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SALT LAKE CITY — Coach Kim explains the secret to happiness in life and how to choose it even when your marriage isn't what you wanted it to be.
1) For the past several years my wife has acted like I have horrible cooties. She pulls away from any touch, sometimes gives me "the look" that she is annoyed when I tell her I love her. It hurts so much when she refuses to allow me to show any physical affection or love and I'm not talking about the S word. I gave up on that long ago. I would be happy with a cuddle or a hug or even a pat on the back. I love my wife and I am committed to her and sticking with her, but this situation hurts. Any advice?
2) I am suffering with grief and discouragement because my wife refuses to have physical intimacy with me. I cannot be happy in life without this. I want my life to include being with someone who loves me and wants me. I am considering leaving her because I believe I have the right to be happy, even though it will cause issues with our grown children. This is the most difficult decision of my life. Am I right that I deserve happiness and if she refuses to be loving towards me, I have the right to leave?
I decided to answer these two questions together because though one person has decided to stay in their marriage and one is deciding to leave — what they are both seeking (happiness) is the same and the answer to gaining this happiness is also the same.
(I would ask readers on the comment boards to be compassionate towards these people and their situations and honor their right to follow their own hearts about what is right for them. I appreciate you not judging them for their choices.)
I wrote a recent article on creating more intimacy in marriage if you are interested in that. It is important and we should try to fix this important part of a good relationship. But this article is going to address how to be happy when life disappoints you and I believe this may be one of the most important articles I’ve ever written.
I hope everyone will read it, share it and ponder the truth of the principles behind it. When you understood these principles you will be able to choose happiness in any situation of life. Here are five important universal principles about the nature of life:
Principle 1: It is the nature of the universe that everything changes. Every misery, problem, blessing and joy is impermanent. They come and go, ebb and flow. In every situation you can accurately say “this too will pass” because though some situation take longer to change, everything eventually changes. You can see the truth of this in nature, the seasons and in life and death.
Principle 2: In every moment there will be things in your life that you don’t like and wish weren’t there. You may have health problems, financial problems, a leaky roof, a mean neighbor, or a wife who is struggling with love. You can experience a great deal of aversion towards these horrible things and their presence in your life. You can create feelings of misery, anger or self-pity. Your disappointment and frustration towards these less than ideal circumstances can create suffering.
Principle 3: In every moment of your life there are things you want but don’t have. You can have intense and painful cravings for these missing things. You may have an urge to shop and buy things to feel better, drink alcohol, take drugs, you may obsess over clothes, your house or hobbies, you may watch too much television or overeat. You may ache because you want a child, to be married or have a better marriage to someone who is more affectionate. All of this can lead to craving, which creates misery and suffering.
Principle 4: In every moment of your life there are great things you do have in your life and are glad you have. You may take these things for granted, though, until you lose them. When you experience loss, your perspective often shifts and you realize how grateful you were for the blessing. There are countless good things to be grateful for every moment of your life.
Principle 5: In every moment of your life there are bad things that are not in your life, which you are also grateful for. These are often taken for granted until they happen to someone near you. This causes your perspective to shift and you realize how grateful you are not to have that in your life.
When we put these five principles together it gives us what I call “The Law of the Nature of Life.” It says everything is impermanent and changing, always shifting between these four categories every day, but all four categories always exist in one’s life — all the time. Your misery or happiness is based on your focus and how you choose to see, feel and think about your life as it is.
This is the one critically important secret of happiness: You are causing your suffering with your craving and aversion towards "what is." You can end your misery right now with a shift in your perspective. You can choose gratitude and happiness in this moment.
I know in moments of intense suffering and heartache it is hard to accept this idea. You will want to believe your circumstances are responsible for your misery. You will want to be a victim of the situation, but this doesn’t change the truth. You get to decide how happy each moment will be.
Your life will never be perfect. There will always be problems, but you can focus on what’s right in your life and understand that everything is here for a perfect reason to help you learn and grow. Life is a classroom and every experience is here to educate you and teach you love.
To the first man who has decided to stay in his marriage even though it is painful and difficult, this is my advice: If you want relief from suffering, you will have to focus on what you do have. You must decide to be grateful and happy as things are and refuse to dwell in misery, craving or aversion. It is not easy to do, though. I’m battling chronic health issues myself that I wish I didn’t have, and it is a battle night and day to choose happiness over misery, but I promise you — you have the power to do this. As you practice this you will also show up less needy and more confident around your wife. You will be able to give acts of service to her without any strings attached. There is a chance this change in you could change the environment in your marriage, but you can’t start craving this outcome. You must let go of needing or expecting it to be better and be happy now.
I find that ViPassana meditation really helps me, and you may want to work with a coach or counselor who can help you learn to control your thinking. There is also a new worksheet on my website that shows the nature of life and helps you inventory your situation daily and choose gratitude.
To the second man who is thinking about leaving his wife: I would recommend that you work on shifting your perspective and learning to be happy now before you make the choice to leave. If you don’t learn how to be grateful and happy in this moment, you may find yourself in a new situation (which will still have something missing because that is the nature of life) and you may still be unhappy. If you would work on choosing happiness now, it will do one of two things. It will either create more love in your marriage or you will still know that leaving is right for you, but you will leave with the skills to create happiness wherever you end up.
There are obviously periods of situational suffering and misery in life where you are entitled to some disappointment, grief, misery and pain — and it is OK and normal to experience this. You should feel unhappy, mourn, have a pity-party and feel a sense of loss, but you shouldn't live there. Understanding the true nature of life and learning to focus on the blessings will help you to accept situations you can’t change and choose to be happy anyway.
Buddha said, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” He meant that your situation does not determine your happiness. The way you choose to think and feel about life does. You have the power to be at peace right now.
I know this is a hard one — but you can do it.