As young children, most of us were introduced to the concept of ‘happily ever after.’ The formula of childhood fairy tales usually involves an ending where good triumphs over evil and the characters in the story go on to live ‘happily ever after.’
Even as adults, we love the light-hearted romantic comedies in television and movies where the happy ending sees a couple realizing they are meant for each other, their misunderstandings and challenges are resolved, and they ride off into the sunset with a happy future ahead of them.
Everyone loves a happy ending, and ‘happily ever after’ is the ultimate dream when we think of being in a relationship or marriage.
But, what does living ‘happily ever after’ really mean? Is it possible to find it with your partner, or is it just a childhood fairy tale?
What ‘Happily Ever After’ Might Really Mean
Finding our ‘happily ever after’ is not an ultimate destination.
If we reach our destination, then the journey has ended.
Finding happiness for ourselves as individuals, and in our relationship with our partner or spouse, is never a journey with a definite ending.
Think of finding your ‘happily ever after’ as a lifetime journey, with small stops along the way to bask in the glow of happiness, and then continuing with your journey. All journeys have some bumps and turbulence along the way, but the journey continues, and happiness is still in the future. Seeing your ‘happily ever after’ as attainable, but fluid, can turn this ideal into reality.
How might you create your ‘happily ever after?’ Read on!
10 Suggestions for Creating Your ‘Happily Ever After’ for Yourself and for Your Relationship
1. Value your individual needs for happiness, as well as your partner’s
Life is an interactive and dynamic process, but we can’t live our lives exclusively for others - no matter who they are. Here’s where a tricky balancing act begins. Honor what you need while also honoring and valuing the needs of your partner or other important people in your life.
2. Communication with others in your life
Healthy communication with your partner, your family, your children, your coworkers, and friends contributes to your happiness. We all want to interact and communicate with those around us. But, when communication with others becomes critical, defensive, contemptuous, or shut-down, it can leave us doubting ourselves and our relationships. Learning a healthy way to communicate, which allows you to say what you need to say in way that is not hurtful or damaging to your relationships, is possible. It takes awareness and intention to communicate with others in a healthy way, but it’s not difficult to learn.
And don’t forget, it’s not all about how your talk to someone, or how they talk to you. Being a good listener is a skill that builds positive communication with others and improves individual and relationship happiness.
3. Set goals
Don’t leave your joy to chance. Set individual goals. Set collective goals with your partner and others. Do the work to make them happen. Checking things off lists and meeting short-term and long-term goals gives a feeling of accomplishment that brings contentment and happiness.
4. Put it aside and focus on the moment
Don’t lose sight of your everyday life when searching for your 'happily ever after.' Spending your time worrying about the past, and having anxiety about the future is a sure way to miss the happiness of the moment. Gratitude for the present moment, and gratitude for the good things of the past, can put you in the mindset of expecting good things in the future. You will also be more likely to recognize the positives when they do happen.
5. Find role models
Who inspires you? It could be individuals or couples. You might choose someone you know, or a public figure you admire. Regardless of these variables, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Happy people and successful relationships leave clues. Be on the lookout for them!
6. Focus on friendship and compatibility more than love at first sight
Part of the fairy tale mindset involves eternal love with your partner – and, it just may be accurate. But what about eternal friendship and compatibility? The butterflies-in-your-stomach of first love feels great, but it will wane eventually. Knowing your partner well, growing through time together, and having a solid friendship is a greater prediction of a successful relationship than the blush of first love.
7. Turn intimacy into an evolution
Intimacy is like relationship glue, but like all human emotions and interactions, it’s fluid and can ebb and flow. Communicate, learn, and grow in your relationships. Remember that intimacy is not just the physical part of your relationship with your partner, but it’s about emotional intimacy, as well. Emotional intimacy with your partner can lead to fireworks in the physical intimacy arena. Don’t ignore it!
8. Don’t try mind reading
Never assume that you know what someone is thinking, feeling, wants, or needs. If you don’t know what she wants, ask. If you have something to tell him, tell him. But, remember to do it in a healthy, non-damaging way.
9. Take breaks, then re-connect
No one - absolutely no one - is compatible 24/7. Create rich independent lives to enhance your life as a couple. It’s okay to have your own friends and connections, enjoy sports and hobbies, even travel without your partner sometimes. But, after the breaks, always reconnect. Share your happiness in these individual pursuits with your partner, and share in your partner’s individual happiness.
10. Accept and embrace the ups and downs
Be realistic. It’s 'happily ever after,' not 'perfect ever after.'
Seek guidance on your path to happiness
You can always ask for help. If creating your 'happily ever after' doesn’t come naturally, there is a helpful path towards a remedy. Working with a therapist is how you can pinpoint what makes you happy and identify the obstacles in your path.
As individuals or as part of a couple, you are often the architects of patterns that confuse and frustrate you. Your therapy sessions are where you can learn to recognize those patterns. That’s a gigantic first step towards changing those patterns and clearing a path towards the kind of 'happily ever after' that lasts and grows over time.
Lauren Ross is a licensed professional counselor intern and a marriage and family therapist associate with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. A specialty area of her practice is working with young couples and helping them building and maintain healthy relationships. Call her at 512-270-4883, ext. 107, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.