The Highest Stakes Relationship in My Life

Is the relationship I have with... ❓ [±5min read]

Mistakes are so important. Making them is how we learn. Doing something one way which turns out to be the wrong way, means that hopefully the next time we have the same opportunity, we'll hopefully do it differently. Hopefully, we learn.

'Hopefully' is fine when the stakes are low. Heck, making mistakes is even encouraged, but is 'hopefully learning', when the stakes are high, good enough? If you've only got one shot at something, is just being hopeful going to cut it?

For me, the highest stakes relationship in my life is the relationship with Tracey. Everything, e v e r y t h i n g is less important than the relationship with my wife. And it's only because of past mistakes that I now understand just how high stakes our relationship is.

You see, I've been divorced, and I don't say that, or wear that statement as a badge of honour or some modern inconvenience. I say it because my divorce is a marker, a reference point of sorts, a low point, somewhere I don't ever want to be again in my life, and a reminder of just what can go so very wrong when you wait until the very end to learn what makes you happy.

Like most marriages that end, the official reason my first did was along the lines of "irreconcilable differences/incompatibility" or something similar - I'm not sure, it's not a document I tend to stay familiar with. But the truth is, Vaughn's mother and I got divorced because we simply had no idea who we were. And when you have no idea who you are, there is no way in hell you can expect a marriage to work. And as a result, we were very unhappy.

I'm so very fortunate to have a second shot at marriage, and it's only with time, understanding and brutal honesty, both deeply personal with myself and together with brutal and deep conversations with Tracey, I have come to understand that it is no one's job to make me happy, nor is it my duty to make anyone else happy. My true happiness can only come from within me.

I now know that the greatest gift I can give Tracey is a happy me. And by extension, the best gift I can give my family is a happy me. I know now that my most attractive trait, at least for Tracey, is my happiness, and vice versa. But we both know that this is not a duty to each other but rather driven from within and 100% controlled by each of us as individuals, and no one else.

"Luke, you're so fucking selfish! Of course it's your duty to keep your wife happy!" I hear you say.

To that, I call bullshit!

"Happy wife, happy life."

Urgh, if there was ever something I hear men say that irritates me more, it's this. I don't cringe when I hear because I disagree with it - I agree with it wholeheartedly - I cringe because it only tells half the truth about marriage, and it perpetuates the destructive belief that it is your duty to make your partner happy, and that they expect it. (Spoiler: They don't!)

More than that, I cringe the most because I always hear it used negatively - it's almost always preceded by an anecdotal story of having to do something that that person doesn't like, like shopping or watching a romantic comedy or, god forbid, having an emotional conversation.

"But hey, happy wife, happy life. Right guys... Right?"

Nope! Dead wrong, you're desperately unhappy and you're trying to tell everyone that with this dumb unfunny phrase. Except everyone can see through your bullshit. And if you’re saying it ironically… Well, ironically, the joke’s on you methinks. Also, you know what? It doesn't have to be that way.

We all have things we love to do, and ways we enjoy spending our time, at least when we're not working. For me when I was young and unmarried it was (and still is) the sea. I was passionate about bodyboarding, bodysurfing, swimming - being anywhere near the ocean made me very happy. I guess I loved being outdoors, being active. I loved connecting with people, friends, talking, sharing... Sure, being young and unattached, clubbing and partying was cool and fun, but I almost always preferred the intimacy of a fun braai over the chaos and noise of a nightclub.

And, I had an overarching yearning for family. I couldn't wait to be a dad.

I didn't know who I was, though, not truly, not intimately, and so I pursued this desire for marriage and family regardless, not knowing that combining the two was, well... A recipe for divorce. I thought 'family' was enough as if just the word alone would be enough to hold everything together - by some magical force apparently, so little did I know or understand.

I also thought it was my duty to make my wife happy, and in some weird justification for 'family' those pastimes and passions I had enjoyed before marriage, I found myself doing less - sacrificing my own happiness for what I thought was hers. Multiple times a week in the sea turned into maybe once a month. Being outdoors turned into being in malls. Intimacy became occasion and happiness devolved into resentment. And all the while I had no idea what truly made her happy.

And so we divorced…

I can say with certainty that if you're consistently doing things you don't like or enjoy in order to make someone happy, you're heading down a road filled with resentment. Because at one point or another you'll start asking yourself "Why am I so unhappy?" and "Why are they not making sacrifices like I am to make me happy?".

Take the time to do the things that bring happiness in your life. And take the time to do these things alone. No, not all the time, that would be ridiculous and that is the definition of selfishness in a marriage. But an hour or two every other day pursuing things you enjoy, alone, not derived from interactions with others, is not selfish, it's needed.

I don't look to Tracey for happiness. I look inwards at what makes me happy, I do that, and then seek out time to spend time together with her, doing things we enjoy doing together. And you know what? That time we do spend together - talking intimately in the evening after I've gone for an hour-long run, bathing together after she has had an hour or two to be creative or to meditate, is infinitely better, infinitely more enjoyable. We are more present, we are more attentive, we are content in those moments, and we are happier.

"For me, the highest stakes relationship in my life is the relationship with Tracey." Not true...

The highest stakes relationship in my life is my relationship with me.

And the relationship I have with myself is merely mirrored in the relationship I have with Tracey.


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