From Chapter 1, “The Happiness C.U.R.E.”:
It was a hot summer day in Santa Monica back in 1983 when Jake and Brenna walked into my office for their weekly therapy session. I was testing my new video recorder and wanted to try it out on them. With their permission, I started it rolling.
They were an attractive couple in their mid-40s who had been married just two years when their conflicts began to escalate. Jake seemed bewildered when they arrived, so I asked him what was bothering him. They had quarreled earlier that day, and he couldn’t grasp why Brenna was so upset. She had accused him of raging at her about money, and she told me she did not feel good about the way he had spoken to her. Jake denied raging and insisted that he was only trying to make his point. He was making one excuse after another.
About half an hour into their discussion with me, Brenna blurted out, “Jake, you are just so cheap!” Jake, who had forgotten about the camera, bolted upright, screaming, “How dare you say that when all you do is spend, spend, spend!” He launched into a tirade that left Brenna in tears.
They had been down this road before, always with the same outcome. Brenna melted into the sofa and wept while Jake raged. This was their dance, and it was disastrous for them both. As they were leaving, I handed Jake the videotape to review before our next session.
The next day Jake phoned me, horrified. He sputtered, “Who was that on the tape?” It was shocking to realize that he did not recognize himself as he was in the video. How could this be? I was filled with curiosity about how he could be so blind to himself. It wasn’t the first time I had seen such a contradiction in action: although Jake’s behavior was extreme, I had observed the same pattern in other patients who couldn’t see how they were expressing their personal issues to others.
I began searching for answers to the questions raised by Jake’s encounter with his wife and with himself. How can someone experience a powerful emotion like rage and not be aware of it? Why do some relationships withstand rage—or loneliness or infidelity or loss—while others break apart? How can we heal the pain that divides us from the ones we love? Ultimately, what does it take for us to be happy together?
Since that day, in three decades as a psychotherapist and couples counselor, I have searched for answers to these questions in the varied experiences of patients who have come to me for help in making their relationships work, and in nearly 20 years as a husband, I have learned how to make our relationship work, or, quite frankly, I could not have written this book. I have seen firsthand what makes love last. Happy Together is the result of these explorations.
Watching the unveiling of the intricate workings of intimacy—of the process by which lasting love is created and sustained—has convinced me that love works on a far grander scale than eyes meeting across a crowded room. Happiness is not something that just happens to us, and love is not something that we just fall into, even though it may seem that way when a relationship begins. No matter how much passion there is at the start, for love and happiness to last a lifetime, they must be actively made. Love is a creation; it is fashioned by acts of loving kindness, which can produce something that is at once durable and a thing of beauty. Creating a happy and enduring relationship requires that we understand how our underlying and often baffling personal issues impact our ability to connect with others—and, crucially, with ourselves. It calls on us to make conflict and personal pain into resources for ever deeper intimacy.
Love is an unparalleled life experience. When we accept that it will include times of great difficulty, we can approach them with gentleness and care, and we can learn the skills we need to quickly and smoothly solve problems. Love is what life is all about, and it is life’s sweetest reward—the cake and the icing on the cake. It’s a flame that can indeed burn for a lifetime, if we tend it well.
Our journey toward enduring love and lasting happiness begins by developing a solid base of safety and security. We set out equipped with honesty, tolerance, and a willingness to reach out to each other when we need to. The path is paved by our intention to solve problems with reasoning and to listen to different points of view, rather than holding on to being right at the expense of our most valuable loving connection. And, as we learn to accept and support our mutual strivings, we find our way toward an ever more satisfying relationship life—and a rich and meaningful inner life too. . . .
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
In the chapters that follow, we’ll explore many aspects of relationship, from connection to conflict to commitment, on our way to a fuller understanding of how to be happy together. At the end of each chapter, I’ll offer a few questions for you to ask yourself—and, ideally, for you and your partner to ask each other—to open the door to inter-reflection.
- Chapter 2 opens a discussion about how to create love from everyday life, from pinpointing the places where our painful history may dovetail with our partner’s to actively creating a vision for the relationship and a road map for happiness.
- Chapter 3 explores how myths and fantasies—about family, marriage, rescue, redemption, idealized romance—can both shape our relationships and provide valuable insights into ourselves and others.
- Chapter 4 deﬁnes shame and rage, tracing their roots in our past, explaining how they arise in relationships, and showing how they impact us and our ability to love.
- Chapter 5 continues the odyssey through the straits and narrows of relationship life by defining true intimacy—that delicate dance between our inner and outer worlds—and exploring ways to cultivate and preserve it.
- Chapter 6 considers conflict in all its forms, strategies for resolving it, and what we can learn from it to create deeper intimacy.
- Chapter 7 takes a closer look at creating, repairing, and preserving our precious connection to our partner using such tools as compassionate communication and constructive complaining.
- Chapter 8 examines the role of sexuality in our relationship life, including the uses of fantasy, the value of monogamy, and the insight sex can give us into who we are, separately and together.
- Chapter 9 shows how successful couples create the conditions for happiness in their relationships and sums up what it takes to live happily ever after.
Simply put, we get out of relationships what we put into them. Happiness in relationship is a direct result of deliberate actions that either elevate and intensify feelings or shut them down. We need to be willing to express hard truths, such as how afraid or hurt or unlovable we feel or how we don’t trust that love can last. We need to discover the truth within ourselves and then speak it, not to injure but to engage our partner in a process that leads to greater closeness and ever deeper love.
If we are willing to risk opening our hearts and minds, we will find ourselves in a universe that we never knew existed. Binding our heart with another’s and finding its strength uncovers what is most precious about life. Love is what gives life its color and fills us with its meaning. It’s what keeps us sane and feeds our soul.
Lasting love is liberating and inspiring, and its effects reach far beyond ourselves, extending to our families and communities. Loving couples impact everyone around them; they offer optimism and lead others toward deeper insights about themselves. But most of all, loving relationships infuse us with hope for a more humane society. This book is dedicated to all those who yearn to build a loving relationship that will not only stand the test of time, but flourish, and help us all live happily together, in the broadest sense, to build a better future and a better world.