The Myth Of A Happy Marriage


As a doe-eyed newlywed, I had no idea what it took to have a happy marriage. On mom’s side of the family, marriages toppled like dominos, all the way down the line. On dad’s side, Nana buttoned her lip around Grandpa until he died. That seemed worse than all the divorces.

On 9/9/99, I signed our marriage certificate at the Coral Gables Courthouse and set about doing it my own way. A couple of decades whizzed by before I realized how much society and family patterns had influenced us, despite all efforts to break the mold.

Subconsciously, I believed everything in our domestic realm was my job, including the health of our marriage. I bought the books, registered for classes, and, when we needed a tune up, made appointments with counselors. My husband Mark was expected to show up and participate, a role he executed flawlessly.

With enough research, I’d be sure to discover the recipe for wedded bliss—of that I had no doubt.

To my surprise, the secret could not be found anywhere. Twenty-three years in, I finally understand what it takes. It isn’t saying the right things, selecting the perfect gift, or knowing the right flowers to send.

Not that I haven’t fully expected those things too. It took years to realize that the times when Mark didn’t get it right, the feeling of despair told me more about how I treated myself than about my husband’s love for me.*

I now understand that my dashed expectations were a convenient cover story for being dissatisfied with my own choices. For giving away too much. For not putting myself anywhere on my list of priorities. From the perspective of a major course correction, I finally recognize that.

And before I dive too deeply into blaming myself for not knowing how to do life right, let me just say to the over-sacrificing part of me, I will not heap shame upon you for how hard you tried. All parts of me deserve acceptance and love. As do all parts of you.

Sidebar: many of us, women especially, are constantly worried that our efforts are not good enough. The culture feeds us this message constantly. I bet there are people you worry about judging the way you do life too. Let’s not be part of our own problem, shall we?

Okay, back to expecting others to do for me what I was unwilling to do for myself. Most of the time, I didn’t acknowledge my own needs until my husband didn’t meet them. Each time he didn’t do the thing I wanted, I felt a familiar stab. A person who takes care of themselves wouldn’t hand over that kind of power to anyone.  

And there’s my work.

Why had I spent so long not meeting my own needs? I had somehow accepted the belief that as a wife and mom, it’s not okay to take care of yourself. To make sure YOU are okay. To, God forbid, seek fulfillment as a human being.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have left the store with a carload of groceries only to realize I had neglected to buy my own basic requirements. The over-sacrificing mother is one of our culture’s favorite tropes.**

If I had to name one thing, overgiving to others and undergiving to myself is probably the biggest threat of all to my marriage. 

Depending on my partner to provide what I need to be okay is unfair to him and places me in the role of victim. Part of me resists this insight because I still a little bit buy into what the culture has told me I deserve as a wife and mother: i.e., not much. In the words of my own dear mother, it’s enough already.

So what is the recipe for wedded bliss?

It turns out, the way to be at your best together is made of the same ingredients as being happy alone. Filling your own cup yourself. Taking care of your own needs provides a surplus of goodness to share with your special people. 

The crucial piece is to notice what lights you up and to have the courage to follow it.

And that goes for both of you. Your partner could also be stuck in their own overgiving, over-sacrificing rut. If that is you, save yourself. No one is coming for you.

Lucky for us, we both want an amazing life and have kept at it until we got here.


In the last several years, Mark’s work had grown tiresome, the politics unbearable. In service to our monthly financial albatross, he toiled away at a big fancy law firm. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. He bet on himself and left. Mark loves his new firm and the exciting matters that fill his days. His personal goals have also kept pace. Last year, he competed in the JFK 50, the oldest 50 miler in the country. He plans to train for a 100 mile ultramarathon despite a setback from long covid. At nearly 59, this guy is living his best life.

For me, even though I fretted about people’s opinions, especially my lawyer crowd, I got past it and made the decision to coach. My work is more joyful and fulfilling than I ever thought possible. As a result of getting coached myself, I have the capacity to hold untroubled space for my clients, have better relationships and improved boundaries. I am amazed at the level of peace and contentment I have created.

We are far from perfect, but we are learning all the time. I’ll take that over perfection any day.

So. If you can be happy on your own, what’s a marriage for then, you might be wondering.

When our youngest turns eighteen, Mark and I will have been parents together for twenty-four years. Soon it will be just the two of us again. Every now and then, I have wondered who we will be on the other side of this all-consuming role as parents. Who will we be to each other?

A few weeks ago, our daughter had left back to college, our older son was still out of the country and the little one had an extended sleepover.  An empty nest simulation day fell into our laps.

We hopped out of bed, took a long walk together, brunched at a yummy spot nearby, sunned ourselves at the beach, found an amazing taco place and toasted to each other with margaritas. The day ended in each other’s arms singing our favorite seventies loves songs. We are still each other’s person.

When you realize that you are in charge of your own happiness, you get the sense that, no matter what, it’s all going to be okay.



*Also. A great way to take care of yourself is to ask for what you want. Your partner should know where to go for your special things. If you think that is too demanding or takes the fun out of it or whatever, you do you, my friend. After Mark read this piece, I sent him a follow-up email with a fresh list of all my favorites. He is encouraged to do the same for me. And if he wishes to surprise me, he has been invited to check in with my friend Serena whose taste is impeccable. Just as the carpenters do, ‘measure twice, cut once.’

**I know we all laughed at this one, but it made me want to throw something. Also cry.

If you are ready to find out what lights you up and how to get there, I offer one on one coaching using the Wayfinder Coaching model designed by Martha Beck. You are invited to find out if this work is right for you by scheduling a free Discovery Session at And if you are family or a friend, I have a wonderful coaching community ready to partner with you.

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