You read that title right. My husband never promised to make me happy.
When we were engaged, I remember sitting down with Stephen and talking about perspective on balance, community and fulfillment. He had me make a list of friends that I could go to when I couldn’t always go to him first, or when I didn’t want to go to him first. (What a way to start a marriage, eh?) He encouraged me to remember that list and nurture those friendships because of the important role they played for me as an individual and for us as a future married couple.
He made his own list of friends he felt he could go to, sometimes before me, sometimes outside of me.
I was appalled. Weren’t we supposed to be everything to each other? Wasn’t this why we were getting married?
It turns out he was and is a very wise man.
There are friends I need to go to when I’m struggling with issues concerning my heart as it affects or directly pertains to my marriage. These are friends who help me sort through my conflicting emotions and reflect back to me what they’re observing in me, before I present myself to my husband as an ongoing tangled mess of confusion and conflicting desires. There are moments in marriage when you are in so deep with issues and conflict as a couple that to go to each other as the first and only other party simply isn’t helpful.
There are friends who share interests, hobbies and passions with me that my husband quite frankly has little understanding of and sometimes no real desire to engage in. I could read books endlessly; he will read a book once in a long while. I’ve loved certain series on Netflix while he simply walks by, glances at my screen, shrugs and moves on. I’m immersed in so many issues related to my nursing career, and while he is endlessly supportive and empathetic about my work, he quite truthfully barely understands it. He’s often one I go to, to share thoughts about things I’m enjoying, struggling with or hurting from, but there are other friends in my life who “get” me with various interests and issues more than he does.
It goes both ways. My husband’s greatest hobby is deep sea fishing. For weeks on end preceding an upcoming trip, he will tinker with his fishing gear, obsess over weather and fishing conditions, and watch all kinds of YouTube videos related to wild fishing experiences. A few years into our marriage, I thought, “I’m his wife. I should try to understand this fishing experience that he loves so much!” So I asked him, “Hey, do you think I should come fishing with you on your next trip? So I can see why you like it so much?” My husband, an otherwise gracious and open-hearted man, basically rolled his eyes at the idea. “You would hate it. It’s bloody, messy, sort of violent, and you’d be nauseous at sea the entire time.”
Quite frankly, the trip would be terrible for me for all the reasons he listed, but would also be terrible for him because trying to “share” this hobby with me would really only detract from his enjoyment of it. My presence there would not make him happy, and admitting this allows both of us a curious relief and freedom to find happiness in sources outside of each other.
There are obviously very significant reasons we love and enjoy each other, and are committed to this lifelong covenant we’ve made with each other. We promised to love and respect each other (which, truth be told, is a daily challenge and commitment requiring ongoing intent and repentance). We promised to protect and honor the exclusive covenant we’ve made before God with each other as husband and wife. But we are not happily married because of explicit promises to make each other happy.
I’m grateful for the ways he helped set us up for healthy expectations, life-giving boundaries with each other even as husband and wife, fuller community, and invigorating cultivation of broad interests outside of the ones we share together. He can go fishing. I’ll happily stay home with my books.