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The secret to a happy relationship: Be selfish

The first time I met my client Sylvia, she told me, “I am getting out of this marriage. Things are so bad. And he won’t even come to therapy to address it. I am done!”

Woman dancing at home

After three sessions of just the two of us working together, she told me, “It is so strange. My husband has completely changed. I don’t know why, but things are getting much better at home. We are not fighting like we used to, and last night, we actually had a really nice time together.”

How is this possible?

It is not because I am a miracle worker. And it is not because Sylvia was the only reason for the marital problems. It takes two to tango. When one person takes lessons, the other partner cannot help but improve, too.

When an individual is unhappy, stressed out and not feeling good about themselves and their lives, it is extremely difficult to have a happy relationship. In that state of discontent, we tend to be more negative, more critical of others, more likely to complain and start arguments. We personalize what the other person does and get upset much more easily.

If we are happy, though, things change. We tend to give our partner the benefit of the doubt. We are more empathetic and understanding. We concentrate on and celebrate their positives more than their shortcomings. We encourage, openly love and joke around. Our relationship becomes more fun, more loving and more supportive.

Often times people rely on their partner to make them happy. This puts pressure on their partner, and it is not realistic. To borrow from and adapt Eleanor Roosevelt’s wisdom: “No one can make you happy but yourself.”

How can you be a happier you so that your marriage is happier too? Be selfish. By that, I mean address your own happiness. Take steps to be a happier you, and you will have a happier relationship.

Here are three tips to get you started:

Develop your sense of purpose

Happiness is more than a fleeting moment of feeling good (such as while eating a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie). Happiness is really based on having a sense of purpose and meaning in life. So ask yourself, what are you passionate about? It could be a specific hobby, volunteer work, developing your spiritual self or writing a book to help others learn from struggles that you’ve had.

When I suggest this to clients, they sometimes get overwhelmed. “I don’t know what my purpose is — that is the problem.”  Here’s the deal: Find something that gets you excited, a project that has meaning to you. It does not need to be the ultimate purpose for your existence. It can just be something that brings you joy and helps you feel even somewhat fulfilled. Then just do it.

Let go of perfectionism

You, your partner and your life are not perfect — and that is OK. In fact, that is life. Sadly many people have the sense that “I will be happy when everything has worked out.” Only when they achieve their goal (job promotion, weight loss, getting engaged) do they believe they will be happy with themselves or their lives.

Start loving yourself and your life right now. This will not make you complacent. In fact, when people are happier, they are more likely to achieve their goals — losing weight is easier, we can focus better and be more productive, we tend to be better spouses, parents and friends.

Address your stress

Overwhelming stress is the antithesis of happiness. Excessive stress causes us to see things in a negative light, to personalize what others do, to worry about the future and hold grudges about the past.

There are countless ways to lessen your stress effectively (Ben & Jerry’s therapy is NOT one). Take deep breaths, meditate, go for a walk, dance around, listen to music or chat with an upbeat friend. Getting the sleep, food and fun you need are also important to keeping stress levels down.

Increase your happiness and your relationship will get even better!

More relationship advice

Why being right can make everything wrong
Survey reveals the state of dating in America
The day I learned my boyfriend was still on

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