So often in counseling I see people disappointed that marriage or parenting doesn't make them happy. What if we rework that expectation, and consider the possibility that relationships are really about choosing someone who helps you to grow? Or, what if being in a committed relationship or being a parent is really more of an opportunity to give rather than get?

Nobody stays in a perpetual "in love" state. It's a temporary condition. Falling in love activates the pleasure center in our brain. It lasts for months, not years. When we fall in love, we focus on the similarities between the other person and oneself. We love how it makes us feel to be with the beloved. A year or two later, it becomes easy to see the differences between you and perseverate on them if you don't shift your consciousness.

When we have expectations that we will fall in love and that person will "make" us happy forever after, that's an unrealistic idea. Actually, a better expectation is to take responsibility for making yourself happy and fulfilled, and sharing that happiness with the partner of your choice.

 It's important to know that marriages have seasons. There are some predictable hard spots, like when couples have children, when children become teens, and when couples launch their children and need to reconnect in some new ways.

In a marriage or committed, monogamous relationship, I like to see each partner make the choice to bring their best self to the relationship. Focus on giving, not getting. The happiest couples encourage each other's growth and support their unique interests. Each person takes personal responsibility for shining a light and being a beneficial presence in their little corner of the world. Marriages work best when each person sees the best in the other.

You also don't want to look to becoming a parent as a way to make yourself happy. Raising a family can be a very fulfilling experience, but it also tests you. Sweet little babies grow into teens who need to push away from you to individuate and launch. They aren't there to meet your needs or read your script. Being a good parent is a lot about letting go of some of your selfishness, transcending self,  seeing who you've been sent and how you can contribute to helping them along their path.

In short, let's rethink our expectations for our closest relationships. Marriage and parenting aren't supposed to make you happy. They are supposed to make you grow. Love is about a choice, and about doing the right, loving behaviors. You are supposed to make you happy, and then share. Relationships are about giving, rather than getting. Life, lived well includes a process of growing, opening up, and sharing more of your true self with others.