A Little Happier: Why Did This Couple Break Up as Soon as They Decided to Get Married?

There’s a certain curious kind of experience that often strikes me.

Something will happen, or I’ll read something, or a friend will tell me a story, or I’ll witness something, and it will hit me with tremendous force.

It will be filled with meaning, but often, I don’t know what that meaning is. I don’t understand the symbolism, I don’t see the pattern, I can’t grasp the lesson.

I’ll puzzle over these episodes for years.

For instance, that’s how I got my insight into the Four Tendencies. A friend told me, “It’s weird. I know I’m happier when I exercise. And when I was in high school, I was on the track team, and I never missed track practice. So why can’t I go running now?”

Well, why? I could think of many possible answers, but what truly made the difference?

I thought and thought and thought about it, and along with other patterns I’d noticed, that comment led me to my breakthrough to create my Four Tendencies personality framework.

Here’s another story that I’ve reflected on for years.

When I was in law school, I had a friend, a fellow law student, who had a girlfriend. They’d been together for two or three years, she lived in another city but visited him in law school fairly regularly, and she seemed very nice.

And for months, my friend and his girlfriend were arguing about whether or not to get engaged. They were really struggling with the decision—whether or not to do it, the timing, all of it.

Finally, they got engaged. And almost immediately, they broke up, very amicably.

This astonished me.

I asked my friend, “I don’t get it. You’re so in love that you’re thinking of getting married, and then you get engaged, and then you break up? What happened?”

He shrugged and said, “For the last several months, all we talked about was whether or not to get engaged. That question was what we had in common, and once it was settled, we realized we didn’t actually want to be married.”

I think about this story because I’m not sure what the lesson is.

  • Is the lesson that some relationships are founded on conflict, and if the conflict is solved, the relationship loses its hold?
  • Is the lesson that we can be distracted and confused by uncertainty, but certainty brings clarity?
  • Is the lesson that sometimes, we want what we can’t have, and once we get it, we don’t want it anymore?

Probably this incident holds many meanings, and that’s why I’ve remembered it for so long.




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