So often, I hear from people who tell me that either their spouse is blatantly telling them that he just isn't happy or his actions have made this so obvious that it is just impossible to ignore. Many of these folks feel that this is a little unfair because not everything that their spouse is unhappy about has anything to do with them or with their marriage. For example, he may not like his job. He may not like aging. But how is this his wife's fault?

So I may hear a comment like: "my husband just turned fifty. He told me that he absolutely did not want a party or any big deal made about this. He is not someone who makes a big deal out of birthdays and this has always been the case with him. So, as he wished, I didn't make a huge deal when his fiftieth birthday rolled around. I was going to take he and the kids out to dinner and I made him a huge cake. On that day, he texted me from work and said that he realized how meaningless his life was and that it hurt him that his wife didn't care about his birthday. I was flabbergasted. Obviously, I do care. He seemed to get over that, but ever since his birthday, he's been moping around saying how awful it is to get older and how he's not as far along in his career as he would like. He says his body can't perform like it used to and he gets tired and injured more quickly. When he says these things, he pulls away from me as if all of this is my fault. I feel that this is unfair. I've been trying to do things to cheer him up, but it seems as if he is absolutely determined to be miserable. I am worried about what his unhappiness means for our marriage. But then when I really think about this, it makes me realize how unfair all of this. I don't hold my husband responsible for my happiness. That is my responsibility, not his. So why do I feel so responsible when he is unhappy? And is it right for me to feel this way?"

Why His Happiness Is Not Your Responsibility, But You Should Care Deeply About It Anyway: I hear this quite a bit, especially from women. I think that is natural and normal to feel responsible for the well being and happiness of our entire family because we are natural caregivers. However, this can take a toll on us if it is taken too far. Our actions alone can't ensure that those we love will never feel disappointment, frustration, or pain. This is inevitable in life. We can't live our loved ones' lives for them. And even if we could, this would not ensure that they are never unhappy.

Here is my take on this. As a spouse who cares about your partner, what you can reasonably be expected to do is to provide a nurturing, secure, and upbeat home life that promotes happiness. (Because if you don't, they may project this unhappiness onto your marriage.  This is what happened in my case and we separated because of it. More on that here.) You want your presence and your home to be and conducive to happiness. You want your family to know that you deeply love and support them. That said, you want to encourage your loved ones to prioritize their own well being and you want to encourage them to change things or to seek help if they are not as happy as they would like to be.

Addressing His Unhappiness With Being Expected To Fix His Life For Him: You certainly can not be expected to shoulder the burden if something goes wrong at school or at work. You certainly can't deal with the pitfalls that come with aging for your husband, although you can reassure him that you still love him just as much as in previous years and that you still find him very attractive regardless of any number on the calendar year.

If you do all of this and he still thinks he is unhappy, then it's important to address the core issue, which probably has little to do with you. And one reason for this is that it is not uncommon for people to begin to blame their spouses for everything that is going wrong. This can most definitely affect your marriage, which isn't fair to you.

I'd suggest a comment like: "I hope that you don't mean this. I love you and of course I want your birthday to be special, but I thought that I was following your wishes. If I was wrong in doing that, then I'm very sorry. I know that aging isn't always a lot of fun and I'll do what I can to help you to minimize this, but I think it's important to embrace the life that we have in front of us, because not everyone has this luxury. Is there anything that I can do to make this better for you?"

You ask this question in the hopes that, once he really thinks about this, he will see that your role in this is very limited. Sure, you can provide support and reassurance, but you can't take away the aging process.  And you're not responsible for his happiness or life satisfaction. Nor do you have any control over his job frustrations. You can only provide the most loving support and home environment that you can manage and stress to him that you have his back and are there to talk and listen if he needs it.

Everyone feels unhappy sometimes.  But it's time to be concerned if your spouse seems to project his unhappiness on to you.  Or, if he feels that your marriage is a source of unhappiness for him, as was the case with me. Things got so bad that we eventually separated If you find it helpful, you're welcome to read the whole story on my blog at

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