He said, “I need to make you happy to even have a shot at being happy.” The words are spoken by Ben Affleck to Jennifer Aniston in the movie He’s Just Not That Into You. For me, it is the second best scene in the movie after the scene where Jennifer tells Ben she wants him back – that in their life together, unmarried, he is more of a husband to her than any of the so-called “husbands” her sisters have.
Ben’s statement, however, hides a priceless piece of relationship advice. When a man loves a woman, he longs to make her happy. In the beginning of the relationship, this can be sweetly evident. It’s like there aren’t enough thoughtful things he can do for her! From opening doors to paying attention to her favorite foods so he can order for her to running interference on her behalf, he just wants to make her happy and it is as if his happiness depends on it.
His happiness does depend on it and this is why as time goes by, his attempts to make her happy can cause frustration for them both. The better they get to know each other, the more complicated it becomes for him to make her happy and the harder she makes it for him to make her happy. How does this happen? How does a couple go from, “He’s so sweet and thoughtful,” to “He’s driving me crazy?” Let me paint a picture from my own life to answer that question that any reader, male or female, will likely recognize.
Recently, my husband, Joseph, and I had lunch with some friends who kind of make me nutty. It’s just a personality conflict. However, these friends are only in my life because of him. They were his friends first. Whenever we see them, once he and I are alone together again, I invariably have to process the interactions that took place between them and me. As the years have gone by, I have learned to process my feelings about these interactions using “I” statements. So, I make my problems with them as much about me and as little about them as possible. Truly, because it is just a personality conflict and nothing personal, my issues are all about me, not them. So using “I” statements is the adult, responsible thing to do.
Years ago, before I was so mature, my processing events with these folks could result in an argument between Joseph and me. Invariably, I would feel as though I’d backed him into a corner where he had to choose between them and me; and then I’d be furious because in his defense of them I would feel tossed aside. Now that I use “I” statements, we don’t have those arguments. But the other day I realized I was talking and talking and talking out my process while he was remaining very quiet yet on the verge of laughing.
Finally, I squealed, “Why are you laughing at me?” He said, “I’m not laughing at you! I’m processing your process!” And I realized something important. Even with all the “I” statements, the fact that I always have to process these particular friends makes Joseph feel responsible for my happiness. Because he brought them into my life and because I’m not comfortable with them, to the point of having to process interactions, he feels as though he’s failed me. He needs to make me happy to even have a shot at being happy.
I used to think that men needed their women to like and respect all their friends and family in order to feel respected themselves. It was one of those this-is-how-you-protect-his-fragile-male-ego thing. Wow. I haven’t thought like that in so long that the sentence makes me want to gag! Yuck! I hate that manipulative way of perceiving men.
That isn’t what’s going on. If his ego smarts at all when she disrespects his friends or family, it is because he’s stuck between a rock and hard place in his efforts to make her happy. He cannot give up all his friends and family who make her uncomfortable. That isn’t fair. At the same time, he cannot abide being responsible for her unhappiness. If his friends or family make her unhappy, he takes it on as his fault. And so, arguments ensue. If he can’t make her happy, maybe he can fix what’s wrong with her so that she can be happy. We all know that leads to even more conflict!
The answer to the problem: How does a couple go from, “He’s so sweet and thoughtful,” to “He’s driving me crazy!” is for both to realize what’s going on and just settle down. Making “I” statements settles down the energy. For instance, “I know it’s my problem and I feel badly about it but after awhile with them, I’ve just had enough.” “Me too! I’m the one who ended the evening early.” And then let it go. At this point, you’re on the same page. The energy is settling down. Continuing to run down the friends who make you nuts will only inflame it and risk an unnecessary argument.
So back to Ben’s hidden advice. He wants to make her happy. He really, really wants to make her happy. If she can accept the compliment, trusting his intention, appreciating his attempts and if he can understand that the longer they know each other the bigger a challenge it is to anticipate what will make her happy; then, they can learn how to communicate with each other so that his attempts to take care of her in this way are happily received by her, stoking the fire of their love.