How to be Happily Married

My wife and I just celebrated 24 years of marriage. Whenever I’m asked what our secret is, I say that she’s my best friend and partner in life. It’s really that simple. The second reason for our successful marriage is that she did not kill me in our first few years together. She would have been well within her right to do so and if the jury knew the degree of my codependence at the time – they’d have never convicted her.

It culminated in a fight – a bad one. My wife yelled at me, “You are not solely responsible for my happiness!” I just stood there looking confused and thinking, “of course I am…” I realized in that moment that I was my mother’s son.

Sons who do not identify with their fathers will often follow the lead of their mothers. Given that my father was often absent in my formative years, I not only learned from my mother, I also felt especially protective of her. These behaviors and attitudes translated directly to my marriage. This was especially problematic because I married a woman who is essentially the exact opposite of my mother (I realized many years later that was not a coincidence).

I roll my eyes at young people today who get married as young as we did. I understand now that 16-24 is a time of constant change. I felt much older than my chronological age and yet I was hindered by unhealthy lessons in my family of origin and by all that I had not yet learned about life, the Universe, and everything.

As a young man, I believed that my happiness was contingent upon the happiness of everyone in my life. I saw it as my responsibility to make them happy and if there were anything at all that prevented their happiness or if there was something that would enhance it – I was morally obligated to provide it immediately and without being asked. This is being an unhealthy caretaker in a nutshell. Codependency at its extreme is not an attempt to do what people want you to do, but rather an attempt to be who they want you to be.

Later in life I understood that relationships can have dependence, codependence, and independence. Receiving therapy helped me to add one more – interdependence. Simply put, its two or more independent people relying on each other in healthy ways. Today I marvel at all that my wife and I have accomplished and overcome. We have done these things as partners in marriage, in raising children, in managing a household, in improving our finances, and we have done it through a thousand heart breaks and times of great joy. Just when we thought ourselves bona fide experts, we thought, “Hey! Let’s open a business together!” If you and your significant other are considering this plan, please locate the nearest blunt object and strike yourself in the head with it repeatedly.

Ok, now get some aspirin because it’s going to be good…eventually. No matter how well you believe you have your stuff together, new experiences and growth will expose you for the moron you truly are. My wife was ready to go into business. I was not. I’m still not. Years later I remain a lousy businessman and still my wife has not killed me. The world would be a peaceful and beautiful place if everyone were loved half as much as my wife loves me. You know that cliché that, “Love is patient. Love is kind”? It’s far more true than I thought…

My wife is an extremely intelligent, talented, and reasonable person. She is grounded in rational thought and smart courses of action. She’s an accountant – well organized, informed, and efficient. I am a dreamer and a person who does not accept his limitations. I’m a therapist and addictions counselor. I find people and shiny things endlessly fascinating and I couldn’t build an Excel spread sheet to save my life. I insist on learning most of my lessons through the School of Hard Knocks. My wife went to a higher quality learning institution and she doesn’t see any reason to learn a lesson more than once.

My wife is one of those very fortunate people who grew up in a fairly healthy, happy family. This was the foundation she had to become a wife and mother. The foundation I was working from was primarily what I did not want to be. Building something beautiful on a faulty foundation leaves one afraid that what is built can come crashing down. I learned that the cracks in my foundation could be repaired and that I could become far more healthy in all of the roles that I play – but moreover, I could be happier and healthier in how I relate to myself. Today the foundation for all of my relationships is being as good to myself as I am to others and maintaining conscious contact with my Higher Power.

My wife and I have gotten really good at vulnerability. We’re open with each other. We say things like, “I feel…” or “I want…” or “I need…” We don’t tell long and wandering stories that contain hints about what we feel, want and need. We don’t make accusations or get angry about what we feel, want, and need. We use the Keep It Simple System and we say what we mean and mean what we say.. Crazy, right? It works and it works well. Twenty four years later we continue to grow together, laugh together, and love together.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.