Ask E. Jean - Tormented? Driven Witless? Whipsawed by confusion?

Advice Vixens

Hi Vixens,
I've been married for about 11 months and I feel very torn about my relationship. My husband is a wonderful guy in many respects - he takes charge of most of our household work/domestic labor such as cleaning, cooking, etc., he is smart and politically engaged and we share many of the same moral values, he's sensitive yet strong, great in most social situations (talkative, funny), the sex is good when we have it (though we don't have it often enough for my tastes), and more. The problem is, he's just not a very happy person. Or, more accurately, he doesn't really express happiness or enthusiasm easily. For example, we went on vacation recently and he was just "meh" a lot of the time. I mean, he liked the things we were doing just fine, but he didn't really laugh or seem to find joy in much of what we were experiencing. He doesn't take pictures or smile in pictures; we went to a nice, secluded beach and he just walked around by himself most of the time. He just doesn't seem happy. And I'm the kind of person who finds a lot of joy in small stuff. I feel a lot of gratitude for the things I have and what is all around me, things big and small: a nice dinner, the ocean, walking down a new street. And when I see photos that other people post of their vacations, of my friends' husbands who seem happy and enthusiastic and grateful, etc., it just hurts because I know mine isn't like that and it is starting to really eat me up inside. I wonder if this fundamental incompatibility, while we're compatible with other things like how we value work and family and both care a lot about politics, is really going to make me even more sad in the long run. I so badly want us to just have fun and be able to relax and be silly and playful together, but he isn't like that. He's going through a hard time with some work-related things (and has been for over a year now), so I can't help but wonder if maybe once those things get better we might be able to relax and have more fun together, but then I also wonder, since that's been happening for so long, if maybe this is more just who he is and in the past I thought it was temporary but now I am starting to realize its not. I don't know, Vixens.. I look up stuff about divorce and nothing seems to suggest we are on that path, but then I also wonder if maybe I would be happier with someone else, someone who is more easy going and relaxed and playful and fun, and since we don't have kids (yet), I wonder if we weren't married, if I would have broken up with him by now... I don't know, Vixens. I'm just so torn and don't know what to think about our relationship and this one important incompatibility. Help!

  • Cast your vote
    for Best Advice
  • give advice
    send this question to a friend

    Was he like this before you were married? Or was he Mr. Enthusiasm just until recently? Because if this was a recent thing, it's just a matter of waiting until he gets past his work worries. Because those can really take up a lot of emotional space.

    But there's the bigger question of expectations. As in you expect him to respond to things the way that you do. Which is not realistic because he's NOT you. He responds to things in the way that is natural for him. Even after he gets past his current work worries, he's not likely to transform into a bubbly, enthusiastic, joyful person. Because that's not who he is. And he shouldn't be expected to change who he is.

    And comparing him to other people's husbands is not fair to him - or to your peace of mind; I suspect that he has a lot of sterling characteristics that are not found in those other men. But if you keep comparing him and finding him wanting, his better qualities are going to matter to you less and less.

    So you have two choices: you can either accept and value your husband for who he is. Or you can decide that the gap between his outlook and yours are enough for the two of you to go your separate ways.

    But before you make this choice, TALK TO HIM. There are a lot of ingredients that go into a workable marriage and pretty much at the top of the list is good communications. You and he need to be able to talk about this difference between you two and see if you both can live with it.

    reply to Jill
    send this answer to a friend

    Jill is right... he's not going to fundamentally change the type of person he is, and express his happiness in the way you express yours. Is that a deal-breaker for you?

    If not, it may work out that you can each draw on the different energies you have. He might enjoy your uninhibited responses to life, while you might get to understand and appreciate the quieter (but not unemotional) way he has of experiencing things.

    Me? I would generally rather remove my own spleen with a pen knife than pose for a photo. And I tend to enjoy myself quietly ... but that doesn't mean I'm not happy. Perhaps you're projecting unhappiness onto him simply because he expresses it in a different manner than you?

    reply to Kal
    send this answer to a friend

    Someone told me, "Sad is happy for deep people." I didn't get it at first - my sadness in life was always awful, why would this be said about it? But the thing is, in being sad you get to enjoy not pretending to be something you're not. If you have a disposition like his, it can feel like the world demands we all put on a happy face all the time or else. To a person who's not naturally cheerful or outgoing, all that happy being sold at us every minute feels oppressive and scary. To that end, there is an Arabic proverb, "Sunshine all the time makes a desert."

    Is he something other than sad? He could be serious, contemplative, content, maybe even happy in his way of showing it. He sounds like a man of complex emotions, which isn't a bad thing. It's the same source of the stuff you like about him.

    I read once about how many marriages fail, not because the husband and wife don't love each other, not because they chose the wrong partner...but because they expected their partner would be all the people they'll ever need in their life. We need lots of different people in our life - not to sleep with! but to enjoy a range of experiences with. Caring family members, friends who like what you like, friends who are entertainingly offbeat from your comfort zone, crazy great aunts who speak truth like they've just had several martinis - there are just people you're gonna want around, who he can't be. You need someone to be happy with as you understand showing it, but you also need your husband and his keeper qualities, to grow together in tune with who he is, to love and understand him without feeling like he's depriving you of the company of a happy person. These happy friends in their vacation photos? Text one of them; go have a girls' night.

    Get that kind of energy from people who show happiness like you do, and strengthen your existing friendships on top of it. (Plus hear how they had a huge fight with their smiling husband, or someone lost their passport, someone's struggling with infertility, etc. - nobody's photos tell the whole story, but they could all use a friend to hear it!)
    Your husband can't be every kind of person you need to know, just like you probably can't be the other people he can share appreciation for some of his quirkier favorite tv shows or his less popular opinions in lengthy detail. This is normal - just develop, over a lifetime, a good community around you, and you won't feel like something's missing because it's available to you, even if it's not from him. Know and spend time with enough people. When you're with your husband, focus on what you love about him that was so hard to find in everybody else. A good man to marry is hard to find. The traits you love about him are HARD TO FIND. Ability to show happiness, tho? Walk into any preschool, sit at any bar, attend any sporting event. Many people are expressively happy and enthusiastic. Not many people have keeper qualities.

    Perhaps there would be less of a problem without social media. We might not be able to escape it so easily, but examine your brain on social media - try to be aware if it makes you happier or sadder, if more good things or bad things happen for you as a result of using it, and how much of your time it eats up. It can encourage comparing your life to others in unfair ways. You and your husband may well be happier together than many people who post tons of pictures of how happy they are, mark my words, time will tell! Social media can be destructive. Many of the happier couples I know barely ever touch the stuff.

    Good luck to you!

    reply to Queenie
    send this answer to a friend

    As mentioned above by Jill, communication is key. I find it works best in the way I phrase a question eg. Rather than asking 'what's wrong? Ask 'how are you? It's more of an open question. You already know something is wrong and having him open up and talk might help to move the conversation forward instead of feeling somewhat stuck.

    reply to Sonja
    send this answer to a friend

    Give advice or add a comment: