Ever since I was a younger, I looked forward to being a whole grown ass woman, more than I ever looked forward to being a wife. In fact, a few years ago when I did get married, the one area I struggled in was the idea of partnership and teamwork. Those first few months of marriage as we faced our new lives as a married couple, not to mention embarking on parenthood for the first time as well, were a constant tug-of-war in which my husband had to repeatedly remind me that I didn't have to take on every responsibility. Until then, I hadn't realized how often I assumed I had to foot the bill for dinner, drive our daughter to appointments, or even wash the dishes every night until he would chime in with, "You know you don't always have to do everything yourself."
Up until then, I had always associated help with dependency, but it was exhausting me in the process. I soon realized having help is a good thing when it comes from a place of love and a genuine desire to want to make someone's else's life a little easier. But asking for help doesn't have to equal waiting for a hero, and actor Will Smith recently shared some thoughts that shed light on the difference.
In the video, Smith reflects on a conversation he had with wife Jada some time ago in which he asked what was the biggest revelation she had about love. The Girls Trip star responded, "You can't make a person happy."
Smith goes on to unpack this idea, basically saying that happiness is an individual pursuit, and that when people enter a relationship thinking it will magically solve all of their problems or fill pre-existing voids, they set their unions up for failure. The star of Netflix's Bright says it's because many fall into the "false romantic concept" that marriage is about completion or two people becoming one (I blame Tom Cruise's iconic line in that damn Jerry Maguire movie.)
Smith says over the course of their twenty-year marriage, they both realized that marriage was less about traveling in the same car together as much it was riding beside another along the same road:
"What we realized was that we were two completely separate people on two completely separate individual journeys and that we were choosing to walk our separate journeys together."
He goes on to say that when it comes to happiness, it's something that one has to define on their own:
"We decided that we were gonna find our individual, internal, private separate joy and then we were gonna present ourselves to the relationship and to each other already happy. Not coming to each other with our empty cups out."
Some might question what is even the point of entering marriage, a long-term relationship, or any fulfilling connection with someone if you can't find happiness in it? I don't think that's what Smith is getting at. My mother, like many black moms, always had the same piece of advice when it came to any situation I was confronted with that I was afraid to take on alone: "You came into this world by yourself, and you're going to die by yourself."
It doesn't mean that you have to be totally self-reliant every second of the day, but what it does mean is that no one relationship should make or break your purpose, sense of self, and ability to be at peace with life as you know it at any one moment.
With that said, what I now recognize is that my spouse and I work as a team.
We build with each other and contribute the strengths we have to try and support the other's weaknesses, but it doesn't mean one life falls apart without the other. But even before I was married, I enjoyed my life, and I knew what my purpose was in it. I worked to fill my life with experiences, things, and people that helped me grow and my spouse simply enhances my situation. So often people enter relationships expecting that a compliment from a partner can replace self-esteem or believe that creating an unconditional bond with someone will somehow make up for those that abandoned them in past. Smith reminds that we have to work on ourselves by ourselves and while that doesn't guarantee you'll enter a relationship flawless and without baggage, it's unfair to expect that one person can right all of the wrongs in your life:
"It's unfair and it's kind of unrealistic and can be destructive to place the responsibility for your happiness on anybody other than yourself."
In "If You're Waiting For Your Husband To Make You Happy, You're Doing It Wrong", blogger Krishann Briscoe touched on how the idealization of one person to be your source of happiness places them in a position that's impossible to hold for long:
"When you aren't depending on your husband to fill you up, then he can make mistakes and you are still okay. He can say the wrong thing and you can forgive him quickly. He can struggle and question his direction and you don't fall into despair. He can be your partner and your friend because he does not have to be your savior."
In short, the tried and true saying remains: How can you expect anyone to enjoy your company, if you don't even enjoy your own company?
You have to define happiness on your terms and be confident in the fact that you can want your partner, and even feel uncomfortable without them, without needing them. What does that look like in day to day life? In addition to regular date nights and Netflix binges that we enjoy as a couple, my husband likes working on muscle cars. I like planning trips and drowning in Tidal playlists when he and my three-year-old go to bed. It means we cohabitate, love, and build a life together without abandoning the personal paths we've maintained on our own.
While we can share those experiences with each other, we both know that happiness and joy isn't something totally held hostage by the other. We enhance each other's life in a way that doesn't leave an empty space when the other doesn't or can't show up.
How do you know when you're whole or happy?
You ever see those people who enter relationships and suddenly everything is on hold? These are the people who only focus on their personal goals in between relationships. Immediately after a break up, they retreat to their checklist of going back to school, starting a business, or getting in shape.
Wholeness and happiness happen when you feel you don't have to choose between your goals as an individual and your relationship.
Being married doesn't mean I won't keep pursuing my dreams as a writer or wait to go to Alaska when my husband's schedule clears up. Any partner that's worth having will recognize and respect the woman you were before him and will want to uplift that person, without feeling like she'll fall to the ground in his absence.
What does it mean to be "whole" and how do you define happiness as an individual?
I asked some of my friends and family members who are married or in long-term relationships to share their thoughts on what partners are responsible for bringing to the relationships.
You can read their thoughts below:
"I read an article recently about an older married couple that started asking each other, 'What can I do to make your day better?' Simple but effective. My partner and I started doing this. While you have to make yourself happy, I think part of a partner's job is to make one's life easier. To push each other and enrich your lives as well, but if you aren't making my life better what are you around for? I like this tactic."
- J. Harris, engaged and with partner for almost 4 years
"Marriage has taught me that happiness is a choice. As Will stated, it is not our responsibility to make our partner happy at all times. I have learned that I should not give someone that much power over my happiness as well. That's too great of a responsibility and truthfully, power over me. I love when my husband is happy, but I had to let go of my preconceived notions that I can be the sole reasoning for his happiness or sadness...And, frankly sometimes it doesn't have anything to even do with me. Marriage is definitely a journey."
"We were once at a terrible point in our relationship, and when we unpacked, dissected, and got down to the bottom of our issues I realized many of them were HIS issues. Now, I don't mean like, me being unsupportive, but like issues from his childhood, that I can't remedy. I was too much of a team player, and I had to learn to let some of that go. At heart I am a nurturer and a caregiver. I want to fix the world, but I can't do that for everyone. In the end I had to learn to be more selfish. Giving too much can also be detrimental as well. So, I guess it was a mix of realizing I can't be his everything, and I need to be more of my own person/savior/friend."
- C. Tinsley, married for 8 years
"Growing up we are often subliminally taught that finding the "right person" makes us whole. For a long time I believed this to be true. However, being in a 12 year relationship has proven me wrong. My partner can be doing all he can to make sure I'm happy, but I've noticed that what he does, does not equate to my individual happiness day in, and day out. Sure, I feel loved; but not always happy. I agree when Will Smith said, 'You have to find your own happiness.' We have to be happy with ourselves, or nothing will seem good enough. With this said, I feel we should take time to figure out what we require individually before adding another person onto our world. I can't say specifically what can make someone happy or whole before entering a relationship, because it is different for everyone, but I will say again, learn what you need without someone else."
- K. Antoinette, in a long term relationship for 12 years
"People going into relationships and marriages thinking they are finding a missing part of themselves are in for a rude awakening. The emotions and the emotional things you've felt before entering a relationship/ marriage, will still be there after the big day is over. Now you just have a person to go through the storm with you. That person is not gonna void out those emotions or 'unpleasant' feeling.
"Happiness is an individual thing. You have to make yourself happy. No matter who's in your life, you need to come to the "table" already whole."
- C. Jones, married for 4 months