can give you everything you need, that all the qualities you desire can be in one person only.  I love watching science shows particularly those dealing with astrophysics.  I find them completely exhilarating and told my husband once that I find the discussion on black holes and multiverses completely and utterly orgasmic.  He just gave me a look that made me think he was going to institutionalize me.  But we do tend to enjoy similar movies, whether they’re sci-fi or chick flicks.  I also wish he would write me some poetry and love letters.  He has never given me any, not even one Dr. Seuss-sounding verse.  However when he gives me greeting cards during special occasions, they are perfect and never fail to make my eyes tear up.  I’m also known for being a sucker for deep, philosophical conversations.  He’d rather talk about practical things.  But when anything truly bothers me, I can rely on him to listen and think things through with me.  He also respects me enough to allow me to write, though it's time-consuming, and talk with friends who are willing to have brain-hemorrhaging discussions with me.     

So I guess my point is that I believe it’s important to be very realistic with our expectations when it comes to marriage / partnerships.  Passion is great but Longevity and Constance are equally important.  You have to be realistic and very honest with yourself in figuring out what qualities will sustain you over the long haul, IF that is your objective and ideal.  But if not, then choose what works for you.  Marriage also takes a certain kind of maturity to admit that you and your partner cannot be everything to each other.  A real marriage has to free you from the illusion that the two of you can give everything to each other.  
I am not advocating infidelity here.  All I'm saying is that once you've made your commitment, know that it is a commitment for both of you to grow together, within the bounds of marriage, so you have to find ways to accomplish this without alienating the other.  In the end, it’s also important to remember that our commitment to a relationship with our partner is only secondary to our commitment to ourselves, to be happy with our selves and cultivate qualities that nurture us, instead of just expecting a partner to give those things to us. The simple truth is that you can always divorce your spouse, but not your self.  


  1. Sis Cutie Sexy, another beautifully written blog entry. Marriage requires real hard work. There is no such thing as a "perfect" marriage, much like there is no such thing as a "perfect" anything. We strive to make our marriage work and try to be happy as much as we can. But in reality, we are never truly happy 100% of the time. That is true for anything in life, whether it be marriage, or anything else. For someone to say they are happy 100% of the time is ridiculous! But more power to them! All we can do is continue to work at it, aim to be happy most of the time, and be thankful that we have found our partners and produced beautiful, loving, and caring children!

  2. This is so very true Joy! Marriage is hard work and there is not such thing as being 100% happy. That said, I enjoyed being married and I take it one day at a time...

  3. 6.10.11 1:30pm via FB

    had to share your thoughts...appreciate the honesty...i guess that when you lose yourself, that's when a marriage ends (even when you're still in it)...thanks for another inspired and inspiring piece, joy. idol!

  4. 6.10.11 1:33pm

    i'd rather semi-happy than semi-sad. do you think they are the same? if you're semi-happy, does it mean you're semi-sad or semi-indifferent too? parang glass half-full or half-empty. the world of instant and constant gratification will definitely make marriages obsolete.

  5. Joy, this post is AMAZING.

    I read this together with my s.o., who also LOVES what you had to say. It is so true - I feel like the media contributes to the rising dissatisfaction by talking about it ad nauseum, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I felt like this post was written to me personally, that's how much it resonated.

    So much of marriage is about following through on your commitment - that's where the stability, maturity - and even joy! come from. Not from a fleeting passion.

    GREAT post.

    and I like what Kath said - semi-happy, not semi-sad :)

  6. I love what you said in the last paragraph. I totally agree. In marriage, as in any relationship, you won't be happy unless you're happy with yourself. I think one reason marriages fail is because one party seeks fulfillment from the other spouse. Fulfillment comes from within. I say find what makes you happy so you can have life and joy to share with your partner. And ask for what you need, rather than expect him to read your mind. Sigh. Marriage is fun but it's hard work.

  7. @Sophia: Thanks! I'm blown away by your comments and am honored! Glad your S.O. enjoyed it too!

    @Kat and Muriel: Yes, 'hard work' is even an understatement, isn't it? hehehe....

  8. another masterpiece! yeah, i don't have first hand experience (yet) but i love your insights and how realistically you tackled this sensitive topic.

  9. Simply put and perfectly written, Joy! The confirmations Ive drawn from this entry: Imperfection is part of life. Acceptance of this fact makes life and relationships easier to deal with. Like anything we want to get better at, marriage and partnerships need constant work. :-) Keep on writing, Writer!

  10. Nice piece Joy. You have alot of guts to make so public your thoughts and feelings. I told a good friend recently who was thinking of proposing that it is by far the most difficult thing you will ever do. But also one of the most rewarding. Thanks for sharing.

  11. wonderful blog Buddy, just few weeks ago a neighbor asked me if i am totally happily married, in which it took me few seconds to answer her back, telling her generally happy with my husband and kids....and you are totally right hindi naman dapat palaging masaya kasi kung ganun ang buhay, paano natin matutunan ang tunay na kahulugan ng pagiging masaya......not just being happy but JOY, in a true sense meaning of its acronym(and your name!) Jesus, Others, and You.....

  12. Love your blog. Can we follow each other?

  13. This was very thought-provoking and made me think about my own perceptions of marriage.Marriage is a job and we need to treat it as something to work on everyday. I believe that it takes mutual commitment for the relationship to work. New follower who will return for more interesting blog content.

  14. Like your other commentators, this post resonated with me as well. I love this line: “And what is wrong with being semi-happy anyway?” I absolutely agree with this. I also don’t believe that attaining happiness is the ultimate goal of life, or that the desire to attain happiness should be the driving force behind everything we do. There are other things that are also important, one of which his commitment, particularly during times of trouble. Anyway, I am writing from Lala Musings: Inferior Me and am a new follower from the FNF blog hop.

    Great post!

    Lala :-)

  15. Brilliant, thought-provoking post. I loved the line about being unable to divorce your self. 100% agree. A marriage is composed of two INDIVIDUALS who need to work on themselves to make their relationships work.

  16. I agree with you. If someone says that they are happy 100% of the time, it is just not possible. So many people go into marriage thinking that everything is going to be wonderful and fall into place and just be peachy-keen. It is HARD living with someone else. If I had to answer whether or not I was "happy", it would depend on the day. And that would depend on whether or not my husband got stuck in a traffic jam. I'm sure some people can follow this train of thought. ;) Thanks for the article and for stopping by the S&R weekend hop.
    Heartfelt Balance Handmade Life

  17. Miriam and Lala, thanks for stopping by and for your meaningful comments! It's true that marriage is a job and you constantly need to work at it. Lala, what you said about happiness not being the goal resonates with much truth. Everyone wants to be 'happy, happy, happy', it's become like a meaningless mantra. And look where it's gotten most of us? ;-)

  18. Sam: a lot of my friends commented on that same part...can't divorce ourselves....makes me happy now I thought of writing it, haha! Thanks!

    Michelle: I like what you said about your assessment of 'happiness' depending on the day. It's true though, right? That's why I said pockets of happiness. It's just weird how some ppl ask it expecting a simple, blanket answer. Anyway, thanks for stopping by and for your comments! :-))

  19. I found you thusly: I saw a bunch of Follower pictures on To Gyre and Gambol, and -- let me be completely honest -- I clicked on your picutre because you looked pretty. I know that seems shallow, but I appreciate beauty.

    In any event, I read your Life is a Cliche post (very clever) and then this one on the "Semi-Happy Marriage." Just brilliant. Gave me a new way to look at my marriage, which is not perfect (but like you say, why should it be). But it is a very good marriage, and I am happy in it a great deal of the time. I am writing this on my 28th wedding anniversary, and it has been a very good 28 years.

    I hope the below is not too personal, but this is what comes to my mind, having read your wonderful and insightful post.

    I have written much love poetry to my wife, and she appreciates it. I asked her to write something for me once, and she said she was not capable of doing it. But she was. And she did it. It was a numbered list of things she appreciated about me and how she felt about me. And in its own way, it was poetry. I loved it, and I have read it many times since she first wrote it a long time ago.

    How about this: Ask you husband to write down three things he LOVES about you and three things he FEELS about you. Six things altogether. That seems like it would not be too difficult.

    For me, for example, I LOVE:
    1. to look at the freshness of my wife's face after she gets out of the shower (no make-up, just her natural beauty).
    2. the sweet sound of her voice.
    3. how generous she is to people in our families.
    And I FEEL:
    1. tension in my body when I am close to her body.
    2. happy when she touches my arm.
    3. lucky to have found her.

    Even if you know that your husband loves you and feels deeply about you, from your post I know that you would be delighted if he put it down on paper. And how about if he READ IT to you. Well, maybe he can read the SECOND "love list" he writes to you. The FIRST one you can read yourself!

    To add a poetical comment about my wife, in line with the theme of your post:

    It gives me joy to know that one day fate
    Presented me a less than perfect mate,
    Since she's quite special, and it's true, I know,
    That even with her faults, I love her so.

  20. Here in the U.S., our founding fathers very wisely built into our Constitution a guarantee of the right "to pursue happiness." To PURSUE it, not to attain it, not to get a stranglehold on it, not to keep it to ourselves once we grab the brass ring, not to deny it to others, not to begrudge it to others when they pursue it and catch it.

    You have wisely written here that "there could be a major flaw with expectations and definitions of happiness." It is the stuff of romantic fairy tales, I think, that may be the death of the semi-happy marriage. I grew up believing the only excuse for divorce was the horrible, disastrous, abusive marriage, wherein everyone, including the kids, would be better off out of it.

    Given that, I have a deliriously happy marriage, 100% of the time. :) No LIFE can be 100% happy all the time - isn't that a silly expectation? Would we even know what happiness WAS, if we had nothing to compare and contrast with it? Would it be bliss, or merely contentment?

    I like what you wrote near the end, that "it is a commitment for both of you to grow together, within the bounds of marriage, so you have to find ways to accomplish this without alienating the other." So true. And to HELP your partner grow and realize his/her dreams would be really cool, too. That's kind of the point of marriage - that you BE partners, and help make the most of the life you've both got.

  21. Mike B: Thank you for visiting the site and for your comments! Before anything else though, I want to wish you a happy 28th anniversary! Well done! ;-) I do want to seriously thank you for your advice. I think that's a brilliant idea and I do plan on trying that out with my husband! Who am I not to listen to someone who's been happily married for 28yrs right? ;-)

  22. Holly: I loved what you wrote about happiness being pursued instead of being too focused on the attainment part. It makes so much sense. And yes, life would be so boring and meaningless if everything were so perfect all the time. That state just doesn't leave any space for learning, does it? Thanks for your insights!

  23. Hi Joy,
    I am just flitting around your blog and I came across the comment I made last June on this post. May I be nosy and inquire if you ever asked your husband to write down several things he loves and/or feels about you. I am sure you know that sometimes we can get complacent about our lives as we attend to its more mundane but pressing aspects: a job, work, child care, errands, financial concerns, etc. But underneath it all, we have great respect and love for the ones we care about. It's often not verbalized, but it's there. And it's nice to hear it said out loud, or at least written down and shared. So I hope your got some nice notes from you husband.

  24. MikeB: As a matter of fact, YES! I followed your advice but saved it for our July anniversary. I asked him to make that list. I must admit they were less 'dramatic' or 'emotional'/'romantic' as I had expected but given that he doesn't really write me poetry or love letters, I really shouldn't complain and just appreciate that he gave in to my request, haha! Thanks again for this suggestion :-)

  25. It's great to hear that your husband wrote down some things he appreciates about you. Although he may have "given in," he obviously cares enough about you to make the effort to put his thoughts in writing.

    It's not so important what your husband wrote or whether or not it is romantic enough for you; what is important is that he made an effort wrapped in love.

    Which leads me to my latest couplet, which I am writing just now. I guess you might say:

    An effort wrapped in love is all I need
    To let me know he softly cares, indeed.

  26. i love this article. thank you :)

  27. i'm new here. love this post. unfortunately, i'm one of these semi's. and i've given it my all actually. and still at semi-happy. why do i stay married? because every now and then, there's a kiss, an act of kindness, a laugh, a moment of true happiness. and mostly because of that look in his eyes that he's giving his all too.

  28. The idea that every marriage can be perfect is myth. The list is a great idea, although I think my husband would embrace the opportunity to do that. So would I. Then again, our situation is different as we are remarried after 27 years apart. We value things differently now. Our expectations are more realistic. I enjoyed the food for thought in this post.

  29. This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Keep it up. Keep blogging. Looking to reading your next post. Marriage Counselling Calgary


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