Over at the Huffington Post, psychologist Kelly M. Flanagan argues that “Marriage Is for Losers.” But before you click right over there and give him a piece of your married and I-am-so-not-a-loser mind, know that he’s using a play on words.
Flanagan argues that there are three kinds of marriages. In one, both spouses compete to win every fight, destroying their marriage in the process. In another, one person competes to win and the other serves as a resentful doormat who continually loses. In the third, both spouses compete to lose — to see who can “listen to, care for, serve, forgive, and accept the other the most,” Flanagan writes. “…These marriages form people who can be small and humble and merciful and loving and peaceful.”
At first, as I read, I was cheering and clapping along, thinking things like, “Right on, dude” and “Ain’t that the truth” and “Is marriage for losers? Yes, yes, yes it sure is!”
But then I began pondering how this losing thing plays out in my own marriage. Ever since I began practicing Buddhist meditation, I’ve been trying my best to be as considerate, loving, compassionate, forgiving, accepting, and attentive as possible.
My husband? In a word: doubtful.
I asked, “Would you say that, in our marriage, you’re trying to be as caring, forgiving, and accepting as you can?”
It took him no time to come up with an answer: “No.”
To make sure he understood the question, I phrased it differently. “So, you’re not trying to be the biggest person in our marriage?”
“Not trying,” he said, and he said it without even the slightest hint of “Is there something wrong with me for not trying?”
“So do you have any marriage goals?” I asked.
“Goals?” he asked, sounding very confused.
“When you think about what you want for our marriage … are you just thankful that I’m in a good mood and don’t give you a hard time?”
“Sounds about right,” he said.
So, no, he’s not trying to be the biggest loser in our marriage, but I am.
According to Flanagan, that makes me a doormat, and it makes our marriage abusive.
Except I’m not a doormat and our marriage isn’t abusive.
What’s going on? Here’s what. There’s a difference between being the biggest person in your marriage and being a loser (also known as a doormat). People who are doormats pin their happiness on their partners, and they get their self-esteem from being a “good” spouse. They don’t know that happiness comes from within. So they bend over backwards to please, often to their own detriment.
People who act big don’t rely on their partners for their own happiness. They’ve already got joy shooting from every pore. They weren’t necessarily born happy (I sure wasn’t). No, they cultivate it. They care for their health by getting plenty of sleep and exercise, and they care for their moods by thinking positive, doing good deeds, and meditating, among other things. They know that happiness doesn’t come from keeping score. It doesn’t come from reciprocation. Nor does it come from winning. Rather, it comes, in part, from selfless giving. It comes from choosing to be big rather than allowing fear, anger, and other negative emotions to force them into acting small.
Whenever big people do something nice for their partners, they don’t think, “Now he owes me.” No, they just feel warm and loving.
Acting big comes from a place of strength. It comes from a vision and a decision about who you want to be in your marriage and who you want to be in the world.
And here’s the cool thing. When you act big, your partner will act big in return, without even knowing he’s doing it. Positive energy is contagious. If you don’t believe me, paste a smile on your face and then walk into a hospital. People will smile back, even if they are battling terminal diseases.
It’s the same at home. Your spouse will catch your positive energy. Then you won’t be the only person in your marriage who is happy. Your spouse will be happy, too. Then you’ll both be winners.
Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.