top of page

The Problem With "Happy Wife, Happy Life"

Written by Ashley Gray, LCSW, MFTC

People have always tried to find tricks and tips to figure out how to have a happy and healthy marriage. It makes sense that people would come up with a saying and quick tricks that might sound like a sure-fire hack, but have some flaws. I feel this way about the saying, "Happy wife, happy life."

Now, an obvious issue here is that this saying leaves out all sorts of relationships and people. The focus of this post is that the issue with this saying is that it only focuses on one person in the relationship. No matter who it is that you're focusing on in the relationship and no matter how that relationship is structured, if one person's happiness is the focus, the other person's needs are likely to be overlooked and this could be grounds for resentment.

Not only that, sometimes when we put men and women into categories in this way, we reduce them to an overly simplified caricature. Then when people exist outside of these beliefs we can start to feel broken or strange. You are not broken or strange. If you are only focusing on the happiness of your partner, you might be stuck in people-pleasing. This is a sure way to build resentment in your relationship. If you are expecting your partner to make you happy and you're not considering their needs, you may be neglecting both your partner and yourself. Let's break this down below.

If You're The People Pleaser Focusing on Your Partner's Happiness...

If you are always thinking of your partner's happiness and don't realize how you feel and what you need until resentment sneaks in, you might be a people pleaser. You might already know this about yourself. I don't want you to feel bad about this or encourage you to completely change who you are. It is a beautiful thing that you want others to be happy. I want to ask you, though, why do you want them to be happy? Do you feel like your life will be easier if they are happy? Do you feel like you'll look like a good person if they are happy? Did you grow up learning that it is your job to make sure your partner is always happy? Does it come from an abundance of love and you just want the very best for them? What else might be coming up for you?

My encouragement is to start understanding what is causing you to put others before you in a way that neglects your own needs. This can allow you to start understanding how to both meet your own needs AND someone else's needs in a way that feels balanced, so you're not left feeling resentful.

Sometimes people pleasers are unaware that they are not in touch with their feelings and needs. Feelings are a good place to start when you want to start understanding needs. Noticing how you're experiencing feelings in your body, can give you information about what you are needing. For instance, if you're feeling tightness in your chest this could be showing you that you're feeling anxious about something. A tightness in your throat may mean that you're having a hard time speaking up or you're not feeling good about what you're sharing. Starting to notice these reactions in your body and becoming curious about them is a great place to start. If you're having a hard time identifying the emotions, journaling about them or talking them out with someone you trust can help. Once you identify the feeling, don't judge it or push it away, but let your feeling know that it is welcome here. You can say this out loud, in your head or journal about it. You can even dialogue with the feeling and ask it what it is trying to tell you and thank it for trying to care for you. If the feeling seems like it is over reaching you can have a conversation with the feeling where you say something like, "Hey, anxiety, thank you for trying to keep me safe. While you're welcome here and it is okay for me to feel this, not everything you're saying is true and I know I can keep myself safe right now."

This might feel difficult to do if you're not used to it. Some people struggle with identifying their emotions and asking for what they need because it feels selfish to them or simply foreign. It's okay if learning to feel your feelings and advocate for your needs takes time. I would like you to consider that often times, what you don't allow within yourself, you likely won't allow in others. So, if you are not feeling your feelings and showing up well for yourself, you might not actually be showing up well for others. You might be focusing too much on what you think you should be doing or how you would like to be viewed (as helpful, nice, etc) to really meet people where they are at with what they need. In doing this, you can accidentally become emotionally unavailable and not even realize it. What is key in preventing this is to make sure that you're meeting your own needs. If you are meeting your own needs then you will be less likely to rely on a certain image or response from someone else to meet that need. You can learn to meet your own needs using the skills that I listed above. Another way is to learn how to self-regulate. You can check out my free self-regulation guide to learn how.

If You're The Person Expecting Your Partner to Make You Happy...

Perhaps you grew up learning that your romantic relationships were supposed to be your source of happiness. If this is your expectation, you might be putting a lot of pressure on your partner while not showing up for your partner's needs. This can also build a lot of resentment, for both of you. Your partner will feel resentment when their needs aren't considered and you'll feel resentment when your partner isn't always making you happy.

Nobody can make someone feel happy 100% of the time. When you expect that of your partner, you're giving up your autonomy, resiliency and could be leaning into co-dependency. Here is why, if you're expecting your partner to make you happy, then you may not be taking responsibility for your own emotions, positive or negative. You're out sourcing your emotional regulation by expecting your partner to always make you happy with what they do or don't do. You're unintentionally neglecting yourself by not turning inward to understand yourself. You're also robbing yourself of the beauty of showing up well for someone you love. To take responsibility for your emotions and take back your power, learn what makes you happy (outside of what your partner does) and engage in these activities on your own, learn how to self-regulate to help your manage difficult emotions on your own, co-regulate in a way that is beneficial for both you and your partner and learn about their needs outside of emotional regulation. You can learn more about how to self-regulate and co-regulate in my blog post on emotional regulation.

This can be a difficult cycle to untangle once you're used to primarily focusing on one partner. It is not impossible though. When the work gets difficult, remember that you both are deserving of a happy life. A healthy relationship is possible and often comes as a result of hard, intentional, relational work. If you're wanting support from a therapist to re-balance your relationship and you would like to work with me, you can click the contact buttons at the top of this page to reach out and schedule your free phone consult.

I'm wishing you the best on your healing journey! :)

P.S. If you want to sign up for my newsletter, so that you don't miss a blog post and you get the latest information about free resources, services and news follow this link. There will be a pop-up on the page that will prompt you to sign up. If you get the pop-up after you sign up, you can use the yellow "x" in the corner of the page on your desktop or bottom of the page (you may have to scroll) on your phone to exit. If you're looking for free mental health freebies, you can check out my free attachment test and regulation guides here.

This post is written by individual and couples therapist, Ashley Gray of Arvada, Colorado. Ashley works with her clients using Gottman Method Couples Therapy, EMDR Trauma Therapy, Prepare and Enrich, attachment focused therapy, EMDR and couples intensives and techniques from Emotionally Focused Therapy. As a therapist, she is passionate about helping people build healthy relationships and supporting people with the resources they need. In her free time, Ashley hikes, paddle boards, reads, spends time with her husband and her cuddly dog. For more information about Ashley and her practice, click here.


bottom of page